Orioles general manager Pat Gillick called Mike Mussina on Wednesday, but not to discuss salary, arbitration or contract terms. Gillick wanted to talk about anything but that sort of stuff.
It was an "unbelievably informal" conversation, Mussina remarked later. The discussion, he said, ranged from basketball to the Orioles' farm system.
It was standard operating procedure for Gillick, who may have been looking for a little more insight into Mussina's character as he prepares to offer him a long-term deal.
Gillick took a flight to Cleveland to meet with Tim Naehring Mussina last month to learn more about that free agent, and he and assistant GM Kevin Malone drove to Maine to have brunch with Mike Bordick 10 days before Bordick signed with the Orioles.
"You don't want to go this sort of thing blind," Gillick said Friday, referring to negotiations with free agents. "Whatever the investment, you have to take it seriously, and to me, anything [with cash figures] in the thousands is important. You have a responsibility to the other players and to the company you work for."
Gillick said that at the outset of the negotiations with Bordick, Joe Bick, Bordick's agent, told him the shortstop would need suitable time to consider all his offers. Gillick thought at first Bick was merely posturing, attempting to augment his negotiating position. "But when I met Mike, I understood," Gillick said. "He's a very thoughtful, analytical type of guy.
"Sometimes you're going to be right, sometimes you're going to be wrong. But you've got to feel comfortable with someone."
Gillick joined the Orioles in November of '95 and, often driven by crisis, he rushed through the season without getting to know players as well as he had in Toronto, where most of the Blue Jays came up through the farm system.
He is learning more about Mussina, and the conversation must've been a good one: The Orioles had more discussions with Mussina's agent late Thursday night, and will probably have a meeting with the pitcher this week. Mussina is seeking a five-year deal for something in the range of $35 million, the Orioles offered a two-year extension, and the sides probably will meet somewhere in between.
"When I met Mike," said agent Arn Tellem, "he told me he grew up in one town [Montoursville, Pa.], went to one college, and, hopefully, he'll play with one team."
Leading with Anderson
Brady Anderson will be the Orioles' leadoff hitter next season. So says the man responsible for that decision, manager Davey Johnson. "How can I not let Brady lead off?" Johnson said rhetorically. "He likes leading off." Anderson will be pleased to hear the news. "Tell him happy holidays," Johnson said. "He's probably out in California surfing or hiking or something like that."
It's been more than a year since the Orioles fired Frank Robinson, and he's still looking for his next job. "It looks like I'm about through with it," said Robinson, 60. "There's just nothing out there. After 42 years in the game, maybe it's time to move on.
"I'm going to wait a little bit, let them crank it up in spring training and contact a couple of clubs. I'm not going to close the door on myself. Maybe something will be worked out."
He'd like something substantive, "something that would be worthwhile doing. I just don't want to be handed a bone. I want to do something where I can apply my abilities."
Robinson has contacted a number of teams, including the Anaheim Angels and Colorado Rockies. He called the Cincinnati Reds, back when NL president Len Coleman was looking for a chief executive officer to assume control of the club from owner Marge Schott. "Nothing there," he said. "Nobody called me with a decision. Nobody even called me to say, 'Frank, thanks for applying for the job.' ''
Robinson said he's not bitter about the Orioles, although he hasn't spoken with any of the team's top executives. "I don't have any bad wishes toward the team," he said.
A puzzle on Sutton
Everybody makes mistakes, but in the Hall of Fame balloting, writers have an opportunity to correct those mistakes the next year. It's befuddling, then, that Don Sutton has not been voted into the Hall. Sutton won 324 games with a 3.26 ERA over 23 years. Phil Niekro won 318 games with a 3.35 ERA over 24 seasons. Sutton was a great big-game pitcher; Niekro rarely pitched in the postseason.
Gillick went to the Dominican Republic earlier last week in a failed attempt to sign 16-year-old shortstop Josephang Bernhardt. The Orioles actually never made a formal offer to Bernhardt, who eventually signed with Toronto for about $750,000. Maybe it was for the better: Executives from two other teams say they assessed Bernhardt's value at something closer to $250,000, and they're convinced Bernhardt's agent -- Scott Boras -- bluffed the Blue Jays into paying the higher figure.