The dimwits running major-league baseball don't know it, but they're creating a monster. Peter Angelos is such a hit with striking major-leaguers, the Orioles might wind up looking like the '27 Yankees.
Two free agents on the club's wish list -- John Wetteland of Montreal and Andy Van Slyke of Pittsburgh -- said Thursday that the organization's stand against replacement players might influence them to sign with the Orioles.
"That impresses me. That definitely impresses me," Wetteland said from his home in Cedar Crest, N.M. "It certainly would be taken into account. That's big. I think any player appreciates the Baltimore organization for taking that approach."
Van Slyke agreed.
"Respect, dignity, character -- that's what has always excited me in people," he said from his home in Chesterfield, Mo. "When an organization takes a stand like that -- when Tom Clancy comes out and lambastes major-league baseball -- I respect that. That's painting a true portrait of the situation."
Van Slyke, 34, was in Baltimore Wednesday to undergo a physical examination at the Orioles' request. He will remain an unrestricted free agent regardless of the economic system baseball adopts, and makes no secret of his desire to play in Baltimore.
Wetteland, Van Slyke -- why not get Steve Avery and Larry Walker, too? The Orioles soon might be the only team officially sanctioned by the players union. Only a salary
cap would keep them from buying an all-star team, and that didn't stop the San Francisco 49ers, did it?
All right, enough fantasizing. No player would sign with the Orioles simply out of gratitude to Angelos. It's just a guess, but money also might be a consideration for these die-hard labor activists.
Still, in a competitive marketplace, any edge might help. That's not the reason Angelos opposes replacement players, but it might prove an unexpected benefit. The reverse might also be true. Who's going to sign with Bud Selig's Milwaukee Brewers? Glenn Davis? Gorman Thomas? Satchel Paige?
Even Orioles GM Roland Hemond is hearing the pro-Angelos buzz --"some people have expressed how impressed they've been that Peter's expressing his convictions," he said. Of course, those people are agents, and they're loyal only to their commissions. So, don't hold it against Hemond if Wetteland slips away.
Wetteland, 28, is a restricted free agent, and the Expos could keep him simply by matching a rival club's offer. The Orioles envision Wetteland as the replacement for Lee Smith. The Boston Red Sox also want him. Wetteland's 105 saves the past three seasons rank fifth in the majors.
The question is, are the Expos in position to match? Pitcher Ken Hill and outfielder Marquis Grissom also are restricted free agents. If the Expos can keep only one, it probably would be Wetteland.
At the same time, Montreal is considering other options, most notably Milwaukee's Mike Fetters. GM Kevin Malone said he is not sure the team will have the money to re-sign Wetteland.
"At this point in time, I do not know the answer to that question," Malone said yesterday. "I asked our owner [Claude Brochu] that, and we've discussed it. We know that we have the right to match. We're going to keep all of our options open."
Van Slyke is more realistic for the Orioles -- so realistic, they will have only themselves to blame if they fail to sign him. Van Slyke would be a perfect stopgap as the Orioles wait for their young outfielders to develop. What's more, he'd love to play in Baltimore.
At the 1993 All-Star Game, Van Slyke marveled at the baseball atmosphere of Camden Yards, as opposed to dreary Three Rivers Stadium. "The only thing that would remind me of Three Rivers is if I stood at home plate -- and looked straight down," he said.
Eighteen months later, he hasn't changed his opinion -- "that's really the only thing they have in common, 17 inches of white, and one inch of black," he said Thursday. "You'd have to be the ultimate pessimist, if you didn't like Camden Yards."
Van Slyke added: "I think playing in the American League -- and Baltimore being the city -- would obviously be the ideal situation for a player in my position. With the ballclub being a contender, there's not anything more I can ask for. To bring a winner to that city, to that atmosphere -- oh man, it would be euphoria."
If Van Slyke is healthy -- a big question -- the Orioles should offer him a one-year, incentive-laden contract with a club option for a second year. Van Slyke averaged $4.2 million in his three-year deal with the Pirates. Surely, he'd be willing to take less money.
A five-time Gold Glove winner, Van Slyke could replace Mike Devereaux in center field. The Orioles might need him for only one season if Curtis Goodwin and Alex Ochoa develop rapidly. But chances are, Van Slyke would be rejuvenated in Baltimore, playing on grass, before sellout crowds, with a contender.
He hit only .246 last season, but after playing for three straight division champions, he was distracted by the looming strike, the Pirates' decline and the reality that it would be his last season in Pittsburgh.
"Add up all that, and it was probably 1 percent. The other 99 percent was my fault," Van Slyke said. "But those are true feelings. You can't dislodge those feelings. They are real. Plus, there was [the strike]. I knew it would be long and ugly."
Van Slyke was right, but eventually this thing will end, and the business of baseball will resume. It would be a bonus if Angelos' stance against replacement players helped the Orioles land a free agent. A bonus, and a fitting reward.