O's have nothing to lose by making deal

May 24, 1998|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Two weeks ago, after an Orioles victory in Tampa Bay, the clubhouse televisions were showing a game between Texas and Cleveland.

Rafael Palmeiro joked about returning to Texas.

Roberto Alomar mused about playing in Cleveland.

Little did the free-agent wanna-bes know, their career paths might include an unscheduled stop in New York.

Palmeiro and Alomar for Mets first baseman John Olerud, second baseman Carlos Baerga and pitcher Dave Mlicki?

Do it.

Just Alomar for Baerga.

Do it.

Some other combination?

Do it, do it, do it.

But don't stop there.

The players had their chance, and they blew it.

Now, it's time for management to reclaim the soul of the organization, and attempt to transform the Price Club into an actual team.

It won't be easy, but trading Alomar and Palmeiro would be a start.

Manager Ray Miller has repeatedly defended Alomar, but club officials evidently are fed up with a player who, for no apparent reason, looks as if he would rather be anywhere but Baltimore.

Palmeiro leads the team with 10 homers and 36 RBIs, but he, too, has appeared distracted at times this season, and several club officials consider him selfish.

Baerga and Olerud, both 29, aren't nearly as talented, but if there is one thing the Orioles have learned this season, it's that talent alone doesn't win games.

Davey Johnson not only dictated late-inning matchups better than Ray Miller, but also attacked the clubhouse culture, bruising egos to show that no one player was bigger than the team.

Miller is more a players' manager, and that's part of the problem.

With few exceptions -- most notably B. J. Surhoff, Mike Bordick and Eric Davis -- the players are walking all over him.

Let's see Miller bench Cal Ripken, who has RBIs in only one of 20 games this month, looks slow on the bases and is showing diminished range at third.

The streak?

It's not helping the Orioles win games.

Yet, the issue runs deeper than Ripken, just as it runs deeper than Alomar and Palmeiro.

Let's see Miller bench Brady Anderson the next time he fails to run hard to first. Let's see him put Sidney Ponson in the rotation and keep playing Jeffrey Hammonds -- anything to get younger.

Let's see him act like a manager.

Seize control of the clubhouse.

Start taking names.

The veterans don't get it. The New York media made fun of them. The Yankees were appalled by them. Their own fans are sick of them.

Many of them play without any trace of passion, but as long as they're getting their stats and satisfying their own agendas, then everything is fine.

"The last three-fourths of the season will determine what kind of season we have. Not the first quarter," Ripken said in New York.

Really?

The first quarter is over.

And so are the Orioles' chances of defending their AL East title.

Baerga and Olerud might not propel them to a wild card, but at this point, what do the Orioles have to lose?

Baerga is a terrific clubhouse presence who is only signed through this season. Olerud is a quiet, solid, professional, and the Orioles would retain him next season for a relatively reasonable $4 million.

Mlicki would help balance the trade as a fourth or fifth starter. Baerga, a switch-hitter who swings much better left-handed, could platoon with Jeff Reboulet. Olerud hits for less power than Palmeiro, but he's better defensively and coming off a 102-RBI season.

Again, it's not just about talent.

It's about changing the entire tenor of the team.

Yankees manager Joe Torre played the diplomat in New York, citing injuries and the loss of closer Randy Myers as principal reasons for the Orioles' early struggles.

He wasn't nearly as charitable about his AL East rivals in his autobiography, "Chasing the Dream," after the Yankees won the 1996 World Series.

"I believed my club was a lot tougher mentally than Baltimore," Torre wrote. " I detected more individualism on their team than ours."

hTC Torre cited three examples from the '96 season -- Ripken being "obviously upset" over getting removed for a pinch runner, Bobby Bonilla complaining over his designated hitter role and the commotion over Eddie Murray's 500th home run.

"That's a great accomplishment, but anytime you stop the game and put the focus on an individual, that's distracting," Torre wrote. "It takes away from the flow of the game and contributes to the idea of an individual playing the game for his own rewards instead of for the purpose of winning.

"Knowing Eddie, he was probably more uncomfortable than anybody about the fanfare. As I told my ball club, I knew we had more heart than Baltimore. It's the one intangible that makes the difference between a first-place team and the rest of the pack."

And it's the one intangible that still separates these teams.

The Yankees purged three players they perceived as selfish -- Charlie Hayes, Wade Boggs and Cecil Fielder. The Orioles entered the season with 14 potential free agents, and it clearly has had an unsettling effect.

The players had their chance, and they blew it.

Trade Alomar. Trade Palmeiro.

Blow the whole thing up.

Pub Date: 5/24/98

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