Getting a move on: Orioles: The shift of Cal Ripken to third base and the addition of shortstop Mike Bordick are two of many changes intended to get the veteran team to the World Series.

March 30, 1997|By Peter SchmuckISMAEL ROLDAN: SPECIAL TO THE SUN | Peter SchmuckISMAEL ROLDAN: SPECIAL TO THE SUN,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- It's going to happen to Brady Anderson. He's going to pick up a ball in the outfield and look for the cutoff man coming out from shortstop and, for a split-second, wonder who that strange guy is where Cal Ripken has always been.

"It hasn't happened yet," Anderson said. "When it does, I'll probably throw the ball to third."

It will happen to you. The ball will be hit to shortstop and you'll look up from your overpriced basket of nachos and -- for an instant -- you'll wonder why Ripken suddenly got 5 inches shorter. Then you'll remember that this is the year that everything changed.

Mike Bordick will be the first player other than Ripken to play regularly at shortstop since 1982. Ripken will be the first star-quality player to appear regularly at third base for the Orioles since Doug DeCinces was traded to the California Angels after the 1981 season.

"It is a little different in a way, looking over there and not seeing him [Ripken] at short," Anderson said, "but he's still on the field."

That is not the only difference. Bobby Bonilla has been replaced in right field by veteran Eric Davis. Left-hander David Wells has been replaced in the starting rotation by free-agent left-hander Jimmy Key. The Orioles also signed starters Shawn Boskie and Scott Kamieniecki, catcher Lenny Webster and outfielder Jerome Walton. A lot of changes for a team that played in the American League Championship Series five months ago.

"Yeah, we're different," said manager Davey Johnson. "We're going to be more athletic. We're going to do a few more of the little things we didn't do last year, and that's all in the personalities. Eric Davis running down a ball in the gap that last year was a sure triple. More speed in the outfield to make Brady's job easier. A stronger left side of the infield. We might have the top two defensive players in the league on that side. More depth in the starting rotation. We're starting out with a more experienced backup catcher.

"We're different in a lot of ways, but we're not totally different."

How different could you want to be after reaching the playoffs and defeating the preseason World Series favorite in the first round? The Orioles hit more home runs (257) than any other team in history. They ranked fourth out of the 28 major-league clubs in runs (943). You could make the argument that they came within one precocious 12-year-old of reaching the Fall Classic. But someone decided afterward that the chemistry of the team and the makeup of the offensive lineup just wasn't of World Series caliber.

There has been some grumbling about that among the remaining members of last year's lineup. The Orioles reached the playoffs because of the surprising strength of their offensive attack, and yet there is the perception that they came up short because of the limitations of their "one-dimensional" batting order.

"If you want to say that you wanted to improve our team defense at the expense of some offense, I have no problem with that," said Anderson, who set the tone for last year's offensive barrage with 50 home runs out of the leadoff spot. "If you want to say you wanted to improve our pitching, I have no problem with that. But don't criticize one of the best offenses ever put on the field.

"The object of the game is to score runs, and we scored more runs than almost anybody."

Of course, the one major criticism of last year's lineup was that it was an all-or-nothing proposition that the Orioles waited around for the home run ball that they could not manufacture runs in a close game. Anderson says that is incorrect on all counts.

"We didn't manufacture runs because we didn't need to," he said. "If we had been a team that just waited around for the home run, we would have hit about .240 as a team, but everybody hit between .270 and .300. Every way in which you judge an offense, our offense was great.

"If you want to change the team, you don't have to do it by knocking the greatest thing about the team."

Still, Johnson wanted something else. He wanted more speed, and he felt the club needed more offensive versatility. The Orioles scored a lot of runs, but they were not very competitive against the top teams in the American League, going a combined 11-27 against the three division champions during the regular season and going down hard against the Yankees in the ALCS.

Though that could be attributed largely to the club's uneven pitching, Johnson believed that the Orioles might have done better if they had been able to mount a more efficient offensive attack against quality pitching.

"We weren't capable of doing anything other than what we did," he said. "We didn't have the personnel to do a lot of the little things. Offensively, we were hookers -- if you'll pardon the expression. We like to reach out and hook the ball over the fence."

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