FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Former Orioles pitcher Curt Schilling could know as soon as Tuesday whether he will be staying in Philadelphia the next four years or changing into a new uniform sometime this season. Perhaps an Orioles uniform.
The 30-year-old right-hander remains at odds with the Phillies' front office over the terms of a proposed $15.5 million contract extension. He wants the three years guaranteed. The club wants a qualifying option that would allow him to guarantee the extension by pitching a certain number of innings next season. If it isn't resolved soon, Schilling has said he will cut off negotiations and test free agency at the end of the year.
"It has proven to be more of a distraction to me and my teammates than I thought it would," Schilling said last week. "I want to get it resolved one way or the other. I'm not optimistic."
The Phillies want to get it resolved, too, but Philadelphia's loss could be the Orioles' gain, either later this season or next off-season. Schilling never tires of talking about how much he loved the Orioles and how disappointed he was when he was traded before the opening of Camden Yards. Baseball rules don't allow him to campaign for a trade to a certain city, but he makes no secret of his desire to return.
"I have nothing bad to say about Baltimore," Schilling said. "I'm where I'd like to be [in Philadelphia], but I'll always have a special place in my heart for Baltimore. It's the place I came to the big leagues. Getting to play with Cal [Ripken] and the other guys was a lot of fun."
Though arm problems cut him down just after he came into his own with a 16-7 season in 1993, he has battled back to the point where the Phillies expect him to have a big year and other clubs are confident enough in his health to make him one of baseball's most tradable players.
The Orioles aren't advertising their interest, but they likely will be one of the teams to make a play for Schilling if his negotiations break down Tuesday. There will be plenty of competition -- particularly from the Cleveland Indians -- but the Orioles figure to have a clear advantage next winter if Schilling goes on to play out his option. His wife is from Balti- more, and he has wanted to return ever since the Orioles traded him to the Houston Astros along with Steve Finley and Pete Harnisch in the much-regretted deal for first baseman Glenn Davis.
"I don't imagine I'll finish the season with the Phillies if I don't sign," Schilling said. "It just doesn't seem like a likely scenario." Montreal Expos manager Felipe Alou is one of several managers to express dismay at the new hair-trigger policy adopted by major-league umpires this season, and he has good reason. The Roberto Alomar incident was an American League problem -- the incident took place in the AL and was ruled on by American League president Gene Budig -- but the umpires have used it to start a baseball-wide crusade for more respect.
"One thing that has disturbed me is that I've read that it was because of the Roberto Alomar thing," Alou said. "He's just one guy. We have nothing to do with him. No team in the National League does. Because one guy did something that wasn't right, I don't see why the rest of baseball has to pay.
"I just don't want to see people stop arguing [over disputed calls] because of this. It's part of baseball tradition, and if the fans don't see you coming out, it's going to look like you don't [care.]"
The umpires rightfully felt slighted by the relatively lenient penalty meted out in the Alomar case, but they have taken it too far. If they go through with their threat to throw out players and managers at the drop of a hat, they will only make things worse for themselves in the long run.
It could happen
Ripken fans, take heart. There still is a chance that there will be a Ripken playing shortstop at Camden Yards this year, if only for six games. Texas Rangers utility man Bill Ripken has played so well this spring that manager Johnny Oates may consider using him as the club's everyday shortstop.
It's a long shot, but it could happen if young Benji Gil again fails to establish himself at the position. He got hurt last year and opened a place for journeyman Kevin Elster, who used the opportunity to turn his career around, before signing a free-agent contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. This year, Gil has yet to prove that he deserves to play every day, leaving open the possibility that Ripken could get significant playing time.
Much Irabu about nothing
Hasn't this Hideki Irabu thing gotten a little out of hand? The guy was a great pitcher in Japan, and -- in the wake of Hideo Nomo's great success in the major leagues -- everyone is assuming that he'll be a great pitcher in the United States.
The same thing happened with several of the Cuban defectors who came to America and signed with major-league clubs, but none of them has yet warranted all the money and attention.