Alexander way off-base, but frustration justified

On Baseball

June 09, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

The Orioles' Manny Alexander suggested this week that one reason he isn't playing is because he's from the Dominican Republic, an unconscionable, irresponsible remark made out of frustration. Orioles general manager Pat Gillick, assistant general manager Kevin Malone and manager Davey Johnson have established themselves as men dedicated to winning, not promoting non-Latin players.

Gillick, after all, built the Toronto franchise with Latin players such as Tony Fernandez, George Bell and Juan Guzman, and turned the team into a championship-caliber club with his acquisition of Roberto Alomar, who is from Puerto Rico.

As general manager of the Montreal Expos, Malone worked hand-in-hand with Felipe Alou, a native of the Dominican Republic who is perhaps the best manager in the National League today, and together they perpetuated the Expos' strong tradition in developing Latin American and African-American players.

Johnson's teams in New York and Cincinnati were virtual rainbow coalitions, with stars such as Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Dwight Gooden, David Cone, Darryl Strawberry, Barry Larkin, Jose Rijo and Reggie Sanders.

The player Johnson has coveted most as a potential leader has been veteran outfielder Andre Dawson, an African-American. The marquee player on the Orioles is Alomar, a free agent who Gillick and Johnson desperately wanted over another free-agent second baseman -- Craig Biggio, who is white. And how much would Johnson love to have the other Dominican on the Orioles' major-league roster, Armando Benitez, healthy and ready to help his beleaguered bullpen?

That said, the Orioles have botched their handling of Alexander this year. They should have made a hard and fast decision on what they intended to do with him coming out of spring training or early in the season, when his trade value probably was at its highest.

They should have determined to play him here or trade him, rather than waffle and let his skills deteriorate and his emotions fester.

Alexander nearly broke into the lineup two weeks ago, when Johnson talked about moving Cal Ripken to third. But Ripken stopped that from happening by going on a tear offensively and playing better defensively.

Bill Ripken filled in at third and played well. (Alexander should remember that all spring, while he insisted on working out almost exclusively at shortstop, Bill Ripken was taking grounders every day at third base.)

Now Cal Ripken has defended his turf at shortstop, B. J. Surhoff is back at third and the team is contending for the American League East title.

Alexander's window of opportunity for 1996 has passed, barring an injury to Ripken. The Orioles will go into next year not knowing anything more about Alexander's abilities than they did in March, his trade value will be down even more, he will naturally become more and more bitter and less likely to succeed for the Orioles once he does get his chance.

They should deal him now, rather than keep him around as insurance against something -- an injury to Ripken -- that has never happened. There's no guarantee that Alexander would succeed if Ripken did go down, particularly since he hasn't played regularly in 2 1/2 months.

But if the Orioles keep Alexander, then they need to play him occasionally at short, once a week or so, like every other young player in the game. It's nonsensical that he never plays. If he's not playing because of Ripken's record-setting consecutive-games streak -- which will eventually end, anyway -- that's even more ridiculous, this being a team sport.

On a given day, the Orioles have a better chance of winning with Cal Ripken at shortstop. But in the big picture, the team will need something from Alexander, whether as an eventual replacement for Ripken or as trade bait. And, if he's going to stay here, he needs a chance to practice his craft, at shortstop.

Wanted: a commissioner

Yet again, a rash of incidents have magnified baseball's need for an independent commissioner, and demonstrated that Bud Selig's dual standing as owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and acting commissioner is unacceptable.

On May 31, the Brewers and Cleveland Indians engaged in a brawl that compelled AL president Gene Budig to suspend the (( Indians' Albert Belle and Julian Tavarez and Milwaukee catcher Matt Matheny for five games. The Indians were furious with Budig's decision, manager Mike Hargrove saying -- to much concurrence around baseball -- that Belle's football block to Brewers second baseman Fernando Vina was a clean, tough play (and remember, the umpires monitoring the game didn't even eject Belle for his actions).

The game's ultimate authority Selig is in the hands of Selig, who stands behind Budig in the chain of command. How does that look, in any decision that involves the Brewers -- especially when the Indians, a division rival of Milwaukee, took the brunt of the punishment? (Milwaukee's Terry Burrows, the pitcher who obviously threw at Belle late in the game, was not suspended.)

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