Before it's too late, Orioles should trade Alexander

On Baseball

April 21, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

Manny Alexander sits and waits for his chance to play, and the Orioles hang onto him, sitting and waiting for the day when Cal Ripken moves to third base or retires. It's a game that has been going on for years.

The time has come for the Orioles to trade Alexander. They are to the point where sitting and waiting no longer makes any sense.

Ripken has been the Orioles' shortstop for almost 14 years now, and there is no reason to believe that trend is going to end soon. Ripken no longer is the impact player he once was, but he continues to be a relatively good offensive shortstop, and a solid defensive shortstop.

He does not have Alexander's range or his cannon throwing arm. But Alexander isn't nearly as consistent as Ripken, doesn't possess Ripken's knowledge of hitters or his experience, and doesn't command the respect Ripken does. Roberto Alomar came here, in part, because he wanted to play with No. 8. And, above all else, the Orioles appear as if they're going to keep on winning, the best reason for keeping the current alignment intact.

Alexander sits and waits for a chance that obviously isn't going to come this year.

But what makes anyone think that opportunity will come next year?

Let's assume the Orioles qualify for the playoffs this year. Let's assume that next year, manager Davey Johnson wants to see how his team would perform with Alexander at short and Ripken at third. Could he justify the move -- to Ripken, whose stubborn competitiveness is part of what makes him such a great and historic player -- if the Orioles are coming off their first postseason trip in 13 years?

It's a quandary that has taken on another level since the season began. Could Johnson justify moving Ripken and B. J. Surhoff, who is proving to be a highly competent third baseman?

Maybe Johnson, with his managerial acumen established, could pull it off, if he so chose. But Johnson said that one of his jobs as manager is to be right "100 percent of the time." What if he made Alexander the shortstop, and Alexander made an inordinate number of careless errors and batted .220? Where would Johnson stand then in the eyes of a veteran team? It's a risky proposition.

The time to trade Alexander is now, when he has some value, when he's coming off a decent showing in spring training (although he did fade at the end). This is the second straight season wasted in his development as a shortstop, and that isn't exactly augmenting his market attractiveness.

He's young enough that teams will look at him as a possible everyday player for a few years. Alexander is 25, according to the Orioles' media guide. But most scouts and executives believe he's older than that. Other teams look at him as an infielder in his late 20s, with four or five productive years remaining in his career.

Alexander hasn't adjusted to sitting on the bench, as have the Orioles' two other utility players, Bill Ripken and Jeff Huson. Alexander is unhappy and he wants to play, and he wants to play shortstop. An occasional start in right field or left or at third will do nothing to satisfy his desire to be an everyday shortstop in the majors.

Johnson wants to give more outfield playing time to Bobby Bonilla, and he says he wants to expand Mike Devereaux's role and play Jeffrey Hammonds just about every day, and establish Tony Tarasco. Makes sense. But Johnson can't do all of that and find a regular opportunity for Alexander. There just aren't enough at-bats to go around.

Alexander doesn't see any future with the Orioles. He has said repeatedly he cannot imagine a time when Ripken isn't the shortstop, and it's hard to argue with him.

Trade Manny Alexander. Trade him now.

The longest game

Fifteen years ago last week, a couple of guys named Boggs and Ripken played in the longest game in pro baseball history.

It took 32 innings on April 18-19, 1981, and a 33rd inning two months later for the Pawtucket Red Sox to surface as 3-2 xTC winners over the Rochester Red Wings.

Pawtucket's Wade Boggs had a key hit to prolong the game in the bottom of the 21st. In a sign of things to come, Rochester's Cal Ripken played all 33 innings.

"Of all the games I've played in, that's one of the few that I easily remember," Ripken told the Associated Press. "Has it been 15 years? It's still fresh in my mind. We've all played in marathon nine-inning games and extra-inning games, but that game was different."

The last inning was played June 23 before thousands of fans and a horde of national media drawn by its novelty and the news drought during the 1981 major-league strike.

Ripken, who was 2-for-13, said the suspension -- at 4: 09 a.m. Easter Sunday with 19 fans in the stands -- was merciful.

"It never would have ended that night," he said. "They had to [suspend it] because it had no chance of ending."

The game eventually did end when Dave Koza singled to left off Cliff Speck to score Marty Barrett. Game time: 8 hours, 25 minutes over 66 days.

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