Texas likes to change O's to ex's

April 05, 1997|By John Eisenberg

ARLINGTON, Texas -- It's no longer just a ballgame when the Orioles play the Texas Rangers.

It's an alumni-varsity game.

L The Orioles are the varsity, with their $55 million payroll.

The Rangers are the alumni, with four ex-Orioles in their lineup for last night's game at The Ballpark.

"It's like they're our cousins or something," Orioles bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks said. "That's what I say when I see 'em. 'Hey, cuz!' "

The Rangers have five players -- Mark McLemore, Mickey Tettleton, Mike Devereaux, Damon Buford and Bill Ripken -- who used to play for the Orioles, with another (Jeff Tackett) waiting for a chance at Triple-A.

"Is it really five?" Devereaux said last night. "That's incredible."

And wait, there's more. The Rangers also have a general manager, manager, two coaches, a Triple-A manager, a Triple-A pitching coach and several minor-league executives who used to work for the Orioles.

Their 3-year-old ballpark is one of those Camden Yards rip-offs, right down to the brick facade, the wrought-iron fencing and the green seats.

They're so into Baltimore, it's a miracle they haven't gone out and signed Jim Traber, who is hosts of a talk show up the road in Oklahoma City and, sources say, is extremely available.

But there's still a strong Orioles influence around here, even without the beloved "Whammer."

"I'd say there's a lot of Baltimore around here," said Rangers manager Johnny Oates, who managed the Orioles for 3 1/2 seasons, until Peter Angelos fired him in 1994.

The Orioles also have a touch of Texas, with three players -- Rafael Palmeiro, Terry Mathews and Pete Incaviglia -- who used to play for the Rangers.

"They still love you in Tyler [Texas]," a visitors' clubhouse attendant said to Incaviglia yesterday.

"I bet they do," Incaviglia said.

Games between these teams are the closest thing you'll find in the majors to an intrasquad game.

Buford and the Orioles' Jeffrey Hammonds, best buddies and former teammates at Rochester, embraced warmly in the tunnel before batting practice.

When Oates popped out of the Rangers' dugout to check the rainstorm delaying the start of the game, Palmeiro, who has a house near the ballpark here, called across to Oates from the Orioles' dugout.

"Call the game [off], I want to go home," Palmeiro shouted.

Oates, who managed Palmeiro in Baltimore in 1994, turned to Palmeiro and laughed.

"You had your chance to call [Texas] home," Oates shouted.

Palmeiro turned down a $27 million offer from the Rangers to come to the Orioles.

But it's really more accurate to call these alumni-varsity games, not intrasquad games.

It isn't an intrasquad games if the players weren't teammates, and the Orioles have turned over their personnel so often in recent years that many players on this year's team didn't even play with the ex-Orioles now in Texas.

Consider: McLemore left the Orioles less than three years ago, but only eight players are left from his tenure in Baltimore.

And only Cal Ripken, Brady Anderson and Chris Hoiles are left from Tettleton's tenure as the Cereal Killer, which ended when he was traded to Detroit after the 1990 season.

"But it still seems like an intrasquad game," Devereaux said.

Especially when there are four ex-Orioles in the lineup, which has to be a record.

The Rangers began stockpiling ex-Orioles when they hired Orioles farm director Doug Melvin as their general manager three years ago. Melvin hired Oates and they began annexing players from their old organization.

"Johnny likes guys he is comfortable with," said Bill Ripken, who is a Ranger for the second time, having also played for the team in 1993 and '94.

Ripken was with the Orioles last year, of course; he was surprised they chose not to bring him back after what he thought was a solid year as a utility infielder.

"They gave me a job description and I thought I did what they wanted," Ripken said.

Was he bitter?

"I wouldn't use that word," he said, "but any time you're not wanted, it's not a good feeling."

The Indians and Rangers bid for him after the Orioles let him go.

"It's nice to have people who know you and want you," he said. "I need to keep shoes on my kids' feet."

Ripken was the only ex-Oriole not in the Rangers' lineup last night. McLemore led off, and Tettleton, Devereaux and Buford batted sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively.

Oates sat in his office before the game as reporters tried to get him to talk about wanting to beat the Orioles; the Rangers won 10 of 13 games between the teams last year.

Oates paused a long time before speaking.

"I have no vengeance," he said, "but if you're a player, coach or manager, you like to show your old boss he made a mistake."

Did he show his old boss, Angelos, anything last year?

"Short-term doesn't mean a thing in this game," Oates said.

Once the game began, the alumni wasted no time jumping on the varsity. McLemore walked to lead off the bottom of the first, starting a rally that Devereaux completed with a bases-clearing double.

You know Devereaux enjoyed the moment against a team that had let him go just five months earlier.

The alumni was on a roll, again.

Just imagine what they could do if they had Traber, too.

Pub Date: 4/05/97

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