Torre: Belle could have made it in New York

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Yankees manager says slugger would not have disrupted clubhouse

June 28, 1999|By Joe Strauss and Roch Kubatko | Joe Strauss and Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

He has heard about the dugout confrontation with manager Ray Miller, the goofy Web site musings and most recently the petition to boycott an exhibition in upstate New York.

Even so, Joe Torre says he would've enjoyed having Albert Belle.

Reflecting on last November's pursuit of the then-free agent outfielder, Torre recalled playing a round of golf and eating dinner with Belle in Arizona. Torre left the meeting with an impression similar to others exposed to Belle away from baseball: that if the Yankees signed him to replace Bernie Williams' bat, Belle could exist productively, and maybe peacefully, within the Yankees clubhouse.

"What I looked at with Albert Belle was the numbers that he puts up every year and the number of games he plays," said Torre, ecstatic that the Yankees instead re-signed Williams. "That has to be, at least in my case, the first priority. After that, you hope for the best."

When Williams re-signed with the Yankees, the Orioles were left to sign Belle to a five-year, $65 million contract, including a no-trade provision through 2001. Enthusiasm for the deal has since waned within the warehouse.

Torre deflected questions about Belle's recent pranks.

"The thing is how it impacts other people. And I don't know that. I'm not over there. I have a great deal of respect for Albert's ability, and obviously Baltimore does, too. Otherwise they wouldn't have signed him," Torre said. "I don't know what I would do. But I've done things I wish I hadn't done, too."

Torre has experience dealing with iconoclastic personalities. He has won titles for both Ted Turner and George Steinbrenner and maintained his dignity working under both. Backed by a veteran, winning team, Torre believes Belle would have conformed.

"I had the same plan when I took this job. Everyone was asking me what I was going to do when George said this or that. I can't really have a plan until I deal with it day-in and day-out," Torre said. "My clubhouse had enough establishment there that if someone wasn't part of what we were doing, it wasn't going to affect somebody else. We have one thing in mind, and that's winning. If that type of player was going to help us win, we'd do it.

"It wouldn't have been a distraction. Well, a distraction, maybe. But not to the point of disrupting."

Miller's call to arms

The Orioles are taking some minor-league reinforcements to Rochester, N.Y., for tonight's exhibition, including four pitchers who Miller is hoping can carry the game through seven innings and spare his bullpen.

Making the trip are Double-A Bowie Baysox right-hander Ron Blazier, Single-A Frederick Keys right-hander Ken Sims and left-hander Sean Fischer, and right-hander Alvie Shepherd, who is on an injury rehabilitation assignment at Rookie-level Bluefield.

Also joining the club are Bowie infielders Augie Ojeda and Joey Hammond and outfielder Eugene Kingsale, and Frederick first baseman Frankie Figueroa and outfielder Luis Matos.

As of yesterday, Miller still hadn't settled on a starting pitcher, though he assured that it would be one of the minor-leaguers. He has no intention of using one of his own starting pitchers in the game.

Webster ready to return?

Miller said a decision remains on whether catcher Lenny Webster will accompany the club to Toronto after tomorrow's game.

Webster has been on the disabled list since May 13 with a strained tendon in his right ankle. He's at Rochester on an injury rehab assignment, and doubts remain whether he's ready to be activated.

"I guess it's going to depend on his physical health," Miller said. "If it's still bothering him, we may as well wait a few days or however long it takes to try to get it better."

Webster wore a new ankle brace for Saturday's doubleheader after missing the previous game because of swelling. He caught seven innings of the first game, then the last three of the nightcap after catcher Tommy Davis was moved to the outfield.

"We're concerned that it still gets puffy, but he said [the brace] really made it feel a lot better," Miller said.

Most of Webster's pain comes when he tries to push off while throwing or cutting to his left.

"He also said he's been scuffling with the bat a little bit, and I knew that would happen. That's why we sent him there," Miller said.

The scuffling eased a little yesterday. Webster homered off former Oriole Scott Klingenbeck.

Hairston gets first hit

Second baseman Jerry Hairston collected his first major-league hit yesterday, blooping a two-out single into right field in the second inning.

Hairston, who began last season at Frederick, jumped on the first pitch and sent a flare over the head of second baseman Chuck Knoblauch. He clapped his hands once as the ball fell, then tried to suppress a grin as he stood at first base. The ball was tossed into the dugout for safekeeping.

Around the horn

Luis Sojo's ninth-inning homer off Arthur Rhodes was his first since July 30, 1997, when he connected off the Oakland Athletics' Buddy Groom. Yesterday's crowd of 48,020 was the second-largest this season. The series drew 143,797, the second-largest three-date series in Camden Yards history.

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