SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Orioles' spring training exhibition schedule could be wiped out because of the organization's stance against replacement players, leaving the club's minor-leaguers with a month of intrasquad games.
At least five of the 12 teams scheduled to play Baltimore in spring games have sent letters to the Orioles -- the language virtually identical in each -- asking for clarification on the club's position on the use of replacement players during the baseball strike. Similar letters from the other seven teams scheduled are expected to arrive tomorrow.
The letters state that if the Orioles won't agree to play against replacement players or minor-leaguers with replacement clauses in their contracts, they have until tomorrow to inform the respective teams. If they do so, baseball sources indicate, the games will be canceled. If the Orioles don't respond, the games will be canceled, anyway.
Orioles owner Peter Angelos said last night that he's preparing a response to the letters, to be announced today or tomorrow. But don't expect a change of heart on the issue of replacement players.
"Of course not," said Angelos, who has refused to go along with other owners in using replacement players. "Our policy has been consistent from the start for reasons we have repeatedly stated."
Orioles manager Phil Regan said a team composed of Triple-A and Double-A players, who have been under the supervision of the major-league coaching staff, will move to St. Petersburg on Thursday to begin workouts at the Miller Huggins complex and begin to play intrasquad games, if possible, at Al Lang Stadium.
The letters from the other teams are a response to a letter from Orioles general manager Roland Hemond, sent Feb. 17, that stated the Orioles would not play against teams using replacement players, but would play against those clubs using minor-leaguers under National Association contracts.
Several teams, including the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals, initially indicated a willingness to play by the Orioles' rules. But that changed once the matter fell to the Baseball Operations Committee, an arm of the commissioner's office.
Acting commissioner Bud Selig said the course of action "was discussed with the Executive Council, but it really came out of the Operations Committee. . . . And that is appropriate."
The committee dictated the terms of the letter, which, according to sources, asked the Orioles to inform each team sending it if the Orioles' intentions were to refuse to play against replacement players; refuse to play against minor-leaguers with specific contractual stipulations that allowed them to become replacement players; or refuse to play in games at which admission would be charged.
The first of the letters arrived Friday, from the Boston Red Sox, Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers. Yesterday, the Philadelphia Phillies and White Sox chimed in.
But Orioles assistant GM Frank Robinson said he "assumed" that all the opponents on the schedule would send letters.
"We're going to play, and we're going to play who we want to play," said Phillies GM Lee Thomas, whose team is scheduled to open against the Orioles on Friday in Clearwater. "We're not going to play under [the Orioles'] conditions."
Rangers GM Doug Melvin said, "We couldn't play the games because we weren't prepared to play under their conditions.
"It was a pretty standard letter. I think that all the clubs felt that way . . . that they couldn't play under the conditions that [the Orioles] have asked for."
Even if the strike ends soon enough to play exhibition games with major-leaguers, the Orioles could be shut out. Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty said he expected to hear some directive from Major League Baseball tomorrow on how to fill the empty dates of his exhibition schedule. The Cardinals, Jocketty said, hope to play the Phillies on March 3 and schedule the Cleveland Indians in place of the Orioles on March 4.
If opposing clubs fill in their dates and refuse to reschedule the Orioles when and if the strike ends -- and given the current animosity toward the Orioles, that seems a distinct possibility -- Angelos' major-leaguers could do nothing more than play intrasquad games.
Angelos said if that turns out to be the case, the resolution of the strike "will easily offset" any scheduling problems created by his policy against replacement players.
Phyllis Merhige, vice president of media affairs for the American League, said she knew of no way baseball could prevent the Orioles from playing intrasquad games at Al Lang Stadium.
"Major League Baseball does not have jurisdiction here," Merhige said. "Generally, this is between the team and the [operators of] the site."
Regan said he was expecting the cancellations.
"We'll just do whatever we can," Regan said. "I was feeling if the strike wasn't settled, we weren't going to play those games."