Bonilla's image takes a turn for better, too At odds with O's, Mets, he wins 'Good Guy' award with Marlins

October 19, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

MIAMI -- Former Orioles outfielder Bobby Bonilla has settled in nicely in South Florida. He helped the Florida Marlins reach the World Series. He made his presence felt in the community. He was such a positive all-around influence on the organization that the local baseball writers gave him their annual "Good Guy" award.

That probably will come as a surprise in New York, where Bonilla was a controversial figure, and in Baltimore, where he feuded with Davey Johnson over his role as full-time designated hitter early in the 1996 season. It even came as something of a surprise to Bonilla.

"I know they don't have that award in New York," Bonilla said with a laugh, "at least I can't recall them bringing it to my attention. It actually took me by surprise, because we have some tremendous individuals on this team."

Bonilla was something of a media favorite in Baltimore also, but he feuded openly with Johnson and exchanged unpleasantries with the Orioles manager again this spring, after he had become a free agent and signed a rich, multi-year deal with the Marlins.

Johnson touched off the long-distance exchange when he joked at a spring training function that if Bonilla played third base full time for the Marlins, left fielder Moises Alou would be seeing a lot of extra action in the outfield. Bonilla responded by calling Johnson a "hot air balloon" and laughed that he wouldn't allow Johnson "to manage my Rotisserie League team."

It would have been a delicious story line for the World Series. Bonilla coming back to haunt the Orioles, or hurt the Marlins. Johnson tailoring his offensive attack to exploit Bonilla's sore hamstring. Not this year.

"It would have been fun to have us against each other in that situation," said Bonilla, who went 2-for-3 with two runs scored last night.

He wouldn't say a whole lot more on the subject. Bonilla has said several times that he wanted to stay in Baltimore. Owner Peter Angelos apparently wanted him to stay, too, but was talked out of giving him a contract extension by his front-office staff.

Who knows what would have happened if he had stayed. The Orioles would not have signed Eric Davis, who turned out to be one of the inspirational leaders of a very successful team. Bonilla had played well for only half of the '96 season, but was able to command nearly $6 million per year over four years from the Marlins.

Revenge?

"I've worked too hard and too long to get here to let something like that overshadow anything else," Bonilla said. "It's not that big a deal."

He's more concerned about staying healthy enough to play regularly. The hamstring injury made him questionable for last night's game, because the field was slick after a heavy rain, but Bonilla wasn't going to let anything keep him out of the Series.

"Bobby is fine," manager Jim Leyland said before the game. "There's a slight pull there, we know that. I'm not that concerned about it right now. What I am concerned about is when we go up to the cold weather [in Cleveland]. That could be a factor."

Pub Date: 10/19/97

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