Time growing late for AL-created O's team

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

March 22, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,Sun Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The options available to Major League Baseball for dealing with its Orioles problem are dwindling as Opening Day nears, according to a highly placed baseball executive.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos is refusing to field a team of replacements if the players strike continues into the regular season. Two options that have been discussed by baseball officials are creating a replacement team that would play home games at an undetermined site -- not in Baltimore -- or creating a replacement team that would assume the Orioles' place on the schedule and play only road games.

But the baseball executive indicated that if baseball were going to pursue this option, officials would have to put that plan into motion "in the next 24 to 48 hours," to allow enough time for the replacement team's staff and players to assemble and practice.

Such a rapid course of action seems unlikely to occur. The owners haven't even ratified formally the use of replacement players with a vote, and American League vice president Phyllis Merhige said yesterday that there are no such plans. "Right now," Merhige said, "we are not even considering it. We have not done one thing about it."

There are two other avenues also being discussed: The AL could order the Orioles to forfeit the games, or league president Gene Budig simply could say the Orioles are not participating in the replacement season and take their games off the schedule, as was done in spring training.

In addition, Budig could move to discipline Angelos and the organization with fines and suspensions -- and Angelos likely would respond with litigation of his own.

Merhige vehemently denied a report published yesterday that the AL may use New Orleans as a home for the replacement Orioles. Merhige is quoted in the story as saying, "Putting a team in New Orleans is one of many options we are considering."

Yesterday, Merhige said that she was misquoted and that New Orleans was only brought up hypothetically. "With God as my witness, I did not say those words," she said. "It wouldn't make any sense, because we have no intention of fielding a replacement team."

Higuera interest down

Orioles manager Phil Regan said his interest in former Milwaukee Brewers left-hander Ted Higuera has "diminished to some extent" because Higuera hasn't returned to Florida to work out with the team.

"If he were here right now," Regan said, "he'd be getting in shape and getting his innings in. To me, he's hurt himself by not coming in."

Higuera, coming back from shoulder surgery, threw for Regan and the Orioles management twice earlier this month and was impressive. Regan talked with Higuera afterward and said he thought the free-agent pitcher would return after tending to personal matters in Mexico.

But a week later, Higuera's agent called Regan and said Higuera was uncomfortable with the idea of working out during the strike.

"When he left here," Regan said, "he told me he was coming back. And I haven't seen him. We gave him an opportunity, they said they wanted the opportunity and maybe he hasn't taken advantage of it."

Meanwhile, San Diego general manager Randy Smith said yesterday that he expects Higuera to work out for the Padres later this week -- news that may compel the Orioles' front office to force a decision from Higuera on his Orioles' future.

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