SARASOTA, Fla. -- Orioles general manager Roland Hemond informed the American League yesterday that the team will play spring exhibitions only against players under minor-league contracts -- and won't play against players with replacement contracts.
It was confirmation of owner Peter Angelos' stand against the use of replacement players, again drawing the lines between the Orioles and the rest of baseball.
"We will not play a team that does not comply with our policy," Angelos said last night. "If you agree to play baseball with the Baltimore Orioles in spring training, then fine. If it is your intention to use so-called replacement players, then we won't play."
Acting commissioner Bud Selig said the fact that Angelos is not playing within baseball rules "isn't anything new, obviously.
"We're going to concentrate on getting a deal," Selig added. "There's no sense in talking about these peripheral issues. I hope it all becomes academic."
That's what Selig and everyone else in baseball has hoped for more than six months, of course. When Angelos first stated publicly that he wouldn't field a replacement team, later adding that he wouldn't allow the Orioles to play against replacements, the entire concept of replacement players was vague.
Now that hundreds of major-league wannabes have descended upon the camps in Florida and Arizona, replacement players and the specter of replacement games are very real. With the first exhibition less than two weeks away -- the Orioles play the Phillies in Clearwater on March 3 -- the Orioles were compelled to clarify their stance.
Though the Orioles' stance won't impact their entire schedule, they appear to be on a collision course with the replacement-rich Phillies and Texas Rangers.
Philadelphia GM Lee Thomas said he was going to look further into the situation before commenting, but the Phillies, with the likes of Jeff Stone and Marty Bystrom on their roster, are committed to using replacements. Doug Melvin, formerly an assistant GM with the Orioles and now GM for the Rangers, indicated he plans to use replacement players against Baltimore.
"If there's not a settlement, we have to prepare to open up the season," Melvin said. "Certainly all of us want to play with regular players. But if there's no settlement, we might as well go ahead and try to play baseball."
The Rangers and Orioles are scheduled to play March 19, 22 and 26. If there is no agreement by then, Melvin said, "We need to prepare to go north."
Gord Ash, GM of the Blue Jays, says he'll take his cue from Major League Baseball. St. Louis GM Walt Jocketty, whose Cardinals are slated to play the Orioles four times, said he had no problem with Baltimore's dictum. The Cardinals, Jocketty said, have no players under replacement contracts.
Ron Schueler, GM of the White Sox, scheduled to play the Orioles in three games, the first on March 7: "I only have one replacement player, and that's Oil Can Boyd. The other 65 guys in my camp are minor-league roster players. I don't have to announce a replacement team until April 2."
But suppose, for instance, that the Orioles were to take the field against the White Sox. Suppose the game started with players under minor-league contract. Then, suppose, that Oil Can started throwing in the bullpen and attempted to enter the game. What then?
"He better not start throwing," Angelos said. "Look, major-league general managers and managers are trustworthy people, and if they say their players are legitimate minor-leaguers, then we'll take them at their word."
Rather than sign all potential replacement players to replacement contracts, many teams have chosen to sign players to minor-league contracts and invite them to spring training. It's hardly a secret that at the end of spring training, if there's
still no labor agreement, teams will try to convince these players to cross the picket lines.
But Angelos has no problem with players signed to official National Association contracts. He just wants nothing to do with anyone signed to a replacement contract.
"It's nothing against them personally -- just against the practice of presenting replacement players as substitutes for major-league players," Angelos said. "That's what I think is wrong."
The spring could be seamless and without controversy if other clubs cooperated with the Orioles. But that seems unlikely, considering the animosity many within baseball have toward Angelos.
"A lot of things can happen to you in baseball," Hemond said dryly, "and people won't feel sorry for you. . . . There are a lot of times when you don't get sympathy cards."
This may be one of those times for the Orioles.