Polonia added as insurance, to start at AAA Outfielder could replace utility man on roster

Sidelight

April 20, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Normally, playoff contenders like to add veteran outfielders in the final two months of the season. The Orioles are doing it now: They signed Luis Polonia to a minor-league contract yesterday, and he will report Monday to ,, Triple-A Rochester.

Polonia, 31, who played with the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves last year and was released March 26 by Seattle, will provide immediate insurance in the event one of the Orioles' outfielders gets hurt. "It would be either him or Mark Smith," said Orioles manager Davey Johnson.

But Polonia's promotion could be more imminent than that. Polonia could join the Orioles if Johnson and club executives determine they have no practical use for carrying three utility players, something that is becoming more apparent. Bill Ripken, Manny Alexander and Jeff Huson combined for four at-bats in the first 14 games.

It figures that if Johnson wanted Polonia, then the Orioles would make a move with either Huson or Alexander. And there are a lot of reasons for Johnson to want Polonia, a proven major-league hitter.

"He's a good hitter," said Orioles coach Rick Down, Polonia's hitting coach with the Yankees the past two years. "He can play. He would be a definite asset if he gets up here. He's been around awhile, he knows the league, he can steal a base. He can get a base on balls, if that's what you need."

Johnson said: "He's really a pesky little hitter."

Polonia, a left-handed hitter, has a career average of .293 and an on-base percentage of .344 over nine seasons in the majors. He's stolen as many as 55 bases in a single season, and has 283 for his career. He is widely regarded as a sub-par outfielder with a poor arm, limited to playing left field, but Down said Polonia improved defensively with the Yankees.

The Braves acquired Polonia and Mike Devereaux for the stretch drive last year, and Polonia played in all six games during the World Series, batting .286 with a homer and four RBIs.

"He did everything they asked him to do," said Kent Mercker, who played with Atlanta last year. "He's a good hitter, gets on base. He could start, but if he doesn't, he's a good guy off the bench."

Polonia's agent called Orioles general manager Pat Gillick during the off-season to ask if the Orioles had any interest, and at the time, Gillick said he had none whatsoever. Polonia signed with Seattle, and if the Mariners had kept him, he would've earned $700,000. But in the last days of spring training, when he was hitting .327, Seattle released him; Polonia angrily maintained it was a decision based strictly on money.

He had a run-in with the law early in his career. Polonia was sentenced to 60 days in prison in 1989 after pleading no contest to a charge of having sex with a minor.

Then 24, Polonia allegedly had sex twice with a 15-year-old in a Milwaukee hotel while on a Yankees road trip. Polonia told authorities the girl told him she was 19.

Pub Date: 4/20/96

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