In search of closer's opening statement

February 23, 1996|By John Eisenberg

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Where is the closer?

It was Topic A for the Orioles yesterday, but that shows you how quiet things are here in Camp Content, where salaries are high, jobs are secure and any important question already is answered.

Where is the closer? Who cares? It wouldn't matter if Randy Myers missed spring training, rode a team of sled dogs from Washington state to Baltimore and showed up on Opening Day.

OK, maybe that's a little strong. It wouldn't hurt for Myers, the Orioles' new closer, to deign to show up one of these weeks in return for the $3.1 million he will earn this year.

But the only thing that really matters, the only relevant question regarding Myers, is this:

Has he recovered from whatever it was that caused him to crash after the All-Star break last year?

That's all that matters. The Orioles' entire season may depend on the answer.

Not that Davey Johnson is shrugging off Myers' failure to report. The Orioles' manager was joking about it at the beginning of camp, but his smile keeps shrinking.

On Monday, Johnson laughed and said, "Maybe Randy is riding down a mountain with a mule team," referring to Myers' woodsy off-season home in Vancouver, Wash.

By yesterday, Johnson was feeling prickly enough to tell reporters, "You guys can get on him."

Myers isn't required to report until March 1, of course; all veterans can wait until then, according to the terms of the basic agreement. But almost every player voluntarily meets the reporting deadline.

Why isn't Myers here? First, he told Johnson that the women's basketball team at Clark College, which he helps coach, was in the playoffs. A few days later, he told Johnson he had to move his mother because of flooding near her home.

Both excuses apparently were valid (a Clark College official confirmed that the women's team had a playoff game last night), yet were tolerated only because Myers is famous as a semi-eccentric who follows an unusual but strenuous off-season regimen. Everyone has visions of him running around in the woods throwing hand grenades at trees.

His individualism has always been tolerated because of his 243 career saves.

"I'm not worried about him being late," general manager Pat Gillick said yesterday. "He's probably done more than anyone else over the winter. He may think that spring training is too long. And he's probably right. Just so he's ready when it's time to go."

Said Johnson: "I'm sure he'll be in good shape. He loves the weight room. He leads an active life."

Still, enough is enough, and Myers might actually get in trouble if he isn't in uniform today.

"I expect him in uniform for Friday's workout," Johnson said.

But what is the club going to do? Fine him? Take away his laundry privileges? Rap him on the knuckles?

No, they're not going to do anything. They're depending on him too much.

None of the club's other high-profile free agents, not even Roberto Alomar, is under as much pressure to produce. The Orioles don't have a Plan B at closer. Jesse Orosco and Roger McDowell aren't options. Alan Mills is coming off surgery. Don't even talk about Armando Benitez. Jay Powell is a Florida Marlin.

Myers has to deliver.

That would not seem to be a problem at first glance. Myers led the National League in saves last year. He converted 38 of 44 chances.

But as usual, the numbers don't tell all. Myers was hit hard after the All-Star break. He experienced soreness in his back and shoulder, and his ERA rose from 2.40 before the break to 5.61 after.

It may be that he was just overworked: 57 appearances in a 144-game season is a big workload for a closer.

But the Cubs were skeptical enough to offer him just a one-year contract for much less money than the Orioles offered. What does it say that Myers' former team all but gave up on him? Does make you wonder.

Ah, but it's too late now, isn't it? The Orioles have invested in Myers, for better or worse. They have assembled a championship-caliber team and asked him to come in and protect it.

If he ever shows up.

"There's not much I can do about it," Johnson said. "There's no use getting perturbed about something I have no control over."

That's the sound of a manager pushed pretty close to the brink of getting upset.

But don't misunderstand. This is just a typical spring training non-issue, a passing breeze, something to talk about in lieu of anything important happening.

It doesn't matter.

What matters is whether Myers is his old self again in the ninth inning once the season starts.

MA If he isn't, you can be sure he'll show up on time next year.

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