History says these Orioles are history

July 21, 1998|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Before owner Peter Angelos decides to keep the Orioles intact, he might want to consider this daunting little item, courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau:

No team this century has rallied from a 15 1/2 -game deficit to reach the postseason.

The 1914 Miracle Braves? They came from 15 back.

The '78 Yankees? Fourteen.

The '51 Giants and '95 Mariners? Thirteen.

The Orioles were 15 1/2 games behind wild-card leader Boston at the All-Star break.

Their stirring 10-1 revival has reduced the deficit to 9 1/2 , and now they think they're ready to make baseball history.

Angelos the Attorney should know that the evidence against the Orioles is compelling. Angelos the Owner should admit that it's time to let go.

What do Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Jeff Bagwell, Moises Alou, Robb Nen, Shawn Estes, Trevor Hoffman and Jeff Kent have in common?

They've all been All-Stars.

And they all were prospects traded for short-term solutions.

Granted, many of these deals favor the team that acquires the veteran -- Angelos learned that when he traded Damon Buford and Alex Ochoa for Bobby Bonilla.

But it isn't always that way, not even in seemingly one-sided salary dumps conducted by teams like the Chicago White Sox and Florida Marlins.

For once, Angelos and his front office appear in agreement on the path the team will follow. Alas, it's just the opposite of the one they should pursue.

The Orioles might not be able to trade Roberto Alomar or Rafael Palmeiro, but they should try.

They might not acquire top prospects for Eric Davis or Jesse Orosco, but they should seek to increase their minor-league talent pool, anyway.

Of course, now that Angelos is back from Europe, there's probably a better chance of the Orioles adding than subtracting before the July 31 trade deadline.

General manager Pat Gillick surrendered even before the owner returned to American soil, saying that the team is "definitely not out of wild-card contention."

Load it up!

The Orioles will claim that the schedule is in their favor -- their next 20 games are against teams with losing records, while Boston plays 15 of its next 19 on the road against Cleveland and the four AL West clubs.

They will claim that the returns of Jimmy Key and Scott Kamieniecki will strengthen their pitching staff. And they will claim that their six games against Boston in September will give them a chance to the very end.

Angelos' heart is in the right place -- he doesn't want to cheat his ticket buyers the way Jerry Reinsdorf did a year ago, trading Wilson Alvarez and Roberto Hernandez with the Chicago White Sox just 3 1/2 games out of first place.

Still, where are the Orioles going with this?

They gained six games on the Red Sox in the first nine days after the break, but it's one thing to start such a monumental comeback, and another to complete the job.

Think back to '96 -- the Orioles reduced the Yankees' lead from 12 games to 2 1/2 on Sept. 15, but couldn't mount a final push for the division title. And they were chasing only one opponent then.

Now, they appear eager to attempt something no team in the modern era has ever done, with a club that was the biggest disappointment in baseball the first half of the season.

They're assuming that Key and Kamieniecki will be effective. Assuming that their shaky bullpen will be good enough. Assuming that their aging position players will stay healthy and strong.

Assuming that they can make a 15 1/2 -game lead disappear.

For all that, the best they can hope for is a probable first-round matchup with Cleveland. Then what? They're not going to the World Series. And they're not going to sign both Palmeiro and Alomar, and Brian Jordan and Kevin Brown.

So, why not look at it the other way?

As much criticism as Reinsdorf took for sending Alvarez and Hernandez to San Francisco with his team still in contention, it turns out that the White Sox made a pretty good trade.

Shortstop Mike Caruso, 21, is batting a team-high .310 in his first season above Single-A. Reliever Keith Foulke, 25, leads the club with 41 appearances. Minor-league pitchers Lorenzo Barcelo, Bobby Howry and Ken Vining are all highly regarded.

Among baseball people, Florida's trade of Mike Piazza to the New York Mets is considered potentially an even bigger heist. Everyone knew the Marlins were going to move Piazza, and still they landed three top prospects -- outfielder Preston Wilson and left-handed pitchers Ed Yarnall and Geoff Goetz.

Angelos is far more honorable than Reinsdorf or Wayne Huizenga -- he believes that he owes it to his fans to field the most competitive team possible. The truth of the matter is, Atlanta is so desperate for relief help, it might not pursue Alomar. Cleveland, meanwhile, might prefer to trade for Randy Johnson.

Maybe an Alomar trade is possible, maybe not. But the end result could be that Alomar leaves for nothing more than draft picks, and the Orioles end up overpaying for Palmeiro.

They've got a chance to retool in the next 10 days.

They're going to fool themselves instead.

Pub Date: 7/21/98

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