McDonald becomes a Brewer for $5.9M Pitcher leaves Orioles for two-year contract

January 21, 1996|By Brad Snyder | Brad Snyder,SUN STAFF

He came to the team amid great expectations and left with no regrets. Ben McDonald officially ended his pitching career with the Orioles after seven seasons yesterday, agreeing to an incentive-laden two-year contract with the Milwaukee Brewers.

"I'm very pleased with it," McDonald, 28, said from his home in Mississippi. "Heck, I couldn't have asked for more. It gives me some security and a chance to make a lot of money if I reach some incentives."

The deal will pay McDonald at least $5.88 million, with an option for a third year. Performance incentives could make the contract worth $13.5 million over three years, said McDonald's agent, Scott Boras.

McDonald, 58-53 lifetime with a 3.89 ERA, is coming off a disappointing, injury-marred 1995 season in which he won an arbitration case and battled chronic tendinitis behind his right shoulder. He finished the year 3-6 with a 4.16 ERA.

Brewers officials said they had McDonald examined by California orthopedist Lewis Yocum last week and are confident that he is healthy.

"For us, being a young club, he could be a No. 1 starter," Brewers general manager Sal Bando said. "He's been pitching behind Mike Mussina the last few years. It's a chance for Ben to blossom and see what he's really capable of."

The Orioles discussed a one-year contract worth about $2.8 million with Boras, but never made McDonald a formal offer.

"When we talked in that [$2.8 million] range, Boras said that was totally unacceptable," Orioles general manager Pat Gillick said. "I'm happy for him. We wish him well and are sorry he didn't come back with us."

Boras said he would have accepted $2.8 million if incentives would have brought the contract up to $4.2 million. At McDonald's insistence, Boras said he called Orioles owner Peter Angelos on Monday, relayed the medical report, and informed him McDonald was close to signing with Milwaukee.

McDonald said the two-year contract is the biggest reason he decided to sign with the Brewers, a young team that, unlike the Orioles, is not expected to be a postseason contender.

"It's going to be a challenge," said McDonald, who will appear at a Milwaukee news conference tomorrow. "It's a rebuilding-type team. It kinds of reminds me of the type of team we had in '89."

That was the year the Orioles made McDonald the first pick overall in the draft after he had received the highest rating ever for a pitcher from the major-league scouting bureau. A 6-foot-7 basketball and baseball player at Louisiana State, McDonald was expected to be the pitching ace who would help lead the Orioles into perennial contention.

McDonald, whose rookie contract of $925,000 was then a record for a draft pick, never lived up to those expectations, but he developed into a solid No. 2 starter. He won 13 games in 1992 and 1993 and 14 in strike-shortened 1994, which looked as if it would be McDonald's breakout season.

His most disappointing season was 1995, in which he won three games, suffered tendinitis and got into a dispute with manager Phil Regan about pitching out of the bullpen. In June, he won a $4.5 million salary (the Orioles offered $3.2 million) in an arbitration case that basically sealed his departure from the team.

Whatever he lacked on the mound, the Louisiana native made up for as a colorful clubhouse figure. McDonald could hold seven baseball in his right hand, liked eating mustard sardines before games and wrestled alligators. He once put a muzzled alligator in a teammate's bathtub during spring training.

McDonald counts his first major-league appearance in 1989, his shutout in his first start in 1990 and Cal Ripken's record-breaking day as highlights of his Orioles career. He said it will be eerie facing his former teammates.

"I was sitting in bed thinking about that last night," McDonald said. "I spent parts of seven years with the Orioles. I hope I don't do something stupid, like get out of the inning and run to the wrong dugout."

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