Jordan: long shot or shot in the arm?


February 20, 1994|By JIM HENNEMAN

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The biggest game in this area last week was documenting the numerous Michael Jordan sightings as the former NBA great attempts to make a conversion to baseball.

And since there aren't too many red Corvettes making the rounds in this relatively laid-back town, it wasn't too difficult. The mode of transportation being used by His Airness is hardly conducive to a reclusive lifestyle, but it's not something he's willing to surrender.

Don Cooper, the Chicago White Sox's minor-league pitching instructor, found that out during an instructional session before Jordan joined the big-league training camp. While Jordan worked out behind locked gates, and a local television station filmed from its traffic helicopter, the topic was base stealing.

"We were holding him on base, varying the timing and trying to give him a lot of different looks," said Cooper. "Sometimes I unloaded the ball right away, but he stole six out of six."

It was at that point that Cooper proposed a friendly arrangement. "OK, Michael, if we get you this time, you get the Toyota tonight and we get to use the Corvette," said Cooper.

"We threw him out, but he claimed he got in under the tag. He didn't want to give up the 'Vette."

Nobody in the White Sox camp will publicly admit that Jordan is wasting his time, but Cooper seemed enthusiastic about his unique effort. "The first couple of days, I thought he was going to wear us out," he said.

"He's working his tail off. He's a good guy -- a fun guy to be around. I'm enjoying myself. You've got to remember that we're talking about maybe the best athlete on the planet. The bottom line is that everything is going well."

However, few baseball people believe Jordan, at age 31, can make the transition. "I can't believe he's even trying it," said Orioles coach Davey Lopes. "There's too many things to which )) the mind is not accustomed."

But Orioles general manager Roland Hemond, who got used to promotional gimmicks as Bill Veeck's GM with the White Sox, looks at Jordan's escapade from a different perspective.

"He's getting baseball on the first page and pushing basketball back to page four," said Hemond. "I say, 'Way to go, Michael.' "

Taking the fifth

How's this for a coincidence? While the Orioles are looking for another starter, two pitchers formerly with their organization are among those competing for the fifth spot in the Atlanta Braves' rotation.

Anthony Telford, who signed as a minor-league free agent in November, and Baltimorean Mike Bielecki, a more recent addition, pitched last summer for the Orioles' Triple-A team in Rochester. Among those competing with Telford and Bielecki for the fifth spot will be Brian Bark, a left-hander from Randallstown.

Last year the Braves easily led the major leagues with a 3.14 team ERA -- and did it without a bona fide closer. They signed ex-Oriole Gregg Olson, hoping he can fill that role.

If Olson can stay healthy, baseball's best pitching staff will be even better. But even without a late-inning ace, the Braves were tied for sixth in the National League with 46 saves last year, making the search for a No. 5 starter a top priority.

Making the rounds

Now that baseball has realigned, the race is on to see which player can become the first to play in all six divisions. Relievers Rob Murphy of the St. Louis Cardinals and Tom Edens of the Houston Astros are the early favorites.

Both have played in the AL East, AL West, NL East and NL West. With the Cardinals and Astros now in the NL Central, they will become five-division players if they survive spring training.

Murphy's accomplishment, however, deserves an asterisk. After leaving the Cincinnati Reds in 1988, he made four divisions in as many years: Boston Red Sox (AL East) in 1989 and 1990; Seattle Mariners (AL West) in 1991; Astros (NL West) in 1992; and Cardinals (NL East) last year.

If Edens opens 1994 with the Astros, he will have played in five divisions with four teams. He started with the New York Mets (NL East) in 1987, was with the Milwaukee Brewers (AL East) in 1990, the Minnesota Twins (AL West) in 1991-92 and the Astros (NL West) in 1993.

Something wild

Count Toronto outfielder Joe Carter among those opposed to wild-card teams entering postseason play. "Personally, I don't like it," said the Blue Jays' World Series hero.

"If they shortened the season, it might have some merit, but for us to go out and play 162 games, what reason is there if when we can lose a short [five-game] series? Maybe I'm looking at it from a selfish point of view, but I can't see any reason behind it.

"I don't care for the format," Carter added. "I think it takes away from baseball."

Sox with no holes

If manager Gene Lamont's early assessment is correct, the 1994 White Sox's pitching staff will be even stronger than last year's. The top candidates for the fifth spot in the rotation for last year's AL West champions are right-handers Scott Ruffcorn and James Baldwin.

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