McLemore finds his niche in Baltimore


April 30, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

If you do nothing but check his career itinerary, it's easy to get the impression that Mark McLemore is just another "have bag, will travel" utility man. Which, in truth, is what he has been the previous four years.

He has worn the uniform of 10 minor-league and four major-league teams in 13 years. He was sold by one organization (California Angels) before he was 25 years old and released by two others (Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros) before he was 27 -- usually a sign of severe skill shortage.

Actually, however, McLemore appears to be the classic example of a player who suffered from high expectations and was pushed too fast. He was the reverse of an overnight sensation who goes from phenom to flop in two seasons.

Signed four months before his 18th birthday, McLemore was California's regular second baseman at 22. But that was the year after the Angels missed their best chance of getting into the World Series (1986), and they brought in veteran Johnny Ray from Pittsburgh in an effort to get over the hump. That's when McLemore's career went into reverse, and the Angels followed his direction shortly thereafter.

After hitting .236, stealing 25 bases and scoring 60 runs in 138 games -- hardly inadequate for a rookie second baseman -- McLemore became a 22-year-old baseball pawn. It's a tough price, for the individual and club, to pay for unreasonable expectations. The Angels were trying to replace ex-Oriole Bobby Grich, and they wanted to do it without missing a beat. In the process, they stifled a career and gave up on a useful player.

McLemore isn't an All-Star, as Grich was, but his performance with the Orioles is most likely an indication of his true ability. It's an ability that, had it not been retarded, might have surfaced five years ago.

Sometimes, as the Angels proved, it's difficult for a team to resist the urge to push a prospect ahead of schedule. Just as often, it's tough for a player to accept that the maturing process has to be completed before his time comes for the big leagues.

It's like freeing a car from a snowdrift -- sometimes you have to go back in order to move forward. In McLemore's case, he not only went backward, but he also had to move sideways a couple of times before being in the right place at the right time.

The Angels now are platooning two former Orioles, Harold Reynolds and Rex Hudler, at second base, while McLemore is playing the position regularly in the big leagues for the first time since he was a rookie in 1987. Hudler will be 34 in September, Reynolds the same age in November.

McLemore will turn 30 on Oct. 4, and has hopes it will be a special occasion. That's the date for the start of 1994 postseason play.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.