Departed 2 had chance and blew it

INSIDE PITCH

June 21, 1995|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

Baseball fact of life No. 101 is that players have a tendency not to understand and/or accept their roles when a team is losing; especially one expected to contend that has lost as consistently as the Orioles have so far this season.

That said, the parting remarks by ex-Orioles Andy Van Slyke and Matt Nokes should probably be dismissed as normal reactions. But (there are always a few buts in these essays), they at least deserve some clarification.

Van Slyke's reaction after his trade to the Phillies was, at the very least, a curious one. He spoke of "feeling like a rookie again" when he played his first game for the Phillies, almost as though it was a strange feeling.

He correctly said that the Orioles were in a confused state. How he translated that to his own subpar performance, however, is difficult to fathom.

The Orioles had every reason to believe Van Slyke would feel like a rookie again when he started their first 11 games, and 12 of the first 13. That alone was unusual because manager Phil Regan was going out of his way (perhaps too far, in fact) to assure that his reserves didn't become permanently attached to the bench.

Van Slyke eventually took two turns on the disabled list, although it was suspected that the only thing ailing the second time was his bat. In all, the veteran center fielder was eligible to play in 20 games for the Orioles. He started all but three, which, considering his batting average and the fact that Jeffrey Hammonds wasn't getting enough at-bats, might have been the most confusing thing of all.

In Nokes' case, he obviously was operating under the misguided assumption that he would play on a more regular basis. He claimed he didn't know his role, but with catcher Chris Hoiles signed to a five-year, $17 million contract -- and designated hitter Harold Baines batting .320 -- it shouldn't have been that difficult to understand.

With Hoiles battling a difficult slump, Nokes could have made a stronger case for himself by hitting more than .122. He had only 49 at-bats, but did start more than 25 percent of the games (12 of 47) before being released.

On two different occasions earlier in the year, Nokes made back-to-back starts. He was 1-for-14 in those four games and hitless (in nine total at-bats) both times he was playing for the second straight day.

Granted, that's not sufficient time to make a fair judgement. But baseball, like life, isn't always fair. Sometimes you have to be able to take advantage of opportunities, limited as they might be, when they are presented.

If the Orioles' record was reversed, which was certainly not beyond expectations, Van Slyke and Nokes would still be here. But that isn't the case, and when you've made as many changes as the Orioles have this year, there really is little choice other than to keep the door revolving.

Of the 25 players on the current roster, only 10 spent the entire 1994 season with the Orioles -- a 60 percent turnover. Based on those numbers alone, the last thing Van Slyke and Nokes should have expected was stability.

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