Tom Trebelhorn, the former Chicago Cubs manager who is now a minor-league instructor for the Orioles, has the roots of an innovator. His mentor is Syd Thrift, an innovator who once was hired by Charles Finley, an innovator who died last week.
And in his moments of idle thought, Trebelhorn the innovator has come up with a terrific Trebelhorn compromise for those who love the National League rules and those who love the designated hitter.
He calls it the designated pinch hitter, and this is how it works: The manager will have a lineup like they use in the NL, with the pitcher batting. But on his lineup card, the manager notates one player who will serve in the role of designated pinch hitter, and during the course of the game, he can use this player four times -- in any spot in the lineup, from No. 1 to No. 9, never twice in the same inning.
Suppose the Orioles are playing the New York Yankees, and Rafael Palmeiro is the designated pinch hitter for the day. The Orioles load the bases with one out in the second inning, and No. 8 hitter and right fielder Jeffrey Hammonds is due to bat against right-hander David Cone.
Manager Davey Johnson could have Palmeiro bat for Hammonds, attempting to break open the game early, and Hammonds would return to right field the next inning.
The beauty in this idea is that it serves the interests of those who support and those who hate the designated hitter. Those who prefer the DH like the idea of keeping older hitters such as Eddie Murray and Harold Baines active, and with the designated pinch hitter, Murray and Baines would have a place in the game.
Some prefer the NL rules and all the strategy and decisions involved in having the pitcher in the lineup -- when to pinch-hit, when to get the bullpen warmed up -- and the DPH would create even more situations requiring decisions by the manager.
"It would certainly put a lot of pressure on the manager," Trebelhorn said.
Should the manager use the DPH early, or hold him out until late in the game? Should the DPH bat for the other good hitters in the lineup in an attempt to exploit a potentially favorable matchup, or just bat for the weaker hitters? Should a good fielder like Ken Griffey be used as a DPH -- the manager must choose between picking and choosing spots for his best hitter -- or should the manager keep Griffey in the outfield and gamble Griffey would bat in critical situations?
How could the opposing manager handle his bullpen, knowing that his move can be countered with the insertion of the DPH, likely an exceptional hitter?
"I think fans would like that," Trebelhorn said. "Any time you've got fans thinking about strategy -- [saying] he should've batted [the DPH] in that spot, or he should've waited for another chance -- it gets them involved. It could be tremendous."
Orioles general manager Pat Gillick likes the idea. "It could be very interesting for the fans," he said.
B. J. Surhoff needs some time thinking about the plan before saying whether it would work, but he likes the effort. Baseball will need one set of rules eventually, he said, a uniform set of rules.
"It's something worth talking about," Surhoff said. "It's good to be talking over some ideas [how to handle it]."
Orioles still shopping
The Orioles' haven't resumed talks with the Padres for outfielder Melvin Nieves. If they can't get him, there are two others who fit the description of a left-handed hitter who can play more than one spot in the outfield -- Kansas City outfielder Jon Nunnally and Philadelphia's Jim Eisenreich.
Nunnally, 24, batted .244 for the Royals with 14 homers, 42 RBIs and six stolen bases. He has terrific range in right field and in left. But his strikeout ratio is a little high for a bench player (86 in 303 at-bats).
Eisenreich would be perfect for the Orioles, a terrific offensive and defensive player who may be available because of the glut of outfielders in Philadelphia (Lenny Dykstra, Lee Tinsley, Darren Daulton). But Eisenreich is a more expensive solution; he'll make million this year.
* Jayson Stark of the Philadelphia Inquirer found this interesting incentive clause in the contract of White Sox designated hitter Baines, which may be the most absurd in baseball: If Baines wins a Gold Glove Award, he gets $50,000. You remember Baines -- a good guy who didn't even bother bringing a glove with him during batting practice.
* Colorado equipment manager Dan McGinn struggled to find a pair of pants that would fit young bopper Derrick Gibson, who hit .292 with 32 homers, 115 RBIs and 31 steals for Single-A Asheville last season. Eventually, McGinn gave him baseball pants with a 40-inch waist so they would fit Gibson's huge thighs (McGinn will have to take in about 4 inches on the waist, however). "Luckily, I had pants left over from Fantasy Camp," McGinn said.
* If Larry Walker decides he doesn't want to play center field, the Rockies will move him back to right, with Dante Bichette in left and Ellis Burks in center.
Not so sweet