No joy in rebellion just intrasquad monotony

March 06, 1995|By JOHN EISENBERG

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It was a quiet day in the rebel camp yesterday.

It is a quiet day in the rebel camp every day.

There is never a doubt about what is going to happen.

The Orioles are going to win. And the Orioles are going to lose.

Undertaking a rebellion is supposed to provide thrills of a sort, of course. Ask any teen-ager about it. You take a stand. You get someone mad at you. At the very least, you feel some tingling in your toes.

But there are no tingles for the rebels in baseball's war, whom you know as the Orioles.

A daily diet of intrasquad games -- baseball's version of a No-Doz overdose -- eliminates the possibility of any tingling.

Rebellion is strictly snooze-ville this time.

"My guess," pitching coach Mike Flanagan said, "is that we'll end up with a .500 record."

Of course, these rebels aren't fighting their own fight. Peter Angelos' refusal to recognize Bud Selig's harebrained replacement scheme is the strike (no pun intended) that has turned the Orioles into the pariahs of the Grapefruit League.

"I don't know if I feel like a rebel," manager Phil Regan said, "but I know I feel like I'm right."

Instead of fielding a team composed of schoolteachers and social workers, the Orioles have a collection of minor-leaguers in camp, real ballplayers bound for Rochester and Bowie, complete with futures and everything.

But no other major-league teams will play them.

So they play themselves.

Then they get up the next day and do it again.

It is the perfect exhibition season for Dustin Hoffman's Rain Man. Same thing every day. Same thing every day.

As the owners' replacements play to mercifully meager crowds in Clearwater, Lakeland and other nearby dots on the exhibition map, the Orioles go at it alone, in total isolation.

Garbo's team.

Normally, spring training practically bubbles with activity, bus rides and workouts and the noise of thousands of fans.

The big excitement in the Orioles camp this year is seeing who is going to win the sacrifice-bunt competition.

Actually, the big excitement is going to be seeing how many ways Regan can split the squad into two teams.

"And," Regan said, "there aren't too many ways."

He had been getting by with a series between "Cottier's Birds" and "Foley's Birds." That's a team managed by Orioles bench coach Chuck Cottier against a team managed by Rochester manager Marv Foley. Loser has to run sprints.

But that's going to get old soon enough; and if the strike isn't settled, the Orioles will be in this situation through the end of March.

Hey, only 25 days to go.

"It hasn't gotten too bad yet," minor-leaguer Larry Shenk said yesterday, "but ask me again in three weeks."

The next step could be Regan's picking teams out of a hat.

Yesterday was a little different in that the team got to play at Al Lang Stadium downtown, in front of about 500 fans, instead of at the obscure Huggins-Stengel complex on the outskirts of town, where maybe two dozen fans show up on an average day. ("Hey, good crowd today," Regan said the other morning, looking at maybe three dozen fans in the bleachers.)

Today's game will also be at Al Lang, but otherwise the team is looking at more than three weeks of playing each other at Huggins-Stengel, with only a couple of breaks for recently scheduled games against local college teams. Eckerd College never looked so good.

Infielder Jeff Huson took a look at a posted schedule the other day -- blank except for a couple of spaces -- and said, "Where's the losers' bracket?" Intramural softball, indeed. ("Actually, I'll take this any day over that replacement stuff," Huson said.)

The irony is that these intrasquad games are plainly superior to the replacement games at the major-league parks. The Orioles in camp are real pros, not actors and real estate appraisers.

"The best replacement player isn't good enough to be here," Flanagan said. "I wouldn't even question that for a second. That has nothing to do with this. We have some very good players here."

The only problem is that it is the same players, day after day after day.

"When they get to 150 straight innings against each other, they might start to flatten out a little," Flanagan said.

A settlement to the strike is what everyone wants, but, absent that, this is the reality of the Orioles' spring.

"I have mixed emotions," Regan said. "As a new manager, I could have benefited from the exhibition games. But I think we're fortunate not to be involved in the [replacement] thing. There comes a point, when you're putting some of these people into the uniforms that Mantle and Maris wore, that you're compromising the dignity of the institution."

The rebels still have their dignity, which is what matters, and they're certainly assured of a .500 record. They just wouldn't mind seeing a few unfamiliar faces now and then.

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