Wise to new world, Reynolds gratefully says halo to Angels

April 19, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

Harold Reynolds slipped out of Baltimore quietly. He was here just long enough to play one season for the Orioles, then he was off again to explore the mysteries of baseball's new market economy.

It isn't easy to play baseball in the '90s when you're well into your 30s. The economic climate has become so intemperate that dozens of major-league veterans have priced themselves out of the game. Reynolds was in danger of becoming one of them, so he downsized his expectations in favor of the chance to remain an everyday player.

He could have stayed with the Orioles and made more money, but he didn't want to fade into a reserve role. He eventually signed with the San Diego Padres, only to find out that they didn't really need a second baseman. He finally was traded to the California Angels, who originally had intended to go with a minor-league prospect.

Sound confusing? That's what it's like to be a 33-year-old former All-Star second baseman caught in the middle of baseball's ever-widening salary gap. He was neither a marquee name nor a make-good minor-leaguer, so he came very close to being a year away from retirement.

"If I stay in Baltimore or San Diego as a backup, I'm out of baseball next year," Reynolds said. "This is the best thing that could have happened to me."

Somehow, he has turned this sojourn into another happy ending, a full-time job on a team that can use his steady glove and his steadying influence. Tonight, he returns with the Angels to open a three-game series at Camden Yards, no doubt hoping to show the Orioles what they're missing, but displaying no animosity over the circumstances of his departure.

"I'm so glad I played in Baltimore," Reynolds said over the weekend. "I got the opportunity to play with Cal Ripken and Harold Baines. I learned so much from Cal. . . . That was worth the whole experience."

What he learned after the season was another experience altogether. The market for his services disappeared after the Orioles made a halfhearted, $600,000 offer in December. He ended up signing for $225,000 with the Padres and is playing under the terms of that same contract with the Angels.

On the face of it, it must look like Reynolds and his agent, Jim Krivacs, badly miscalculated the free-agent market and blew $375,000, but it isn't that simple. The Orioles offered a one-year deal that could have been terminated in the final weeks of spring training. Reynolds came back with a counteroffer that still would have called for him to receive $850,000 less in base salary than he did in 1993, but the club chose instead to re-sign Mark McLemore and end any further talks.

"I had no idea what the market was," Reynolds said. "They were talking about not tendering Mark. They were playing Mark and me against each other. I figured if I took $600,000, I'm not going to play. I'm a utility man. The idea was to play. I would have played for the minimum. The only reason the dollar amount came into play was because it would hold weight as far as playing time."

He made the right decision -- on that point there is unanimous agreement.

"I think he analyzed the situation accurately," Orioles general manager Roland Hemond said. "If we signed McLemore, he [Reynolds] would have had a limited role, and with Tim Hulett being the more versatile player, it's conceivable that we would not have been able to retain him at the end of spring training."

It was just business. Reynolds still speaks highly of the Orioles' front office. He just regrets that the game's economic environment has become so forbidding.

"That's the only sad part of the story," he said. "There's just no loyalty in the game anymore. I think you should be paid for your contributions -- the things you do on and off the field, the time you give, the money you put into the community -- but there's just no loyalty. They say it's the players, but it has never been my choice to leave any place I've been, not even San Diego."

The Padres brought Reynolds into camp, but it soon became obvious that Bip Roberts was going to be the everyday second baseman. The Angels, meanwhile, were finding out minor-league prospect Kevin Flora was not going to be ready to play regularly in the majors this year.

Reynolds was the perfect fit. The Angels have a clubhouse full of young talent, but they were looking for another veteran to help the team be competitive in the ripe-for-the-taking American League West.

So far, so good. The Angels had to settle for a split of their four-game series with the Toronto Blue Jays over the weekend, but they have been surprisingly competitive through the first two weeks of the season.

Reynolds has been very much a part of it. He endeared himself to Angels fans in the club's home opener when he fouled off nine two-strike pitches and kept a ninth-inning rally alive with an RBI single. That rally fell short, but his long, two-run double on Friday night completed one of the greatest ninth-inning comebacks in Angels history.

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