Not big series? O's, Twins neck-and-neck in wild-card race

BASEBALL

June 19, 1994|By TOM KEEGAN

In a very real sense, the Orioles' weekend series against the Minnesota Twins is just as big as the previous series against the New York Yankees because of its bearing on the wild-card race.

If the season had ended Friday night, the Orioles and Twins would have been tied for the American League wild card with a 36-28 record and would have played off for the right to join the postseason.

Now it becomes slightly more complicated.

If the Orioles won the one-game playoff, they would play the Central Division champion Cleveland Native Americans, while the East champion Yankees would play Texas.

But if the Twins won, they would play the Yankees, and the Rangers would play the Native Americans.

Why?

The divisions that receive the home-field advantage in the best-of-five series are predetermined. This season, the AL East and Central division champions have the home-field advantage,

meaning Games 3, 4 and 5 of their series will be at home.

The wild-card team can't play a team from its own division and can't have the home-field advantage. The rules dictate that the wild-card team play the team with the best winning percentage, unless the team is either from the same division or does not have the home-field advantage.

In the second round of the playoffs, otherwise known as the American League Championship Series, a best-of-seven playoff,

the team with the home-field advantage (Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 at home) will be the AL East champion or its first-round opponent.

How would it work in the National League?

Again, pretending the season ended Friday, here's how it would shape up: Atlanta would play Los Angeles, with the Dodgers playing at home in the final three games. Houston, playing the final three at home, would face wild-card Montreal.

In the second round, the winner of the Atlanta-Los Angeles series would have the home-field edge.

The ex-Cub factor

The addition of Dwight Smith to a roster that already had Jamie Moyer, Rafael Palmeiro and Lee Smith gives the Orioles four ex-Chicago Cubs.

So what?

The ex-Cub factor, that's what.

What is the ex-Cub factor?

"Any team that has three or more ex-Cubs cannot win the World Series," said ex-Cub factor inventor Ron Berler, who once managed a Little League team Johnny Oates' son Andy played on in suburban Chicago. "They can get there, but they can't win."

Berler, an adjunct professor of journalism at Northwestern University, a free-lance writer and a rock musician, said 14 teams with three or more ex-Cubs have played in a World Series since the Cubs last participated in one in 1945.

The ex-Cub-ridden teams have gone 1-13, the lone exception being the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates. Berler has an explanation for that one.

"Jim Brosnan, an ex-Cub who doomed the 1961 Reds, told me that [Don] Hoak, who had been traded from the Dodgers to the Cubs [for the 1956 season], was so appalled that he never admitted to anyone he was a Cub," Berler said. "Brosnan told me Hoak was the only man to ever overcome his Cubness."

The 1981 Yankees, with five ex-Cubs, won the first two games of the World Series against the Dodgers, then lost the next four. They haven't been back to the Series since.

The 1990 Oakland Athletics were the last team to try winning with three ex-Cubs (Dennis Eckersley, Ron Hassey and Scott Sanderson), Berler noted.

While the rest of the world picked the A's to win big, Berler was confident the Cincinnati Reds would pull off the upset. Berler might have been the only one who was not surprised to see the Reds sweep the A's.

The Orioles are one of five teams plagued by the ex-Cub factor this season, joining the Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals.

Dwight Smith predicts the Orioles will disprove the ex-Cub factor.

"All it means is we've got to have a lot of wins in our blood because we sure didn't win anything in Chicago," he said.

Injure the ump

American League umpires have been hit hard with injuries or other reasons to miss games this season.

Nine umpires have missed games this season, including as many as seven at one time.

Dale Ford and Vic Voltaggio are both rehabilitating from knee surgeries. Don Denkinger was sidelined by a ruptured calf muscle. Jim McKean broke his wrist. Ken Kaiser and Mark Johnson suffered from whiplash from a car accident in Boston. Tim Welke had hemorrhoid surgery. Chuck Meriwether missed a game to attend his father-in-law's funeral. Terry Craft had chest pains.

"I've never seen anything like it," AL ump Tim Tschida said. "I think the most I've ever seen at one time was four. We've been scrambling."

Triple-A umpires who have American League contracts and worked spring training games were called up as replacements.

Sleeper of the century

Roland Hemond has few peers at keeping a secret, but how in the world did he keep the rest of baseball from discovering a first-round draft choice in 1965, peers wondered.

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