McDonald has rough morning, tough evening

June 06, 1995|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Which was more fun for Ben McDonald, spending five hours in his arbitration hearing, or three hours trying to match zeros with Randy Johnson?

Believe it or not, the latter.

"If I can pitch under those circumstances," McDonald said, "I can handle anything."

His day in a nutshell:

You stink, you stink, you stink.

Now beat Seattle.

"Five hours of them telling me how bad I was, then patting me on the butt saying, 'Go get 'em tonight,' " McDonald said.

Oh yes, the game.

McDonald pitched a five-hit complete game, his only mistake coming on a two-run homer by Jay Buhner with two outs in the sixth inning.

Johnson countered with a three-hitter, striking out 12 and improving his record to 6-0 as the Mariners defeated the Orioles, 2-0.

"A long day," McDonald said.

And the perfect symbol of a sport overrun by labor problems, a sport notorious for denigrating its players, a sport tainted by this sham of a season.

"It was really unfair to him," Johnson said. "I didn't realize it until I just heard -- he had a lot of stuff going through his mind. I'm not sorry he lost [the game]. I'm sorry he was put through that."

But that's baseball, circa 1995.

Arbitration is the lovely process in which management lawyers rip players more creatively than newspaper columnists, while player agents portray their clients as future Hall of Famers.

The hearings normally take place in late January and early February, before the start of spring training. But this year is different, seeing as how the sport was shut down until April.

The strike delayed all the normal business of the game, and the industry is still trying to catch up. That's why McDonald arrived at the downtown Hyatt at 10 a.m. -- the time he normally wakes up on the day he pitches.

He requested $4.5 million for his 1995 salary, the Orioles offered $3.2 million. The arbitrators will pick one figure or the other. Their ruling is expected in the next few days.

McDonald wasn't required to attend the hearing, but his agent, Scott Boras, thought it best. McDonald thought so, too, if only to present himself as a person, not a composite of statistics.

"I think the process is something the player needs to see," said Boras, standing outside the Orioles' locker room afterward with another of his clients, Kevin Brown.

"I think it helps the players in many ways. It gives them an understanding of the process, who he is as a performer, where he stands in the marketplace."

Still, Boras is fortunate McDonald pitched well -- otherwise, he would have been second-guessed for disrupting McDonald's routine on a day he was pitching.

McDonald said he usually eats a big breakfast of pancakes and bacon at 10, then lunch at 2. Normally, he leaves for the ballpark at 4:30. Yesterday, he skipped lunch, and didn't arrive until 5:30.

The date of the hearing was set by the players' union and the National Labor Relations Board, which supplies the arbitrators. Yesterday's mess was unavoidable.

And if history is any indication, Orioles negotiators Tal Smith and Russell Smouse came not to praise Ben, but to bury him.

By the time they were through, McDonald probably had no idea how he finished 14-7 last season.

After all, his ERA was 4.06. His record after May 8 was 7-7. And his run support was the eighth-best in the American League.

Hey, this is business.

Nothing personal, OK?

"I knew what to expect before I went in there," said Brown, who

beat Texas twice in arbitration. "You know you'll hear nothing but negatives. They're trying to win the case.

"They're just doing it so they don't have to pay you more money. If they believed all the things they were saying, they would never give you the money they're offering to begin with. You have to take it with a grain of salt."

McDonald, however, didn't sound thrilled.

"It wasn't the things they said, it was the twisting and the turning of the numbers," he said. "It was a very unusual day.

"So many things, so many numbers are running through your mind. I had a hard time concentrating. My stuff wasn't that good. But I was able to go out and compete."

McDonald's teammate, Mike Mussina, said it was the best game thrown by an Oriole starter all season. Pitching coach Mike Flanagan said he was like clockwork, throwing approximately 12 pitches every inning.

Five hours of arbitration.

Three hours against Randy Johnson.

Baseball, 1995.

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