Hammonds' progress goes by the book

April 23, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

The meeting took place in January, and lasted an hour. When it ended, Orioles general manager Roland Hemond gave Jeffrey Hammonds a book -- "The Winner Within: A Life Plan for Team Players," by Pat Riley.

Hemond and assistant GM Doug Melvin wanted Hammonds to understand all he could accomplish if he got himself in top condition, adhered to a strong work ethic and adopted a professional approach.

Little did they know, they were creating a monster.

After batting ninth in the Orioles' first 14 games, Hammonds moved to the second spot last night in place of the injured Mike Devereaux. He figures to return to the bottom of the order when Devereaux returns, but then again, he might not.

"What's his name, Wally who?" manager Johnny Oates asked before last night's game, referring to Wally Pipp, the first baseman who lost his job to Lou Gehrig, never to get it back.

Hammonds already has his own job, and it's too early for Oates to commit to him in the No. 2 spot, but the mere possibility that he will unseat Devereaux serves notice that their careers might be heading in opposite directions.

Devereaux needs to recover from his groin strain quickly, and he needs to start hitting. Suddenly, he looks frighteningly one-dimensional, a power hitter who strikes out too much, a center fielder with a weak arm.

Hammonds threatens his lineup spot, Mark Smith his place in the Orioles' outfield. Indeed, it appears more likely than ever that the club will allow Devereaux to depart as a free agent after this season. If Smith is a bust, there's always Alex Ochoa.

The biggest question surrounding Smith is his home-run potential, but he already has hit five homers in 54 at-bats at Triple A Rochester, including the longest in the two-year history of Harbor Park in Norfolk, Va.

Devereaux, 31, has struck out 18 times in 52 at-bats, bounced a 150-foot throw to home plate off the pitcher's mound and gotten picked off second base on a 3-0 count. At this rate, he won't come close to matching his $3.375 million salary next season.

Hammonds, 23, didn't exactly force the issue in his debut in the No. 2 spot -- he went 0-for-4 in last night's 6-4 victory over Seattle -- and it remains to be seen whether he can withstand the grind of a 162-game season.

Still, the January meeting with Hemond and Melvin left a strong impression, and so did the book by Riley. Hammonds went to Stanford after a middle-class upbringing in New Jersey. So much had been given to him. He might have needed the push.

"Even though it was very early in my career, there were things that needed to be said about the transition from college to pro ball," Hammonds recalled.

"It was nothing nasty, just bouncing ideas off each other -- how fortunate I am to be where I am, what it would take to take it to the next level.

"I told them about my apprehensions and concerns about the professional game. They countered by telling me what to expect the next few years, how to approach the game."

The message?

"Know what you have in front of you, don't ease into it, make it happen, initiate it. This is much different than anything you've encountered before. Look at it as a big adventure."

At the time, the Orioles were just about to begin their winter workouts at Camden Yards. Assistant GM Frank Robinson wasn't present at the meeting; he already had developed a relationship with Hammonds.

Hemond and Melvin didn't exactly lecture their rookie prodigy, but they made their points clear.

They told Hammonds to report to spring training in good condition, reminding him that he might have jumped right from Stanford to the majors, if not for hamstring problems during the spring of 1993.

They also told him that they didn't want to trade for a power-hitting outfielder -- they intended Hammonds to be that player, assuming he had fully recovered from a herniated disk in his neck.

"I remember telling him he's got the physical ability to be a Hall of Famer," Melvin said. "But there are guys with great physical ability who become mediocre players. I told him, 'If you don't work at it, you can go by the wayside.' "

Cal Ripken and Dave Winfield stand at one extreme, Darryl Strawberry and Kevin Mitchell at the other. As Hemond said, "When they're blessed with that much talent, they may have a tendency to cruise." The idea was to get to Hammonds before it happened, and the Riley book helped.

"It's a great book, very motivational, very team-oriented," Hemond said. "It made a tremendous impression on me. Jeffrey likes to read also -- he's very inquisitive, always trying to learn. I felt he would benefit from it."

Among other things, the book includes tips on how to combat complacency and fear, and Hammonds said, "it really helped." Don't count on seeing the "Club Hammonds" sign posted over the training room again. One of Hammonds' goals this season is to be available for every game.

"I feel myself getting anxious to win," Hammonds said. "Even in college, I had the desire to win, but coach [Mark] Marquess instilled that more than anything. You have everything else to deal with -- school, and all that.

"Last year, in the minor leagues, whether you won or lost, it was how quickly you got through the ranks. When I came up here, it was the first time I'd been in a situation where everyone wants to win.

"It's a profession. Everyone wants to be known as a winner. Now, every day, waking up and coming to the yard, I'm getting hungrier and hungrier to win."

Basket, Hemond and Melvin.

Assist, Pat Riley.

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