Yankees' unenthusiastic welcome for Smith makes little sense

BASEBALL

September 05, 1993|By PETER SCHMUCK

The Orioles can be forgiven for not showing a great deal of enthusiasm about the possibility of beating the New York Yankees to reliever Lee Smith. The day the deal was made, the Yankees didn't seem too enthusiastic, either.

Manager Buck Showalter declined to comment about the trade on the day it was made, choosing instead to refer reporters to general manager Gene Michael. The next day, he still did not seem particularly thrilled to have baseball's all-time save leader in his bullpen.

"I don't know if it improves us or not," Showalter said. "We lost Steve Farr last night. We added Lee Smith. To say it improved our chances . . . at this point, I wouldn't say so.

"There's nothing given in this game just because something is on paper. The game is not played that way."

The alternative was to try and get by for the next two weeks without an experienced closer and hope that Farr comes back strong from the elbow injury that has hampered him for the past several weeks. Considering the circumstances, it seems as if the Yankees made a pretty good deal.

Everyone in the Yankees' clubhouse should have been happy for the help. The team is one good month away from the possibility of a division title, so you'd figure that the addition of a certain Hall of Fame reliever would be cause for celebration, even if Smith is not all that he used to be. Not so, at least in some corners of the locker room.

"I'm not happy," said Farr. "I would think anybody in this room would like to think that they can have a three-week slump or an injury and not lose their job."

Somebody apparently forgot to tell him that he won't be allowed to pitch while he's on the disabled list. Farr apparently would rather the club plays short down the stretch than risk having to compete for his job.

Smith didn't exactly jump for joy about the trade, either, even though he had almost no chance of getting into postseason play with the St. Louis Cardinals.

"I had mixed feelings at first," Smith said. "I was hoping to win the Rolaids Relief Award for the third straight season, as it could only have helped me as a free agent. But as I was packing, I heard that St. Louis was planning to use Mike Perez as the closer the last month of the season, so I started thinking that this is the best thing that could happen to me."

Nice to know that everyone seems to have his priorities straight. Look for the Toronto Blue Jays to hold on in the East.

Welcome to New York

Smith apparently was not in a great hurry to join the Yankees. He took a day off for personal business before joining the team, which set him up for a typical welcome from the New York media.

Newsday ran a graphic showing the 19 available airline flights from St. Louis to New York airports on Wednesday.

Sutcliffe will go on

Injured Orioles right-hander Rick Sutcliffe has been coy about his intentions for the 1994 season, but agent Barry Axelrod said last week that his client hopes to pitch next year and a couple more after that.

"As confident as Rick is about himself, I think he was actually relieved when he heard that he had the cartilage problem and needed knee surgery," Axelrod said. "I know that sounds funny, but he was happy that they found that something was wrong that might explain what has happened the past couple of months."

The injury conceivably kept Sutcliffe's career in Baltimore alive. He didn't say so publicly, but he considered asking for his unconditional release after the club removed him from the starting rotation.

"There was some discussion -- if that was their decision -- that it might be in everyone's interests to move on," Axelrod said. "Before that got any further, the decision was made about the cartilage."

Sutcliffe, 37, will rejoin the Orioles tomorrow in Baltimore. He spent the past 10 days rehabilitating his knee at home in Kansas City, where, according to Axelrod, everything went well.

"I talked to him [Thursday] and he already was playing long toss," Axelrod said.

If all continues to go well, he could be pitching again in as little as two weeks.

Labor pains

The Major League Baseball Players Association is in the no-win position of having to come to the defense of a nearly indefensible Vince Coleman, but there has to be a better way than to present him as some kind of victim.

Union counsel Gene Orza said last week that the MLBPA would likely file a grievance if the New York Mets go through with their threat to release Coleman at the end of the season. Orza was responding to comments by Mets president Fred Wilpon that Coleman never again would play for the club.

"I suppose he could have been talking about trading Vince," Orza said, "but because of the timing, I think there is at least the suggestion that he was talking about disciplining Vince Coleman for misconduct . . . or their perception of misconduct. I don't know if the level of misconduct will justify a release, particularly when the Mets get a fuller appreciation of the facts."

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