If majors do call, he must answer

January 16, 1995|By John Harper | John Harper,New York Daily News

NEW YORK -- For now, Doug Cinnella is a 30-year-old ex-minor leaguer who draws a paycheck as the pitching coach for Fordham University. In two months, he could be a candidate to pitch the season opener for the Mets or Yankees.

Baseball fans, meet your first potential replacement player. You can even call him a scab if you want. Doug Cinnella doesn't care. He played eight years in the minors waiting for a promotion to the big leagues that never came. If someone offers him a major-league contract, he's taking it.

"Without a doubt," Cinnella said. "I have friends in the big leagues, but this is my opportunity. I really couldn't give a crap what John Franco or anybody else says about it, and I'll tell him that to his face. I'm not afraid of that at all.

"These guys chose to go on strike. They put out the American people. They made their decision, but the game goes on. It went on without me when I got released, and it will go on without these guys."

Unless the National Labor Relations Board rules otherwise, it appears the game will go on. General managers have begun their search for players. Teams would like to fill rosters with active minor-leaguers, but chances are there won't be enough volunteers.

As a result, some ballclubs are opening their door to the public, holding tryout camps. Others will track down guys like Doug Cinnella.

A Paramus, N.J., native who played at Seton Hall, Cinnella was the Baltimore Orioles' third-round draft choice in 1986. He received a $32,500 signing bonus and then spent eight years riding buses in the minors for the Orioles, the Expos, and the Mets, never making as much as $20,000 a season.

He pitched as high as Triple A, but couldn't break through. He was released in '92 by the Mets, played in Italy a while before the Mets re-signed him to pitch in Tidewater later that summer. When he was released again in the spring of '93, he decided enough was enough.

"I definitely had the ability to pitch in the big leagues," he said. "I just feel I was never in the right situation. The Mets let me go on the last day of camp in '93. I just took it as a sign that it was time to go."

The incentives for Cinnella are the same as they will be for hundreds like him: the chance to make a fast buck and to live like a major-leaguer for a while.

"For me, it's about half and half," he said. "The money is part of it, but just the whole idea of pitching in major-league stadiums, having someone carry your bags for you . . . I was trying to get there for eight years.

"I've thought about this in detail, and I believe in it. It will be almost like a rebirth of baseball -- the guys playing will be out there because they love the game. And there are a lot of good ballplayers who will play.

"If it does come about, the American public is going to be quite surprised at the quality of play. It's not going to be scab ball. There will be a lot of players who have been in the majors or will be someday. It might take people a while to know the names, but they'll enjoy the games."

Of course, Cinnella knows that even if it happens, replacement baseball is the ultimate bluff by owners to get striking players to give up the fight. He understands he could be in spring training for six weeks and then out the door should a settlement be reached a week before the season opener.

So he is going to want money up front to give up his coaching job at Fordham to go play baseball again. Anyone giving up a job will be looking for some insurance, but any financial gamble is not the heart of the matter.

Crossing a picket line, even an imaginary line made up of millionaires, is never a decision without consequences. "I hope my friends in the majors would realize it's nothing personal, but this is my opportunity," said Cinnella. "Secretly, the guys I know want to be playing anyway. So they would be ticked off at me, but down deep they'd really be ticked at themselves for getting into this position."

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