Sutcliffe shuns O's for Cards

February 01, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

Saying his negotiations with the Orioles have been "a total mess," veteran right-hander Rick Sutcliffe yesterday signed a minor-league contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Sutcliffe, 37, expressed disappointment that bordered on bitterness yesterday when he discussed the circumstances that led to his departure. Although manager Johnny Oates had pushed for Sutcliffe's return, the Orioles didn't issue him an invitation to spring training until Sunday.

After mulling the offer for 24 hours, Sutcliffe decided to accept a similar proposal from the Cardinals.

"I see things going on there [with the Orioles] that I don't understand and maybe will never understand," Sutcliffe said.

"It's been a total mess. I've been on hold for a couple of months. My hope was to come back. I turned down several offers and the Orioles kept saying they'd come back to me.

"All I asked for was a chance to come to spring training. There was no money involved. They finally told me Sunday that they would invite me to camp, give me a minor-league contract. That's all I asked for from the very beginning -- but the feeling of not really being wanted was the deciding factor.

"The thing that appealed to me most when I signed with the Orioles in 1992, was the feeling of being wanted. But somewhere along the line I think Roland [general manager Roland Hemond] lost that feeling."

Hemond learned of Sutcliffe's signing last night, and said the improved depth of the Orioles' staff influenced the club's actions.

"My understanding from Barry Axelrod [Sutcliffe's agent] was that the offers were akin to each other," said Hemond. "But I think they might have examined the two staffs and decided the opportunity was better with St. Louis.

"Our staff is deeper now than it was a year ago. We didn't have Sid Fernandez then, Jamie Moyer was a six-year minor-league free agent who came on to win 12 games for us, and although Arthur Rhodes had a setback last year, you can't discount his possibilities.

"Rick did a tremendous job for us and was a great asset to the club the last two years. With his leadership qualities, positive attitude, and strong will to overcome adversity, he certainly left his mark here and will be remembered for a long time."

Oates said Sutcliffe's leadership will be missed most. "Definitely," he said. "I told him if I was in a war and had a two-man foxhole, I'd rather have him in there with me than anybody in the game.

"I would've liked to have had him back -- but it didn't work out. With him gone, guys like [Mike] Mussina and [Ben] McDonald will have to step forward and be their own leaders. We've got some other veterans, too, and they'll just have to provide their own leadership."

Sutcliffe, who was 26-25 in his two years with the Orioles, won eight of his first 10 decisions last year before finishing 10-10 with a 5.75 ERA. In retrospect, he feels his decision to postpone knee surgery after a midseason injury ruined his chances of coming back for a third year.

"I made a mistake," he said. "When I was 8-2 and hurt my knee, I should have had surgery. But I pitched with it for five weeks, and that cost me a chance to come back. It really hurts right now.

"But I'm not angry," said Sutcliffe. "I'm nothing but thankful to the Orioles for the last two years -- what good people. We endured a lot together and I don't think we could've done any more.

"When I came there in '92, Toronto had won the division the year before and went out and signed [Dave] Winfield and [Jack] Morris -- and we chased them to the wire. Last year, it was more of the same -- they signed [Paul] Molitor and [Dave] Stewart, yet we chased them again."

It was obvious that Sutcliffe's disappointment was magnified because of how much the Orioles have improved themselves this off-season.

"Maybe," he said, "I'll get back to Baltimore in October."

While Sutcliffe's signing was yesterday's big news, the Orioles did continue to peruse the free-agent list, with Rene Gonzales their latest target. The former Oriole, who was left untendered by the California Angels, would appear to be an ideal fit as a utility infielder. Assistant general manager Frank Robinson talked yesterday with Dennis Gilbert, who is representing Gonzales, and it's possible a deal could be close.

"I think there's a chance we can get something done, but there are a couple of other teams we're talking to," said Gilbert, who plans to talk to Robinson again today.

Meanwhile, Hemond said he'd had no further contact with Jeff Moorad, Gregg Olson's agent, but expected to hear from him this week.

Also yesterday, the Orioles signed minor-league right-hander Rick Forney to a one-year contract.

Forney, Annapolis-born and a resident of Arnold, was 14-8 with the Single-A Frederick Keys and led the Carolina League in wins last year. Forney was second in the Carolina League in strikeouts with 175 and fourth in ERA at 2.78.

SUTCLIFFE'S STATS

Yr .. .. ..Club .. .. ..W-L .. .. ..ERA .. .. ..IP

'76 .. .. ..L.A. .. .. .0-0 .. .. .0.00 .. .. .5.0

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