Johnson, Angelos rock O's boat

June 29, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

NEW YORK -- This is how much the Orioles disgust their employers. The manager last night changed the lineup position of the player chasing Roger Maris' home run record, and the owner publicly criticized the player who last season became a national hero as baseball's all-time Iron Man.

How bizarre is this team?

It turned out to be a good night, perhaps the best of the season.

Cal Ripken had no idea what Peter Angelos had said about him before the game, and it was a good thing. Ripken, batting third for only the third time this season, went 3-for-5 with three RBIs, including the tie-breaking single in the ninth inning of the Orioles' 7-4 victory over the New York Yankees.

Arthur Rhodes out-dueled Mariano Rivera in the late innings to improve to 9-0. New leadoff man Roberto Alomar went 3-for-5, stole a base and scored three runs. Rafael Palmeiro hit a pair of two-run homers, including the first this season off Rivera.

Yet, will anyone even notice?

Mt. Angelos erupted before the game, saying the Orioles are in "desperate need of leadership," and challenging Ripken to accept that responsibility. His timing looks horrible now, but there's an easy solution if Ripken wants to be left alone, if Brady Anderson wants to lead off, if the Orioles want to return to their protective little cocoon.

Win some games.

Win some games, then state your case.

Reliever Jesse Orosco agrees with Angelos that there is a leadership vacuum.

"We need someone to kick us in the butt," he said. But Ripken's brother, Bill, said Cal can't be asked to be someone he's not after 14 years in the majors.

Angelos took an enormous risk, using the media to chide Ripken BTC almost 10 years after late owner Edward Bennett Williams criticized former Orioles slugger Eddie Murray for "doing nothing" -- remarks for which Williams later apologized, but led to Murray requesting a trade.

It seems unthinkable that this latest episode of "As the Orioles Turn" will result in the same conclusion, with Ripken departing the way Murray did in 1988. But from Angelos on down, management is clearly united in its belief that the culture surrounding this team is not a winning culture.

Everyone sees that but the players. Ripken dismissed the team's sluggish play at a news conference Thursday, saying "people lose sight of the fact that we've assembled a team of new faces." That was last year's excuse, wasn't it? Yes, and there's another flaw in Ripken's theory: The Yankees also have a new GM, new manager and new players, and they're in first place.

Ripken, always mindful of saying the right thing, surely had no idea Angelos would go ballistic over a seemingly inoffensive remark. It only happened after a loss to the Yankees, a loss in which Ripken made an error.

Perhaps the owner has a hidden agenda. Ripken's contract expires after next season, and Angelos will want to pay him as a 37-year-old shortstop.

Still, Angelos sought to preserve Ripken's consecutive-games streak by refusing to use replacement players during the baseball strike -- a position that jeopardized his standing with other owners.

This isn't a matter of scapegoating.

This is a team problem.

That's why Johnson did not hesitate to tinker with Anderson, the first trumpet in Ripken's clubhouse band. If Johnson could make Bobby Bonilla a designated hitter and discuss moving Ripken to third base, then surely he could drop Anderson to the No. 2 spot at a time the Orioles are struggling.

The thinking is that the slumping Alomar would turn more aggressive in the leadoff spot -- and sure enough, that's what happened before the second baseman aggravated a hip pointer in the ninth inning.

But how will the change affect Anderson?

Only on Team Agenda is such a question relevant.

Of Anderson's 26 homers, 19 have been solo, and seven were two-run shots -- wasted power. Odd as it might sound, Alomar could provide a greater spark leading off. Johnson said Alomar was reluctant to steal bases in the No. 3 spot, fearing the opposing pitcher would pitch around Rafael Palmeiro to get to Bonilla.

"I don't see this as being a guy can't hit if he can't hit first. Good God, now we're really pulling things out of a hat," Johnson said. "One guy [Bonilla] can't hit when he's not in the field. I can understand a little of that. But if a guy can't hit second instead of first, that's taking things to the nth degree. I can't buy that."

He need not worry.

Like whipped puppies, the players are starting to obey.

Anderson could lose his chance to break the major-league records for home runs and RBIs by a leadoff man, but he took the change in stride, saying, "I'm just going to go play hard." Funny, he failed to run hard to first after just missing a homer last night, walking less than halfway up the line, flipping his helmet and throwing his batting gloves.

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