Never say never: Sabo will be DH

April 11, 1995|By Ken Rosenthal | Ken Rosenthal,Sun Columnist

SARASOTA, Fla. -- As an Oriole, Chris Sabo balked at becoming a designated hitter, saying it was "not baseball." He conceded that Harold Baines was "a nice guy," but said all a DH did was bat four times and watch television.

Nothing like the threat of unemployment to change a man's mind. Now that Sabo has signed a one-year, $300,000 contract to be the Chicago White Sox DH, he'll be happy to grab a bat and the remote control, too.

It's mind-boggling enough that the White Sox chose Sabo to replace Julio Franco as their DH. It's even more mind-boggling that they plan to bat Sabo cleanup -- behind Frank Thomas.

"Is that what I'm hitting?" Sabo asked the reporters who greeted him at the White Sox training complex yesterday. "Interesting."

Almost as interesting as the humbling of a free agent who batted .256 with 11 home runs and 42 RBIs in 68 games with the Orioles last season.

"I can't play anywhere but third base," Sabo proclaimed last June. "I'm not a pinch hitter, and I'm not a DH."

But after spending the weekend at the free-agent training camp in Homestead, Fla., Sabo practically skipped into the White Sox clubhouse, thrilled to be a DH.

"It beats the alternative," he said. "I've always loved playing. I'll do the

best I can to adjust to the role. Maybe I'll have less chance of getting hurt."

Sabo, 33, said he has been injured every season since 1991. A back strain caused him to lose his third base job to Leo Gomez last May.

Gomez went on a hitting tear, delighting owner Peter Angelos. And Sabo, a $2 million free agent, went bonkers.

He asked to be sent to the minor leagues, requested a trade and even disparaged Gomez, who had batted .197 the previous season.

"Let's face it, he's no Mike Schmidt," Sabo said.

Then again, Sabo was no Gomez.

Former manager Johnny Oates tried him in the outfield, and in July began starting him again at third.

It was then that Angelos interceded, ordering Oates to play Gomez. Sabo did not play the final week before the strike, citing an injured hand.

"I enjoyed playing for the Orioles -- it was one of the best groups of guys I ever played with," he said. "It's strange the way it worked out. But I don't regret going there."

And the White Sox don't mind that

he's coming off such a bizarre year.

"I think he was promised things before he got there," general manager Ron Schueler said. "He knows where I stand, what his job will be."

Schueler said he was elated to sign Sabo, and added that he expected him to hit at least 15 home runs.

Franco batted .319 with 20 homers and 98 RBIs last season before the strike hit Aug. 12. He is now playing in Japan.

The White Sox considered signing another former Oriole, Mickey Tettleton, but evidently his price was too high. Schueler said Sabo was a better fit because he could spell third baseman Robin Ventura.

Sabo signed at 12:50 p.m. yesterday and took only an hour to report to the White Sox. He already had left the free-agent camp and was back home in Sarasota.

"I figured if I did not sign by midweek, I might not get signed," Sabo said. "My agent called me last night and woke me up. He said they were interested."

Sabo decided quickly.

"Whatever," he said.

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