Belle could join O's today Announcement of deal appears imminent

Orosco: He's matured

November 30, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Orioles general manager Frank Wren flew out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last night and manager Ray Miller is expected to arrive in Baltimore today, as all indications point to an agreement with Albert Belle on a five-year, $65 million contract.

Though a club spokesman said no deal was reached last night, an official announcement could come at an afternoon news conference.

"We're very close," Belle's agent, Arn Tellem, told the Associated Press last night. "Maybe tomorrow."

Belle's signing, which has been anticipated since Wednesday, would give the Orioles two-thirds of their regular outfield. He would replace B. J. Surhoff in left, with Brady Anderson staying in center.

The club has offered Surhoff, who would move to right field, a three-year, $13.5 million deal with a vesting option for a fourth year that would push the total package to $17 million.

After showing no previous interest in Belle, 32, the Orioles jumped into the bidding last week with an offer that thinned the rest of the field.

The New York Yankees, who had been dangling a four-year offer, rushed to re-sign center fielder Bernie Williams on Wednesday. The Boston Red Sox bowed out that same day, leaving the Chicago White Sox as the primary competition for Belle's services.

Belle had three years and $35 million remaining on the deal he signed with Chicago after the 1996 season. Because his average salary dropped out of the top three this summer, he exercised a clause in his contract and became a free agent after the White Sox balked at giving him a raise.

Belle, who hit .328 with 49 homers and 152 RBIs this season, had spoken to owner Jerry Reinsdorf last week about the possibility of returning to Chicago with a renegotiated contract.

But the numbers apparently were too rich for an organization with the fourth-lowest home attendance in the majors last year and no playoff appearances to show for their investment.

Penciled in as the Orioles' regular left fielder, Belle could put a different face on the team -- a frown. The temperamental slugger has been suspended six times and fined twice during his eight full seasons in the majors, and was ordered to undergo counseling after hitting a Sports Illustrated photographer with a thrown ball. But his statistics are just as imposing -- a lifetime .296 average, 321 homers and 1,019 RBIs.

Orioles reliever Jesse Orosco has heard the same stories about Belle. The violent outbursts and irrational behavior. The brooding. The surliness. The threatening manner that causes media types to take a wide path when venturing near his locker.

Warm and fuzzy, he's not. But more important, is he an unnecessary risk for a club looking to inject some muscle into its lineup and narrow the gap between itself and the champion New York Yankees?

"Anybody in baseball," Orosco said without hesitation, "would take this guy in a heartbeat."

If anybody in the organization can speak with authority on the subject of Belle, it's Orosco, a teammate for one season with the Cleveland Indians in 1991.

"I think he's going to be fine," Orosco said.

"Albert's kind of a solemn guy. The things that have happened in the past, a couple things that got away from him, I think Albert has learned a lot out of that. He's matured a lot from it," Orosco said.

"He's a very quiet guy. He's just going to go out there and go about his business. He plays hard every day and he's going to be out there every game. He really hasn't been hurt. And the numbers he puts up are just phenomenal. That's going to be fantastic to have him in the lineup every day."

And better yet when you no longer have to worry about facing him.

"Yeah, I've thought about that, too," Orosco said.

Has he thought about how a player like Belle will fit in with the rest of the team?

"It's not like Albert's going to go out there and scream in the clubhouse, but we've really never had anybody to do that, anyway. It's just a matter of, 'Please hit your 50 home runs and get your 150 RBIs. OK, that's enough,' Orosco said.

"He's not a team leader as far as being a spokesperson because of how quiet he is, which is OK.

"It's just like a pitcher. If a pitcher can't pitch inside, you can't teach him to if he's pitched outside his whole career.

"When you get to hang around him, Albert's a real good guy. He's a bright guy. He loves baseball and he plays it hard."

Orosco, who is approaching his 18th full season in the majors, said he got along fine with Belle in Cleveland. Most players do.

"I know how people perceive him and everybody has their own opinion, but it really doesn't bother Albert what people think," Orosco said. "I know he's not going to come over here and stir things up. He just wants to do his own thing and you have to respect a person for what he wants to do.

"You'll be surprised. He's going to be a lot better than you guys [reporters] think. I can't say he's going to go out and talk to you guys every day, though. But his problems in Cleveland, that's when he was young, too. He had fire and desire. Now he knows how to use his desire. He knows how to approach things now without going overboard."

Pub Date: 11/30/98

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