Palmeiro's hopes sunk by Team Titanic

July 02, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

The Orioles are a bad team, whether they accept it or not.

Bad teams get snubbed at All-Star time.

Bad teams face added scrutiny.

Bad teams have no case.

Braced as he was for the inevitable, Rafael Palmeiro responded to his latest All-Star rejection with resignation and restraint.

Manager Ray Miller, meanwhile, keeps reacting to matters that he can't control while failing to address ones that he can.

If Miller doesn't like the criticism of Team Titanic, he should coax a better effort out of his players and find a way to win some games.

No one ever said that life in the second division was easy. But the Orioles have no choice but to deal with it when they're getting smacked around by opponents with one-sixth their payroll.

Palmeiro deserves to be an All-Star, deserves it more than ever before, deserves it even over Boston's Mo Vaughn.

He got shafted for the usual reasons -- the popularity of more glamorous teammates in the voting, the selection process that requires every team to be represented, the logjam at first base in the American League.

But he also got shafted because the Orioles stink.

Justice still could prevail -- Vaughn, suffering from a strained hamstring, could be replaced by Palmeiro or (gulp) former Oriole David Segui.

But if AL manager Mike Hargrove had selected Palmeiro over Vaughn, the Orioles would have had one more All-Star than the Red Sox, a team they trail by 13 1/2 games.

Now that would have been an outrage.

"I think Mo deserves to go," Palmeiro said. "Look at how his team has performed."

And look at the Orioles.

Miller pulled out a page of statistics Tuesday and claimed that the offense was "markedly better" than last season's, "all across the board."

Later that night, four unheralded Florida relievers held The Price Club hitless for 5 2/3 innings in a 7-5 Marlins victory.

If the offense were so good, maybe the Orioles wouldn't have lost two games last week in which they allowed only three runs.

If the offense were so good, maybe the Orioles wouldn't rank ninth in the American League in runs per game.

Miller not only was wrong in his assessment -- the Orioles scored 441 runs in their first 84 games last season, compared with 413 this year -- but he also missed the point.

His team is 37-47. Its effort often is an embarrassment. And the criticism is coming not only from loudmouth columnists, but also opposing managers and players in Miller's own clubhouse.

Everyone must share the blame for the Orioles' collapse -- the players who appear so indifferent, the general manager who "delivered" Pete Smith, Norm Charlton and Co., the owner who ran Davey Johnson out of town.

If anything, Miller is getting off easy.

He's Peter Angelos' lunch partner.

He's The Chosen One.

The injuries, everyone talks about the injuries. The two trips to the disabled list by Mike Mussina. The almost simultaneous losses of Jimmy Key and Scott Kamieniecki in late May.

Since May 29, the Orioles have received only three starts of six innings from pitchers other than Mussina and Scott Erickson. Not even Johnson could win under such conditions. But it's difficult to imagine one of his teams ever collapsing like this.

If injuries are solely to blame, what about Miller's 12-19 record in -- one- and two-run decisions? The lineups in which he bats Joe Carter second and Roberto Alomar fourth? The stars that he coddles and the journeymen that he confronts?

It's easy to pick on a Charlton or a Terry Mathews. But Miller waited too long to drop Brady Anderson out of the leadoff spot. He praises Alomar when he hustles, defends him when he loafs. And, of course, he won't touch Cal Ripken, who is 3-for-20 after his brief resurgence.

These are issues under his control.

L But publicly, Miller is preoccupied with other distractions.

He blamed a weather forecast for one loss, an advance scouting report for another. He expressed anger at Montreal manager Felipe Alou for questioning the Orioles' heart, yet fails to grasp that those are the sentiments of many in baseball.

New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine made a pitching change last weekend that was second-guessed 10 times worse than any of Miller's moves this season. And Valentine indeed chose the best option when he selected Mel Rojas to face the Yankees' Paul O'Neill, even if the result was a home run.

Such is life for a major-league manager. Miller is in charge of the most expensive team in baseball history. A team that is 27-45 after a 10-2 start. A team with a worse record than low-budget Minnesota and Oakland. A team that is 23 1/2 games out of first place.

It is a team that is extraordinarily difficult to manage, with players following so many conflicting agendas. Miller has confronted several of them privately. But when he defends them publicly, is he trying to protect the players, or trying to protect himself?

In the end, it doesn't matter.

The Orioles are a bad team, whether Miller accepts it or not.

Bad teams have no case.

Raffy vs. Mo

A look at Rafael Palmeiro's numbers compared with those of Mo Vaughn, who was selected yesterday as an alternate to the All-Star Game.

(Statistics through last night's games)

............ Palmeiro .. Vaughn

AVG. ....... .300 ...... .327

Homers ....... 25 ........ 21

RBIs ......... 70 ........ 56

Hits ......... 98 ....... 101

Slugging ... .590 ...... .583

Strikesouts .. 51 ........ 79

Walks ........ 40 ........ 25

Pub Date: 7/02/98

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