Surhoff remains a classic, if not All-Star Ballot box only number veteran doesn't put up


June 28, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

MONTREAL -- All-Star balloting concludes today. For many with valuable incentive clauses and pricey egos, it represents a high holiday. For B. J. Surhoff, workaday left fielder on pace for triple-digit RBIs, it is just another Sunday within another season that will provide him a three-day break come the midsummer classic.

Surhoff is quietly constructing a career season amidst the Orioles' year of slow burn. At the season's midpoint, he is on pace for 24 home runs and 106 RBIs.

They are strong numbers. Mixed with his underrated defense and .286 average, numbers large enough to provide him additional negotiating leverage with a club that has long promised to retain him as a free agent. Numbers any Oriole other than first baseman Rafael Palmeiro would take unflinchingly. But numbers big enough to take him to Coors Field along with third baseman Cal Ripken and possibly second baseman Roberto Alomar?

Next question.

"Would I like to go? Sure. Will I be disappointed when I don't? Not really. That's just the way things go. I know what my numbers are because they're up there [on the scoreboard] every time I bat. But I'm not into comparing them with anybody else or wondering where they put me in the voting," he says, mixing a heavy dose of reality with a predictable hint of fatalism.

Surhoff hardly views the game through rose-colored glasses. One of the Orioles' 12 pending free agents, he is among the most knowledgeable players regarding labor issues and one of the team's most diligent workers.

"I don't know where I was at this time last year. I really don't," says Surhoff. "But what's going to happen? Is [Ken] Griffey not going to make it? Is [Juan] Gonzalez not going to make it? Come on."

Surhoff, 33, has never participated in an All-Star Game despite 747 career RBIs and 108 home runs. It is not a grinder's honor. In his 12th season, the former catcher and third baseman has never hit 25 homers or amassed 90 RBIs, but he has established himself as one of the league's most consistent, if underrated, performers.

Surhoff isn't preoccupied by All-Star intrigue. He doesn't know how many votes he's received so far (369,301 at last count, placing him 11th, just ahead of Albert Belle) and he realizes the Orioles' disappointing first half, the competitiveness among outfielders and the politics of the selection process all weigh against him.

Last July, Davey Johnson lobbied hard on Surhoff's behalf, but Joe Torre couldn't justify taking him despite 11 home runs and 54 RBIs. Surhoff also realizes visibility is worth more than production. Brady Anderson (.211, nine homers, 29 RBIs) ranked fifth in the last balloting.

"I don't sit around thinking about what chance I have of making the All-Star Game," Surhoff says. "Realistically, I don't have a chance when you keep in mind that every team has to be represented and that the manager [Cleveland's Mike Hargrove] is going to take as many of his players as he can. He should."

Surhoff retains a long-term view over instant gratification. "Two and a half months are only a start. I'd like to have a better second half this year than I did last year [.270, seven homers, 34 RBIs]. There's still a long way to go for myself and the team. What happens in July usually isn't the most important thing in a season."

Pub Date: 6/28/98

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