Happy in Texas, Palmeiro won't gloat over sad O's

On Baseball

May 02, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The Texas Rangers' Rafael Palmeiro is sitting up in first place in the American League West, but he has been careful not to gloat about the struggles of the team he abandoned to return home to the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

The Orioles' dismal start is not, he says, a vindication of this decision to accept a slightly smaller contract to sign with the Rangers.

"That doesn't make a difference," Palmeiro told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram recently. "I have nothing against those Orioles players, and the players are the ones that are struggling. I played with those guys for five years. It's hard for me to see them go through that.

"The way I see it, I'm glad I'm here for all the reasons I said before the season. How they perform has no effect on whether I made the right decision. If they were 15-4, my answer would still be the same. I'm glad I'm here."

And why not? Palmeiro signed a five-year deal worth $45 million to rejoin one of the most power-packed lineups in the game. He turned down a bigger deal with the Orioles ($50 million) because the lack of a state income tax in Texas reduced the difference between the two offers and because he never wanted to leave the state in the first place.

It hasn't been an easy transition. Palmeiro had knee surgery twice after signing his new contract and missed much of the exhibition season, but he has missed no regular-season playing time while manning the Rangers' DH position instead of first base.

He's off to a solid start at the plate, batting .299 with six home runs and 16 RBIs. Not spectacular, perhaps, but he hasn't really started swinging the bat the way he did for five years in Baltimore.

The Hunter deal

The deal that sent center fielder Brian Hunter from the Detroit Tigers to Seattle had some people scratching their heads, because the Mariners already have a fixture (Ken Griffey) in center and two left fielders -- Butch Huskey and Matt Mieske -- vying for playing time.

They won't be vying anymore. Hunter will play in left field regularly and move into the full-time leadoff role.

"We got Brian to lead off for us, to give us a dimension we've missed since Alex [Rodriguez] went down," said Mariners manager Lou Piniella. "He's had a low on-base percentage, but so have the guys we've used. And at least when Brian gets on, he can steal a base."

So what does this mean for the guys who have been pushed out of the lineup?

"What this means is that I'm going to have a couple of outfielders in my office asking what's going on," Piniella said.

It means somebody has got to go. Look for Huskey or Mieske to be packaged in a trade soon.

Bonus fact: Hunter is the 64th player to appear in left field for the Mariners in the past 10 years.

Umpires' chief is off base

Umpires union chief Richie Phillips loves the limelight, but his latest attempts to garner sympathy for the plight of umpires have accomplished just the opposite.

Phillips is on a one-man crusade to portray the owners as unreasonable for trying to get the umpires to call a higher, more uniform strike zone, and went off again last week when he found out that club officials have been asked to monitor strike/ball calls at their stadiums.

He likened the directive to "Big Brother" staring down at the umpires, attempting to put a totalitarian spin on the desire of the owners to streamline the rules and speed up the games.

Instead, he again portrayed the umpires as petty and unreasonable. The umpires aren't paid to make the rules. They are paid to enforce them.

Prediction: The owners will lock the umpires out during the coming collective bargaining period, and -- if Phillips isn't careful -- no one is going to care.

Loyalty: a rare commodity

Montreal Expos manager Felipe Alou is not second-guessing his decision to turn down a lucrative offer to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers, even though there still is a good chance that the Expos will move out of his adopted hometown.

"I could still be sleeping," Alou said one morning last week. "It's 8 o'clock in the morning in Los Angeles. I was ready to go to L.A., and I would have been very, very glad to go.

"[But] I've been with this organization for 25 years. I've been a field manager, a coach, an instructor; I've done everything here. Plus, this is where my wife is from and my children grew up. My promise here to these fans is to stay here and try to develop this young club. I made that promise and I'd like to keep it."

Nevertheless, Alou said that he would not fault the organization for leaving Montreal with attendance flat and Olympic Stadium obsolete.

"This club can't stay here under these circumstances," he said. "We need to have a new stadium and a bigger payroll. People want to blame the fans for a lack of support, but you can't keep letting players get away and expect the fans to keep coming out."

No more Mr. Nice Guy

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