There's relief, and a lot of uncertainty BASEBALL OWNERS SAY PLAY BALL


April 03, 1995|By Jim Henneman and Buster Olney | Jim Henneman and Buster Olney,Sun Staff Writers

Predictably, the back-to-work news was greeted enthusiastically by Orioles past, present and future yesterday.

Confusion over some of the details and the expected free-agent signing frenzy was far outweighed by relief that the 7 1/2 -month strike finally was over. The next few days will be hectic, especially for those who are unsigned, but to those who were available for comment, the idea of returning to the playing field was all that mattered.

"That [strike] part of it is over," veteran designated hitter Harold Baines said from his Eastern Shore home. "The issue part hasn't been settled yet."

Baines said he felt that Orioles owner Peter Angelos was instrumental in baseball's decision to abandon the idea of using replacement players.

"I think we owe a lot of credit to Mr. Angelos for saying he wouldn't use them," said Baines.

"I know when I see him, I'll thank him personally. He stood by what he thought was fair. It took awhile [before the replacement issue was resolved], but eventually I think he got his point across."

Although he was unclear on some of the details, Baines at least knows he'll be reporting to the Orioles camp in either Sarasota or St. Petersburg, Fla. He agreed to terms for 1995 the day before baseball instituted a freeze on all signings. "I was one of the lucky ones," he said.

Mike Devereaux, no longer on the Orioles' roster, is not as fortunate. He may be one of hundreds of free agents who have to report to a makeshift camp in Homestead, Fla. But that prospect doesn't bother him.

"I guess my first reaction is happiness," said Devereaux, who lives in Tampa during the off-season. "We've got to get the game going again. All of us [major-league players] have been out of the game longer than we ever have in our lives. I'm ready to go.

"There's going to be a big scramble for players," Devereaux said. Because of the freeze, there was very little time to talk [to teams about a contract]. It wasn't a good time to be a free agent."

Orioles manager Phil Regan was happy to hear the news, but said he never thought replacement players would take the field anyway.

"I think people in baseball knew there's no way you can bring back people who've been out of the game four or five years and expect them to be major-league players," Regan said.

New Orioles catcher Matt Nokes also had been among the optimists.

"I'm relieved. I told everybody from the very beginning this was going to get settled, and everybody, even the other players, were saying June," Nokes said. "I felt the tide would eventually turn and no one would want to lose all that. We've made progress in the negotiations. We're really close, and I think something will get done.

"For some reason, I feel optimistic about us reaching some sort of middle ground on the taxation issue. I hope it doesn't get brushed off. . . . Right now, people want to get things settled."

Does Nokes think the Orioles will have an edge because they refused to use replacements?

"Oh, yeah. The coaches are going to be excited," he said. "They haven't had that spring training blah, and they haven't had the pressure of knowing they're going to have to look major-leaguers in the eye after working with the [replacement players]. I think with other teams, that could be totally different."

But a note of pessimism came from Rochester Red Wings catcher Greg Zaun, who thinks the younger players who were on the major-league rosters but not in the big leagues could be hurt by the accelerated spring training.

"We're not going to have a chance to show what we can really do," Zaun said. "I don't anticipate [the coaching staff] will be paying attention to us young guys very much. They've got to worry about getting the [older] players ready.

"I'm not saying that I don't have a shot, but you've got to look at the situation realistically and know [Regan] is going to look for players he's more familiar with.

"That's just part of it," Zaun said. "The whole strike has been tough for the younger players. They kept us out on strike and we didn't get any money. Now we'll come back and have a tough time.

"The young guys have really gotten raked over the coals."

Zaun saw another possible scenario. "If you look at it another way," he said, "the [lack of money] could force some of the middle-of-the-road guys out, because teams will be looking to cut back, and some of the young guys might get a better chance."

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