Manuel managed to get along with Belle

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

White Sox skipper recalls daily chats

rehab stint nears for catcher Webster

June 18, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

CHICAGO -- Albert Belle stepped into Comiskey Park last night, setting off something less than a rush of nostalgia but causing Chicago White Sox manager Jerry Manuel to recall his season with the Orioles right fielder. Manuel cultivated a close relationship with a player who already has come under scrutiny with his new team for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was a June 9 dugout confrontation with Ray Miller.

"I enjoyed the year he had, especially the last 2 1/2 months," said Manuel, who received 49 home runs and 152 RBIs from Belle last season. "I thought of it as a learning experience for me and for him."

Manuel said Belle "was not a problem." Indeed, Belle enjoys a cordial relationship with several members of the Chicago media. Perhaps Manuel's biggest accomplishment last season was establishing an easy rapport with Belle, whom he spoke with daily.

"We talked about a lot of things aside from baseball," said Manuel. "I also knew if something came up I would see him the next day. He would come to me and I would listen to what he said and he would listen to what I said."

At the same time, Manuel acknowledged the rougher parts of Belle's personality. "Probably the one thing I think it's safe to say is that he categorized people. He stereotyped people," Manuel said. "If you were in the media -- and if someone had hurt him at some point -- then everyone in that group [was maligned]. It's unfortunate."

Belle exercised a loophole in his contract with the White Sox that allowed him to pursue free agency if he fell from among the game's five highest-paid players. The Orioles signed him to a five-year, $65 million contract that includes a no-trade provision through 2001. Predictably, his reception was hardly warm as a scattered crowd booed him before each at-bat.

Bigbie signed

The Orioles continued the methodical signing of their recent draft crop by coming to terms with Ball State outfielder Larry Bigbie. The first college outfielder selected, Bigbie was the third of the Orioles' four first-round picks and the 21st overall selection. Terms were not announced.

Bigbie worked out with the Orioles before last night's game and is scheduled to report tomorrow to Bluefield of the Appalachian (Rookie) League after taking a physical this morning in Baltimore.

"I was ready to get it over with. I didn't want to drag it out. I was happy with what they offered. Now it's just a relief," said Bigbie, named a second team All-American selection by Baseball America after hitting .419 with 17 home runs and 54 RBIs in 60 games.

A left-handed hitter, Bigbie, 21, ended his collegiate career as Ball State's all-time leading hitter.

The Orioles also announced the signings of sixth-round pick Erik Bedard, a left-handed pitcher from Norwalk (Conn.) Community Technical College; 12th-round pick Bradley Rogers, a right-handed pitcher from Wellington Secondary School in Nanaimo, British Columbia; 18th-round pick Kyle Martin, a catcher from Selah (Wash.) High School; 19th-round pick Nicolas Garcia, a shortstop from Auphi (Ariz.) High School; and 35th-round selection Kelvin Pickering, a catcher from King (Fla.) High School and the brother of Orioles first base prospect Calvin Pickering.

Of the 53 players the Orioles selected earlier this month, 22 have signed, including 16 players from among the first 27 rounds.

Webster to do rehab stint

Catcher Lenny Webster is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment at one of the Orioles' area affiliates when the club returns from its four-game road trip. Webster has not appeared since sustaining a strained tendon in his right ankle on May 12 against Cleveland.

Webster's mobility has steadily increased the last two weeks but he has yet to attempt a sustained series of squats as if catching in a game. Webster confirmed additional improvement yesterday and could be ready to be activated during the upcoming six-game homestand against the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

Webster's return creates another question, however. The Orioles prefer not to carry three catchers but must do so if they wish to retain Mike Figga. Claimed off waivers from the New York Yankees June 3, Figga can not be outrighted to the minor leagues without the Orioles first passing him through waivers. Webster, meanwhile, has asked the club to pursue a trade that would land him more playing time.

Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Kevin Malone, responsible for signing Webster while the Orioles assistant GM, is among those who have expressed interest.

Impressed by Figga's work with Scott Erickson, Miller said he will start again this weekend, possibly when Erickson starts tomorrow.

"I like the way he frames a pitch. I like the way he gives a low target. And I think he's going to hit some," Miller said.

Kamieniecki rides a wave

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