O's praise for Lopes runs rampant

KEN ROSENTHAL

October 10, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Two years ago, the Orioles hired Davey Lopes to improve their base running.

It didn't work.

So now, with Lopes a leading candidate to manage the Houston Astros, are the Orioles secretly rooting for him to get the job?

Nope, they're openly rooting for him to stay.

Johnny Oates says if he remains manager, he'd "love" for his first-base coach to return. The players, meanwhile, are virtually unanimous in their support of Lopes.

"Davey's the best," second baseman Harold Reynolds says. "You can only tell guys so much -- they've got to make their own decisions on the field. As far as teaching, technique, telling you what to look for, nobody's better."

First baseman David Segui adds, "I like Davey a lot. In fact, I don't think they get enough out of him. He knows a lot about other parts of the game. I guess he's afraid of stepping on other people's toes."

If that's the case, it might not be a source of discomfort much longer. Lopes, 47, appears the perfect fit for Houston, a club seeking a dynamic replacement for the laid-back Art Howe.

Lopes just started his first managing job, directing a team of Astros and Orioles prospects in the Arizona Fall League. Inexperience is his biggest drawback, but what does that mean anymore?

Phil Garner had no experience. Don Baylor had no experience. Dusty Baker had the same experience -- one season in the Arizona Fall League -- and nearly won the NL West in his first season.

Lopes is intense, intelligent and incredibly blunt. Ask him about the Orioles' base running, and he snaps, "I accept the responsibility -- that's my forte."

Then he adds: "In all honesty, you're only as good as your horses. All you can do is articulate yourself over and over again. It's up to them to grasp what you say."

The Orioles obviously didn't, but according to the players, it wasn't Lopes' fault.

"To me, Davey's great," left fielder Brady Anderson says. "It's gotten to the point that when I get to first, there'll be things he picks up off a pitcher that he'll tell me -- some things I can use, some I can't.

"Usually, when I hit balls to the outfield, I like to take the extra base. But when I don't, I'll come back to first and he'll say, 'You've got to be at second on that ball.' Other times, when I'm dead, feeling lethargic, he'll say, 'C'mon, let's go!' "

So how is it that the Orioles spent the entire season running into outs? Lopes would pose the question this way: How is it that most major- leaguers are such poor base runners?

Lopes has a point -- this isn't just an Orioles problem. The club's 57 percent success rate in attempted steals wasn't far off the league average of 64 percent. Every team makes the same mistakes.

Why? Blame it on the way players are paid. The emphasis at

contract time is on statistics, not the number of times a player went first-to-third on an outfield single, or took an extra base on an overthrow.

"People have a tendency not to take it seriously until it's too late," Lopes says. "Base running is not a thing that's going to make 'em money, so they don't practice it.

"It definitely will cost you games during the year. But it's a paradox -- it's important, but it's not important, because of the way the game is structured [financially]."

The only thing the Orioles can do is correct the problem in spring training. Most teams practice only the basics, how to round a base, things like that. Lopes promises "a lot more situational stuff" -- what to do when you're on second and a fly is hit to right with one out.

That is, if he returns. Oates or a new manager no doubt would incorporate new drills with or without Lopes, but just ask Segui: the Orioles face the loss of more than just a base-running coach.

At the end of the '92 season, Lopes pointed out to Segui a number of mechanical flaws that were robbing him of power. Segui went home to Kansas City, Kan., where his father, Diego -- a former major-league pitcher -- said almost exactly the same things.

Obviously, no one will confuse Segui with Rafael Palmeiro, but he did finish the season with career highs in homers (10), doubles (27) and RBI (60).

"I give Davey a ton of credit," he says.

So do a lot of others.

"He'll be a top-notch manager someday," Reynolds says.

Maybe soon.

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