Third man theme plays again for Gomez

August 01, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

Chris Sabo has played for two major-league baseball teams, and the owners of both have had pets.

One was named Schottzie. The other is named Leo Gomez.

Schottzie must not look so bad to Sabo now. At least the pet of Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott never took Sabo's job.

Sabo emerged from the office of Orioles manager Johnny Oates before yesterday's 6-4 loss to Toronto armed with the information that his days as the club's regular third baseman are over, never to return as long as Gomez stays healthy.

Sabo's reaction to losing his job?

"I merely exist in a free society," Sabo said.

Free to wear swimming goggles on a baseball diamond. Free to tuck his baggy knickers inside his black stirrups, not unlike the way the ballplayers dressed circa the turn of the century. And free to keep his mouth shut this time, unlike the last time he was benched in favor of Gomez.

"Only about 10 more days," Sabo said, alluding to the Aug. 12 strike date, but refusing to elaborate.

And he said no more.

What Sabo could have said was that his sentence with the Orioles expires then, provided the strike ends the 1994 baseball season.

A bad back and bad timing -- signing with the Orioles the year Gomez fulfilled his potential -- have combined to make this season a $2 million nightmare for Sabo, who will re-enter the free-agent market at season's end.

Sabo, who still could DH or play the outfield for the Orioles, had regained the job when Gomez went into a slump, but lost it when Oates was told during a recent meeting with front-office officials that Gomez, owner Peter Angelos' pet project, was the club's third baseman.

"Leo is our regular third baseman," Oates said yesterday. "This was an organizational decision. This was the direction our organization wanted to go now and in the future."

As are most decisions made around Camden Yards, this one had Angelos' fingerprints on it.

Angelos was of the belief Gomez had not slumped long enough to play his way out of a job. As a result, Gomez, in the midst of his best season both at the plate and in the field, is back at third base.

Gomez, who had a home run Saturday night and was robbed of another one yesterday, said he never has had a conversation with his benefactor.

Still, Gomez is as big a fan of the owner as the owner is of him.

"I like him," Gomez said. "Not because of what he has done for me, but what he's done for the team, bringing Raffy [Palmeiro] here and bringing Lee Smith here, spending a lot of money to make the team better."

There was no place for Gomez on the team in spring training, but Angelos blocked any thoughts the front office had of releasing him.

"You know something, this is a funny game," Gomez said. "I almost get traded in spring training. I almost don't make the team and now everything works out. It's nice for me to stay here. I want to stay here for a long time. I don't want to go anywhere."

Gomez has the starting third base job back, thanks in large part to Angelos. He wants one more thing of the Orioles owner.

"Maybe my Uncle Angelos will buy us a pingpong table," Gomez said, repeating a request he made last week. "You never know."

Stranger things have happened, such as Gomez supplanting Sabo, a three-time National League All-Star, as the starting third baseman twice in one season.

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