DH role doesn't sit well with Bonilla Will consider leaving O's in '97 if no change

April 15, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Bobby Bonilla can't make it any clearer. He said from the start that he doesn't want to be the Orioles' everyday designated hitter, and he put it even more bluntly after an 0-for-3 performance in yesterday's 4-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins.

He all but said that if it becomes more than a temporary arrangement, he won't be playing in Baltimore a year from now.

"The bottom line is, it's temporary no matter how you look at it," said Bonilla, who can become a free agent after this season. "If they choose all year, that's the choice they make. They hold the cards."

Bonilla could have said all the right things. He could have said that he'll do whatever it takes to keep the team on a roll -- because that's exactly what he was doing when he spent two hours after yesterday's game working in the batting cage and talking with batting coach Rick Down. He could have said nothing at all. But this clearly is something that strikes at the heart of his baseball persona.

"I think they need to make a decision," he said. "It's a temporary thing. That's what I was told."

What if the decision is that the club wants him to be the full-time DH all season?

"They aren't going to come to me and tell me that," he said. "They told me it was temporary."

Can he learn to like it?

"I don't want to like it. Maybe I'm just a National League player. It's just not baseball. I don't want to think about hitting 24 hours a day."

Bonilla was expected to see time in right field or at third base, depending on the spring performance of B.J. Surhoff. Then Surhoff settled in at third and the Orioles acquired promising outfielder Tony Tarasco and manager Davey Johnson wanted to put all of them in the lineup at the same time.

He decided that the best thing for the club would be to play his young outfielders, Tarasco and Jeffrey Hammonds, regularly and probably thought that the Bonilla situation would work itself out during the early weeks of the season. Instead, everybody's playing well, and there's no reason to mess with success. Except that Bonilla wants in.

It's not that the DH experiment has been an on-field disaster. Bonilla is batting .268 with a home run and six RBIs in 11 games. He had an unproductive day yesterday -- and even was booed lightly after he struck out on three pitches in the ninth inning -- but that didn't seem to bother him as much as his uncertain role.

"That was cheering compared to what I'm used to," he said, smiling. "They can boo all they want, and they still can't come close to New York. You can get 47,000 people in here and get them all booing at the same time and they couldn't come close to a New York crowd."

Of course, it was nothing like that. For all anyone knew, the booing he got yesterday was from a carload of visiting Mets fans. The vast majority of fans at Camden Yards are ecstatic about the Orioles' 9-2 start and seem happy that Bonilla is at the heart of the club's lineup.

"Expectations are going to be high, period," said shortstop Cal Ripken. "The reaction of the fans is usually going to be 95 percent positive and 5 percent negative. You can't even be sure the ones booing are even the real Baltimore fans."

Still, even the smattering of boos was more than most Orioles expected in the wake of the second-best start in club history.

"I was surprised," said outfielder Mike Devereaux. "The thing that came to my mind was that they expected us to win and they didn't look at the whole picture. They are excited about the good start and they want to keep it going, but we as ballplayers know that we're not going to go 161-1."

Bonilla agrees. The Orioles already have staged three late-inning comebacks. They dominated the defending American League champion Cleveland Indians in a two-game series and were in the midst of a five-game winning streak. The level of excitement and expectation had become unrealistic.

"If they thought we were going to win every game, they need to wake up and smell the coffee," Bonilla said. "That's ridiculous, and it needs to be written that it's ridiculous."

Pub Date: 4/15/96

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