Paycut to paydirt: O's McLemore meets the challenge

August 29, 1993|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

When the book on the Orioles' 1993 season is written, the most important chapter might have its genesis in a gymnasium in Phoenix, Ariz., last Dec. 18.

That was the day Mark McLemore found out the Orioles were not offering him a 1993 contract. The club said it wanted him back for 1993, but at a lower salary.

The amount of savings was little in baseball terms, maybe $200,000, but the effect could have destroyed the groundwork McLemore was laying to shore up his flagging career.

Instead of letting it eat away at him, McLemore used the slight as motivation.

"I concentrated on what I could do as a player and set goals to the effect that hopefully they would never be able to do that again," he said.

When 1993, the breakout season of Mark McLemore's baseball life, is over, the Orioles will not be able to cut his salary again. In fact, McLemore, will, in street parlance, "get paid" and quite handsomely.

But on that Friday morning in December, when McLemore walked into Mack Newton's gym in Phoenix for his daily lecture and workout, McLemore was devastated.

"I recall the day when that happened," said Newton, whom McLemore had hired as a personal trainer. "It bummed him out really bad. It was telling, because Mark was always upbeat when he came in. I knew something was up."

Said McLemore: "No, I wasn't too happy. I was really, really surprised. I was looking forward to coming back this year and doing more than I did last year. I was stunned for a couple of days, and once it set in and I realized what it was about and why and how, that was even frustrating. I just didn't feel things should have happened the way they did."

But McLemore's faith, as well as a little prodding from his wife, Capri, and Newton, steered him past the disappointment.

"There could have been [bitterness], but what bitterness tends to do is take your mind away from the things you have to do," he said. "The people who are bitter don't realize that. I was fortunate enough to realize that and to realize that all I have to do is focus on the positive and not the negative.

"Everything that happened, happened. There was nothing I could do to change what had already happened. The only thing I could control or have some control over was the future and what I did, and the way I thought and approached things. That's what I did."

McLemore will be 12 days shy of qualifying for free agency at the end of this season, but he will be eligible for arbitration, and his impressive 1993 numbers almost certainly will take him into the baseball millionaires club.

A change in agents

McLemore changed agents from Jeff Moorad to Tony Attanfio last month, but he said it had nothing to do with the off-season move. "I wish Mark nothing but the best," Moorad said, declining to comment further.

"Several years ago, I told Detroit that they should sign Tony Phillips as soon as possible and the longer they didn't sign him, the more it would eventually cost them," said Attanfio, a San Diego-based agent who also represents Phillips. "The difference between what they eventually signed him for and what they could have signed him for was $5 million. That's a lot of money."

McLemore may be in line for that kind of money, if the Orioles are willing to sign him to a long-term contract, but he has not permitted himself to dwell on it.

"It's kind of hard not to think about it. But with the approach that I take, I do a good job of not thinking of it. There are still things I have to do here. All that will take care of itself," said McLemore. "When I look at what's happened in the past and the way my career has gone and when I look at now and what could be, it is a good feeling."

To understand how dramatic an improvement McLemore's current numbers -- which project to 180 hits, 31 doubles and 76 RBI with a batting average around .300 -- are over his previous four major-league seasons, consider that he was released twice in eight months by teams that would finish last in their respective divisions in 1991.

McLemore, who came up in the California Angels' organization and was their regular second baseman in 1987, was cut loose by the Cleveland Indians in December 1990, after four months in their organization. After being released by the Houston Astros in July 1991, he was signed by the Orioles and assigned to Triple-A Rochester.

McLemore spent the rest of the 1991 season with the Red Wings and made the Orioles in 1992 as a non-roster invitee in spring training, batting .355 in Florida. He hit .246 in the regular season in 101 games, but displayed an ability to hit in the clutch, batting .307 with runners in scoring position and driving in six runs as a pinch hitter, which tied for the American League best.

Advice from Lopes

But McLemore wanted more. He wanted to be an everyday player, and he quizzed Orioles first-base coach Davey Lopes for advice on how to get his name into the lineup regularly, regardless of position.

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