Baines shouldn't be left out of DH picture

November 29, 1995|By John Eisenberg

Pat Gillick has clued us in on some of his plans for the Orioles, which make sense with but one exception.

Forget about signing Ron Gant? No problem. Peter Angelos' money would be better spent on starting pitching and a capable closer.

Bring back Ben McDonald and Kevin Brown only if they take major pay cuts? No problem. There are tons of other competent free-agent pitchers available.

Bat Brady Anderson somewhere other than leadoff? No problem. As long as there is a suitablealternative, of course.

Play Bobby Bonilla in the outfield instead of at third base? No problem. He belongs in the outfield.

New blood at second base and third base? No problem. It's a must.

Lots of ideas, lots of common sense. That will become the norm with this

club, incredibly, now that Gillick is in charge.

But what's this about bringing in Paul Molitor to be the designated hitter?

The Orioles already have a fine DH, one who consistently delivers even though he hasn't been used correctly for a couple of years now. Remember Harold Baines?

The right choice at DH is Baines over Molitor. And Baines over Eddie Murray, too, for that matter.

Oh, sure, all three are superior candidates with records that speak for themselves. And Gillick is interested in Molitor because of Molitor's leadership, a factor that was lacking in the Orioles clubhouse last season, so it makes sense on that level.

But although Molitor had a terrific run in Toronto in 1993 and 1994, Baines is the better hitter at this point in their careers.

At age 36, he is three years younger than Molitor and Murray and still one of the best pure power hitters in the game.

He had a higher on-base percentage (.403) than either Molitor (.350) or Murray (.375) last season. And he had more home runs and RBIs than Molitor despite having 140 fewer at-bats.

Molitor? He had a mediocre season on a poor ballclub in '95. Maybe he'd bounce back at Camden Yards, but there is a chance he has entered his end-of-career slide.

Murray? He had another solid year on a great team in '95, but he'll turn 40 in February, and, although the fans here want him back, he might not have such a smooth ride in a place he left behind so bitterly.

Besides, as he showed the nation with his snub of a TV reporter after winning Game 3 of the World Series, he has a childish streak that won't help any club.

There is no such baggage with Baines. No baggage, no questions, no maybes. Just superb hitting.

And hey, with Gillick and Davey Johnson now running the club, maybe Baines will even be used correctly for a change.

Phil Regan and Johnny Oates believed so strongly in the lefty-righty game that their good judgment was clouded when it came to Baines. Both managers used the left-handed Baines against right-handed pitching almost exclusively, even though Baines has always hit lefties well.

His career average against lefties was .265 before last season, and he hit .290 against them last season. Yet Regan still often pinch hit for him against lefties. Late in one close game, he sent up Jeff Manto, who has 21 career home runs, to pinch hit for Baines, who has 301 career home runs. Brilliant.

Regan finally reversed himself late in the season after watching Baines hit lefties for a while. "When Harold has gotten the chance [against lefties], he's done pretty well," the manager said.

Those are words for Gillick and Johnson to consider. You can bet Baines would improve on his '95 totals of 24 homers and 63 RBIs if he got more than 385 at-bats. And you can't get much more out of your DH than that.

Sure, Baines has sore knees, clogs up the bases with his lack of speed and hit only .239 with runners in scoring position last year. Big deal. Let's not complicate this thing. A hitter is a hitter is a hitter.

If you went around the Orioles' clubhouse and asked the players to name the hitter they admire most, Baines would win, probably in a landslide. He is a powerful, majestic sight at the plate, and showing no signs of slowing down. He should remain an Oriole in 1996.

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