O's, McDonald miss the big picture

BUSTER ON BASEBALL

September 17, 1995|By BUSTER OLNEY

The most unfortunate aspect of the Ben McDonald episode last week was that it simply didn't have to happen. With a little foresight from the Orioles and some big-picture perspective on the part of McDonald, the controversy could have been minimized or avoided altogether.

This is what happened: Orioles manager Phil Regan, after conferring with general manager Roland Hemond, told McDonald Monday night that Jimmy Haynes, and not McDonald, would start on Wednesday night.

The next day, Regan said that McDonald was pitching out of the bullpen because he had more experience working in relief; never mind that McDonald's last appearance out of the bullpen was in 1990. Asked several times in several different manners about whether the decision had anything to do with the fact that McDonald might not be back with the Orioles next year and Haynes will, Regan stuck to his guns -- the decision was based on experience.

McDonald reacted angrily, saying he didn't understand what was happening. After Tuesday night's game against the Boston Red Sox, he said he would not pitch out of the bullpen and, suddenly, the Orioles had a confrontation on their hands. (The face-off ended Wednesday, when McDonald agreed to pitch out of the bullpen and Regan agreed to use him on preassigned days with plenty of time to warm up.)

This is what should have happened: Somebody -- Regan, or his boss, Hemond, who is in charge of personnel decisions -- should have simply announced the obvious. Haynes will definitely be part of the organization next year, and McDonald, because of his uncertain contract status, may not be; logically, then, giving Haynes a taste of the major leagues is more important than having McDonald pitch a few innings.

If McDonald is going to be back with the Orioles next year, he'll have to take a massive pay cut. His agent, Scott Boras, is noted for his stubbornness in negotiations (one of his clients, Jason Varitek, sat out for more than a year after being drafted).

McDonald sat out for months after the Orioles drafted him in 1989, as Boras negotiated a signing bonus. There's no telling what will happen if the Orioles ask McDonald to sign for a salary of less than 50 percent of the $4.5 million he's currently making.

Maybe McDonald would take $1.5 million-$2 million. Maybe not. The Orioles don't know. It's perfectly reasonable they would want to see Haynes pitch, knowing he'll be part of the rotation sometime in 1996, rather than McDonald, who may wind up someplace else.

"Why in the world didn't they just tell the truth? Everybody would've recognized their rationale," another baseball executive said last week.

The Oakland Athletics faced the same dilemma when they released veteran Ron Darling last month, and they were straightforward. They made it clear they liked Darling, thought he was a good guy and he had done a good job. But they didn't consider him to be part of their future, and they were better off giving his spot to someone who will be with Oakland next year.

McDonald mishandled the situation, as well. He's being paid to pitch in whatever role the Orioles think is best for the club, and if that happens to be in the bullpen, McDonald had an obligation to honor that.

McDonald said he wishes Regan would have told him that he was going to pitch out of the bullpen back in August or in early September, but that shouldn't make any difference. McDonald is obligated, in theory, to approach his rehabilitation the same way, no matter what the Orioles planned for him, no matter what his contract status is for 1996. (Maybe he did understand this before agreeing to work out of the bullpen Wednesday).

However, had the Orioles been up front with him and everybody else and explained their perfectly logical reasons for starting Haynes, McDonald's only gripe -- if he had chosen to make it -- would have been with baseball's economic system.

Bad news Bucs

A friend tells this story about a trip to Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium this week: He goes to a ticket window a half hour before game time, to purchase two tickets, normally sold for $14 apiece, on Half Price Night. He hands the salesman a $100 bill. The salesman can't take it -- he doesn't have enough change -- and suggests that the salesman at the next window could do better. The friend does so, handing $100 to the next salesman, for two tickets. The salesman says the cost will be $28. The

friend asks if that's right, isn't this Half Price Night? Oh, yeah, said the salesman, you're right, I forgot, and he goes on to explain that these were the first tickets he had sold since opening his window. Yes, baseball in Pittsburgh is in trouble.

* The St. Louis Cardinals' Tom Henke went 47 appearances without a decision before taking a loss Friday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The record is held by Mike Flanagan, who had 42 appearances without a win or a loss for the Orioles in 1992.

* The Dodgers have benched shortstop Jose Offerman. He sounded surprised at the news, a surprise in itself.

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