Physical evidence weighs in O's favor

December 14, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Rafael Palmeiro got a physical, and Will Clark didn't. That might be all you need to know about why the Orioles signed one first baseman instead of the other to a five-year, $30.35 million contract.

Under new owner Peter Angelos, the Orioles will administer The Glenn Davis Memorial Examination to every major free agent they sign, and if possible, every big-money player they acquire in a trade.

The two-day delay in signing Palmeiro resulted from Angelos' insistence that two Baltimore doctors fly to Dallas to conduct what the first baseman called "the most intense physical I've ever had to go through."

Angelos said he ordered the doctors -- orthopedist Michael Jacobs and internist William Goldiner -- to "take the athlete apart and put him back together again."

Sid Fernandez got similar treatment, and general manager Roland Hemond said Fernandez's three-year, $9 million contract wasn't official until the Orioles learned the results of tests he underwent in Hawaii after reaching terms with the club.

The sudden attention to medical detail reflects the Orioles' harsh experience with Davis, a player who was injured for much of his nTC three seasons in Baltimore after arriving from Houston for Pete Harnisch, Steve Finley and Curt Schilling.

It also reflects Angelos' expertise in asbestos litigation, and his desire to fully insure the club in the event of a catastrophic injury to one of his newly acquired free agents before spring training.

Why didn't the Orioles go to the same lengths with Clark? Because they were working under a deadline imposed by Clark's agent, Jeff Moorad. Angelos said one reason he nixed the deal was that Clark was examined for only 15 minutes during his whirlwind tour of Baltimore Nov. 19.

"They said, either sign us now, or we're going to Texas," Angelos said. "I thought to a degree it was a bluff. Twelve o'clock came and went [on Nov. 22], and we were still there trying to make a deal.

"He [Moorad] did say, 'Make the contract contingent on a medical [examination].' I said, 'How can you make it contingent if you've got a 12 o'clock deadline? Those are two contradictory positions.'

"He had no answer to that. I still made a substantial offer [five years, $27.5 million] against my better judgment. He wanted me to increase the price. Finally, I said, 'You want to go to Texas, go to Texas.' "

That, of course, is what Clark did, signing a five-year, $30 million contract with the Rangers later that day. Angelos said he was reluctant to make such a large investment in a player coming off two seasons of injury-related statistical decline.

Still, it wasn't Clark's fault that his physical in Baltimore lasted only 15 minutes. Hemond conceded the Orioles were "rushed." Moorad said he offered to have Clark take the physical at a later date in an effort to give the Orioles every opportunity to sign his player.

"If we had been there for an hour and a half, that wouldn't have bothered us," Moorad said. "They asked us to make Will available for a physical. As it turned out, the physical was a short meeting with one of their doctors."

Clark passed a more extensive physical in Texas last week, then officially signed his new contract. Before that, the Rangers had their doctors consult with Dr. James Andrews, an orthopedist in Birmingham, Ala., who examined Clark before the free-agent process began.

The Orioles went much further before agreeing to terms with Fernandez and Palmeiro -- even though Palmeiro, 29, has played seven major-league seasons without suffering a major injury or going on the disabled list.

"I don't blame Peter Angelos for being concerned," Hemond said. "I said, 'Hey, let's set a policy on how we'll do this.' It doesn't seem proper to make a commitment of this type without being concerned the player was OK.' "

Fernandez underwent a two-hour physical in Baltimore, at which time club physician Charles Silberstein examined his knees and his pitching shoulder. He then submitted to additional tests after reaching a letter of agreement with the Orioles, according to his agent, Tom Selakovich.

Fernandez underwent an EKG, a stress test and a brain scan, Selakovich said, and blood work that included a test for the AIDS virus. Palmeiro apparently went through the same procedure, enabling the Orioles to insure the full extent of his contract immediately.

"Your owner's on the ball," Selakovich said yesterday. "If I owned the ballclub, I'd do the same thing. Normally, a player goes to spring training, an additional guy gives him a physical, and the contract is bound then [for insurance purposes].

"Your owner has decided if something happens between now and Feb. 15 -- if Sid Fernandez was to drown on some boat in Hawaii -- then the club is going to be protected. [Otherwise] Baltimore would owe him the minimum of the contract [a guaranteed $9 million] and the owner would be out the money.

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