The face hadn't changed. Neither did the swing, which will stay sweet for as long as Harold Baines can pick up a bat. But the uniform no longer had the same number as during his previous stay with the Orioles.
Maybe it was time to take it out of circulation anyway.
"Three's been traded enough," Baines said.
He didn't mind it happening once more.
A St. Michaels native, he had come home again, wearing No. 10 and walking through a mostly empty clubhouse before yesterday's game against the Texas Rangers. Acquired in a trade with the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday, Baines took a flight to Baltimore yesterday morning and was an early arrival at Camden Yards, surprising teammates and coaches who greeted him with "You're here already?" and "That didn't take long, did it?"
Just how eager was he to get here? "I would have left [Tuesday] night," Baines said. "But I had my family with me."
Asked if he was happy to return, he said, "Very much so." For Baines, a soft-spoken man of few words, this amounted to a filibuster.
Manager Davey Johnson had said after Tuesday's game that he wasn't sure if Baines would be in the lineup yesterday. It depended on how quickly he got to the ballpark. With his arrival no longer a worry, Baines was written in as the designated hitter, batting fourth between Rafael Palmeiro and Cal Ripken.
"The most important thing is I'm happy to be back. Hopefully, I can help the team," Baines said, after going 0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored in the Orioles' 3-1 victory.
An 18-year veteran, Baines played for the Orioles from 1993 to 1995 before being allowed to leave as a free agent and signing with Chicago, where he had started his career. While in Baltimore, he batted .302 with 60 homers and 195 RBIs.
"It was a whole new regime when I left, so I didn't know what they were doing," he said. "I learned a long time ago when you don't have control of things, you tend not to worry about them. You try not to think too much, just try to react. That's out of my hands. It's hard enough trying to get hits."
Baines received a standing ovation during his first at-bat, stepping out and waving to the crowd before grounding out. "It's only natural to do that after you get a nice hand like I did. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a hit for them," he said.
He walked in the fourth inning and came home on Geronimo Berroa's two-run single. In the fifth, Palmeiro was walked intentionally by Texas starter John Burkett to load the bases with two outs, and Baines grounded to first baseman Will Clark. He struck out looking in the eighth against left-hander Ed Vosberg.
As usual, he didn't mince words in critiquing his performance. "I stunk today," he said. "I had opportunities to do the job and didn't."
A career .290 hitter, Baines heard rumors of a possible trade to the Orioles, but figured it wouldn't happen once the club pried Berroa from Oakland last month. Berroa, who swings from the right side, primarily has served as a DH, though he started in right field yesterday.
"Usually, you don't return to where you just left," Baines said. "As a ballplayer, you just try to do your best job because there's always somebody out there watching us. Obviously, I must have done something right in order for them to want me back."
In 93 games with the White Sox this season, Baines batted .305 with 12 homers and 52 RBIs. He also played a few innings in the field, a rarity given his bad knees.
"I'm only here to do one thing, to hit," he said. "I don't think there's any chance of playing much defense. I'll just come here and try to get some hits. I'll be ready whenever I'm called on."
And he'll enjoy a climb in the standings. The White Sox are in third place in the American League Central, 3 1/2 games behind the Cleveland Indians. The Orioles led the AL East by 5 1/2 .
"Nothing but positive things," he said. "I was having fun in Chicago. They weren't out of the race yet, but they're going in another direction and I was fortunate to be traded to a team that's a contender. And this is a great ballpark for me to hit in."
Baines, who also has played for the Rangers and Oakland Athletics, said he isn't thinking beyond this season and the possibility of remaining an Oriole.
"I can't," he said. "I've been doing this for eight years, playing with one-year contracts. I have to do my job first and worry about everything else later."
Pub Date: 7/31/97