For Angelos, Gillick, O's fight is for more than pennant

August 14, 1996|By KEN ROSENTHAL

If the Orioles make the playoffs, owner Peter Angelos is vindicated. If the Orioles don't make the playoffs, general manager Pat Gillick is vindicated.

That, fans, is a rift.

A rift that is nothing personal, but threatens to widen.

Angelos and Gillick say it's settled, but it's not settled. It's never going to be settled, as long as Angelos sees fit to overrule a general manager who is widely perceived to be the best in baseball.

That's exactly what happened before the July 31 trading deadline, when Angelos vetoed Gillick's plans to trade Bobby Bonilla and David Wells for prospects.

And that's exactly what could happen again if the Orioles qualify for the postseason after Angelos insisted that Gillick keep the team intact.

Each man spoke warmly of the other yesterday, Angelos professing "full confidence" in Gillick, and Gillick expressing admiration for the "big heart" Angelos shows Orioles fans.

For now, they've agreed to disagree.

But boy, do they disagree.

Angelos yesterday expressed dissatisfaction with the Orioles' bullpen, indicated a desire to re-sign Bonilla as a free agent and sounded cool to the idea of trading veterans even if the team falls out of the wild-card race.

Gillick, meanwhile, admitted he probably made an "error in judgment" acquiring left-hander Kent Mercker, but said the bullpen was weakened by injuries to Armando Benitez, Roger McDowell and Arthur Rhodes.

He also said it was "unlikely" the Orioles could acquire Seattle catching prospect Chris Widger, a player Angelos said the team can "probably get" in an off-season trade after declining him in a package for Wells.

Finally, Gillick said he would not hesitate to ask Angelos for another chance to trade veterans for prospects if the Orioles fall out of contention before the Aug. 31 waiver deadline.

A major-league source said yesterday that the Orioles cleared every player they tried through waivers. It is not known whether that group includes Bonilla and Wells, but it is standard practice for clubs to put all of their players on revocable waivers.

"If our ballclub got in a position where we didn't think we could gain a berth in the playoffs, I think I would certainly go back and make a recommendation to him regarding the movement of players," Gillick said.

How would Angelos respond?

"It all depends on how much time remains [in the season] and whether or not one could make the judgment that the team was completely incapable of maintaining a competitive posture," he said.

Gillick made that determination once already, and that was when Rhodes and McDowell were due to come off the disabled list. Now Rhodes is back on the DL, while McDowell is trying to regain his effectiveness.

The bullpen includes one pitcher discovered in Mexico (Archie Corbin), another claimed off waivers from pitching-poor Minnesota (Mike Milchin) and a third who started the season at Double-A with Montreal (Esteban Yan).

The Orioles are 15-33 against teams over .500, but they played a decent series in Chicago last weekend, only to lose two of three in large part due to their lack of bullpen depth.

"The bullpen has not been built up to the level of the Cleveland Indians or New York Yankees," Angelos said. "Both those organizations systematically went out to create bullpens of that caliber.

"We here in Baltimore have failed to do that, not just in '96, but also in '93, '94 and '95. It was an error made in the composition of the team this year. It was similarly made in 1995. I guarantee you it won't be made in 1997."

Gillick responded, "As I said many times in spring training, injuries play a big part. If Benitez, McDowell and Rhodes had been healthy enough the whole year, our bullpen would have been sufficient.

"Our problem is that they didn't stay healthy. And we don't have enough depth in our minor-league system to replace those players with anyone close to their capabilities."

Which is one reason Gillick sought to trade Bonilla and Wells, figuring the young players he received could help replenish the farm system. Angelos said he balked partly because the players under discussion would not have helped the Orioles this season.

"We've had discussions, and we've had heated discussions," Gillick said. "The only time we really had a major disagreement in policy was in July . . . He thought the baseball people were looking forward to '97 and forgetting about '96.

"I respect where he's coming from. I understand where he's coming from. Sometimes, it's good to have his perspective. I don't think there's anything wrong with us not agreeing on certain issues. I think that's healthy."

Angelos repeated yesterday that conceding with more than one-third of the season left would have amounted to a "break of faith" with Orioles fans, more than 3 million of whom purchased their tickets before Opening Day.

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