Ex-O's confront replaced loyalties

January 24, 1995|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Sun Staff Writer

Daniel Boone, home-improvement contractor and kitchen remodeler, is on the verge of once again becoming Daniel Boone, major-league pitcher.

This off-season, three teams -- San Diego, Kansas City and Los Angeles -- contacted the 41-year-old left-hander about joining their rosters as a replacement player.

Last week, Boone signed with the Padres, mostly because it required the shortest commute from his home in El Cajon, Calif.

Not bad for a guy with two big-league victories whose last pitching assignment in the majors came in an Orioles uniform -- five years ago.

Boone, who runs his own construction company, said he has a dream that he performs so well as a replacement player that the Padres ask him to stick around when the striking major-leaguers come back.

But that's not Boone's chief reason for crossing the picket lines.

Money is.

"My No. 1 priority is being a husband and a father," said Boone, who has three daughters, ages 11, 8 and 6. "I look at it strictly from the financial standpoint. [As a player], it'll be quite a bit more money than in the construction business."

Boone isn't alone in entertaining offers to be a replacement player. Club owners -- aside from the Orioles' Peter Angelos, who is against replacement games -- hope to have hundreds of substitutes signed when spring training opens in less than a month.

Most teams decline to disclose the names of their players, hoping to shield them from angry union members and officials.

Sam Horn, another player with ties to the Orioles, also appears headed for the replacement league. A major-league club official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the former Orioles designated hitter, who has made it known that he would cross the picket lines, is one of the most coveted players around, and may command a sizable guarantee in his contract.

Horn, who last played for the Orioles in 1992, could not be reached for comment.

A survey of other former Orioles indicated that few are willing to be replacement players.

Larry Sheets, Jim Traber and John Stefero all said they had not been contacted, and would not play if they were. Kevin Hickey said he had mixed feelings.

Former Orioles pitcher Eric Bell, 31, who recently signed a minor-league contract with the Cleveland Indians, said he'd quit before agreeing to play in a replacement game.

"If that's the reason they signed me, they can just release me. I'm not going to be used like a piece of meat," said Bell, a left-handed pitcher with the Orioles from 1985 to '87.

Bell said factors entering into his thinking include not wanting to be in conflict with striking players, many of whom are former teammates, and his concerns that major-league clubs will discard replacement players when the strike is settled.

He said he believes replacement players will be the object of so much hostility when the real major-leaguers return that clubs will have no choice but to release them.

"If you want to end your career after the strike is over, I say, 'Fine, go for it.' That's not my situation," said Bell, who played last year for the Triple-A Tucson Toros.

"Say we do a favor for the front office, because we want the clubs to give us a chance. When the strike is over, the guys like me who aren't superstars, we're trouble in the clubhouse, and we're not going to be around long. It's not like being Roger Clemens, whom clubs are going to want around no matter what zTC happens."

Some clubs are avoiding that potentially messy situation by focusing on veteran and recently retired players. As the theory goes, these players would leave the organization when the strike ends.

Last week, the Atlanta Braves contacted knuckleballer Phil Niekro, 55, and his brother Joe, 50, who turned down the offer after mulling the option for a day, during which they were highly criticized.

Other clubs, like the Texas Rangers, are searching for career minor-leaguers, with eight to nine years of experience, who might grab a chance to play in the big leagues.

"There are people who've raised families on baseball salaries, even minor-league salaries," said Rangers general manager Doug Melvin. "It's a livelihood. They just want to play."

Despite that, recruiting substitute players has not been a simple matter. One major-league club official estimated that for every 100 players he has contacted, 50 have rejected being a replacement player immediately. Of those who think about the offer, half are willing to sign, and often they are the players with the least ability, the official said.

Most of the former Orioles interviewed for this article said they are involved in careers outside baseball and wouldn't want to disrupt them. A few, like former first baseman Jim Traber, said betraying friends in the players union would be tough.

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