Decision due today on Rochester exhibition

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Belle petition sparks talks with club, as players seek to regain Monday day off

June 24, 1999|By Joe Strauss and Roch Kubatko | Joe Strauss and Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The Orioles intend to announce a decision today on whether they will play a scheduled exhibition against their Triple-A team in Rochester on Monday, but as of last night the club was still in a "fact-gathering" mode about what has become a delicate situation.

A day after right fielder Albert Belle posted a clubhouse petition asking teammates to boycott the game, chief operating officer Joe Foss and general manager Frank Wren met with player representatives Mike Mussina and B. J. Surhoff before last night's game.

The players, in turn, contacted the Major League Baseball Players Association regarding what recourse they may have.

"By game time [tonight], I would expect everything to be clarified," Foss said.

Foss would not guarantee that the exhibition will occur. Another meeting is scheduled today with Mussina and Surhoff, so he may not have wanted to give the impression of a done deal.

Said Mussina, the Orioles' official player representative: "I don't know what we can do. There's a big question about what we could do and what we should do."

Foss said, "This is not a time bomb waiting to explode. The Orioles are very sensitive to what our players' concerns are. I would say the reverse is also true."

Several players were stunned Tuesday afternoon to learn that the exhibition game was still on. Only when handed a travel itinerary for next week's road trip to Toronto and New York did many players, including Belle, realize that the exhibition would consume Monday's scheduled off day.

As a concession for playing the second exhibition against a Cuban all-star team May 3 instead of during spring training, many players believed the team had agreed to sacrifice the Rochester exhibition.

Foss said, "Each side had completely different expectations" of the trip. Players insist that no further mention of the Rochester exhibition occurred after the second Cuba game. In recent weeks, questions about Monday's game have elicited vague answers from players and management.

Meanwhile, the Red Wings sold out Frontier Field in a matter of minutes. For the club, canceling would represent a major embarrassment over what has traditionally served as a goodwill tour of the Orioles' top affiliate.

Asked if some players might be given permission not to attend, Foss said he did not anticipate such a compromise. However, he added, "This is clearly not an acrimonious, he-said, she-said situation."

Foss said no call has yet been made to Rochester suggesting a scheduling change.

Though Foss was unimpressed by Belle's petition, he did not classify it as a serious matter.

"I don't take it [the petition to boycott] as a provocative act or issue," Foss said. "Albert was reacting to what he thought and a number of other players thought was going to happen."

Several teammates believed the matter could have been handled more delicately. Others insisted Belle was making an attempt at humor, though the right fielder did not take questions on the matter Tuesday night.

Webster moves forward

Lenny Webster's second injury rehab game at Triple-A Rochester yesterday went about the same as the first. No hits in three at-bats. But, most important, no setbacks in his recovery from a badly sprained right ankle.

Unlike Tuesday's game, however, the Orioles catcher was used as the designated hitter and contributed a sacrifice fly in the Red Wings' 9-5 loss to Durham. He's expected to catch tonight and could be activated early next week.

Webster hasn't played for the Orioles since injuring the ankle while avoiding a tight pitch from Cleveland's Dwight Gooden on May 12. He eased into the rehab assignment by catching in the bullpen, and worked six innings behind the plate in Tuesday's game.

Before leaving for Rochester, Webster conceded that he won't be able to make a full recovery during the season but is willing to ignore any discomfort. He dealt with some in his first game with the Red Wings.

"I heard he got treatment afterward and it bothered him on one throw to third base. Lenny said he felt it a little bit," manager Ray Miller said. "He's just going to have to play through it."

In Webster's absence, Mike Figga has been serving as the backup to Charles Johnson. Though hitting only .176 (3-for-17) with one RBI in eight games, Figga has impressed Miller with his skills behind the plate, and he leaves the club with a difficult decision when Webster returns.

Figga is out of options, so he must clear waivers before being sent to Rochester. The Orioles could trade Webster, giving him the chance to play more regularly. They also could carry three catchers, but that would necessitate reducing the pitching staff to 11, an uncomfortable number for Miller.

"I'd love to go with 11 but I'm almost afraid to," he said.

Webster has been limited to 16 games this season. He's batting .167 (6-for-36) with no homers and three RBIs.

Timlin back in a groove

The Orioles' 5-3 win over Boston on Tuesday will be remembered mostly for Albert Belle's three-run homer in the eighth that wiped out a 3-2 deficit.

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