Palmeiro is at ease with Rangers move

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

He denies crossing O's

Webster likely to go on DL

May 14, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Rafael Palmeiro and the Orioles crossed paths last night for the first time since the first baseman walked away from the club and its five-year, $50 million contract offer.

The acknowledgments were made at arm's length, the comments offered with predictable caution. However, Palmeiro defended his decision to sign a lesser deal with the Texas Rangers on Dec. 1, only hours after Orioles general manager Frank Wren believed the two parties had agreed in principle.

"There never was a deal," Palmeiro said about 2 1/2 hours before the first pitch. "I dealt with [majority owner] Peter Angelos. I didn't deal with Frank Wren or anybody else. In fact, Peter knew I was going to talk to the Rangers the next day."

Palmeiro cited Maryland's state tax and his ability to play near his suburban Dallas home as the primary reasons for his Baltimore defection. Given the chance, he expressed no second thoughts, especially with the Rangers atop the AL West and the Orioles still sitting in the AL East basement.

"How can I regret coming back to play in a place like this? It's not like I was anxious to leave Baltimore," Palmeiro said. "I had the best of both worlds. I could have gone back and been happy or come back home and be with my family full time. I chose to be here."

Orioles manager Ray Miller remembered things a little differently as he recited the complex negotiations between the team and Palmeiro. Twice Angelos modified his position only to have Palmeiro shop it to the Rangers. Miller also recalled there being an agreement. "Once you have a commitment, you have a commitment. That's what I've always believed," Miller said.

Miller also cited the spillover from Palmeiro's negotiations on talks with free-agent third baseman Robin Ventura, who signed with the New York Mets at virtually the same time the Orioles learned of Palmeiro's loss.

Palmeiro reiterated that it was his desire to sign a contract extension with the club well before spring training last season. However, his implied January demand for a five-year, $50 million deal did not stir interest until after he had filed for free agency, a lag of nine months.

"From day one of spring training I wanted to stay, I wanted to sign," Palmeiro said. "For them to feel that way I'm not sure why. I gave them all the opportunity in the world to sign me, but the way the season was going and with everybody saying they were going to retool or rebuild, nobody knew what was going to happen. I felt pressure because I saw other players being offered contracts by the Orioles and I had to make a move."

Reminded of comments by Wren and Miller that the character of last year's team was flawed and lacking intensity, Palmeiro dismissed it as nothing more than revisionist history, calling the characterizations "unfair."

"It's funny how they say that. In '97 we had the same team. With whatever intensity we had we were the best team in baseball, in my opinion," Palmeiro said, referring to the Orioles' AL East championship and second consecutive trip to the ALCS. "Intensity can only get you so far. You have to go out and make the plays and you have to go get clutch hits. Your staff has to make quality pitches. Intensity is great -- and I'm not against it -- but you have to have more than that."

Despite a .348 average with six home runs and 23 RBIs going into last night, Palmeiro is not having it easy. Arthroscopic knee surgeries performed on Feb. 10 and March 7 still prevent him from playing first base. The two-time Gold Glove winner has started all 33 games as designated hitter, leading the league in batting average against right-handed pitching (.427, 35-82) while hitting safely in 11 of 12 games entering last night. On May 2 he became the 205th major-league player to reach 2,000 hits and now has 321 career home runs.

DL looms for Webster

The Orioles will likely place catcher Lenny Webster on the disabled list today because of a strained tendon in his right ankle. A day after injuring himself while recoiling from a Dwight Gooden pitch, Webster limped noticeably through the clubhouse with his ankle heavily wrapped.

Miller wouldn't commit to an organizational player filling Webster's spot but it appears that Tommy Davis or Tim DeCinces are the most likely candidates barring a sudden trade. Out-of-favor pitcher Rocky Coppinger may be dangled to spur a deal.

"We need to get someone in here to catch," Miller said. "I don't want to get B. J. [Surhoff] bruised by putting him back there."

Miller said former No. 1 draft pick Jayson Werth and Chip Alley are not being considered because of injuries.

Hit, player are out of here

The Rangers also are without a player -- and under a most unusual set of circumstances.

Most times hitting a home run is a good thing. For Rangers outfielder Juan Gonzalez, he strained his right hamstring on his eighth home run of the year Tuesday, and the reigning AL MVP also could be headed to the disabled list.

Even if not, the Orioles probably won't see him this weekend.

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