O's All-Stars leap hurdles

Surhoff, Mussina join Ripken on team

July 08, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

The Call came for Orioles left fielder B. J. Surhoff and pitcher Mike Mussina yesterday afternoon. Named by New York Yankees manager Joe Torre to Tuesday's All-Star Game in Boston, the two join third baseman Cal Ripken at Fenway Park. It is unlikely any organization will send players more appreciative of the moment.

Selection isn't without financial reward, but to three players making a combined $16 million this season, satisfaction rests in the acknowledgment by fans and peers. Ripken will make a record 17th appearance, Surhoff a celebrated first and Mussina his fifth.

Each has overcome significant obstacles recently to make the game -- Surhoff the obscurity of a talent incorrectly perceived as a complementary player, Mussina from a gruesome injury last season and Ripken from spring's combination of physical and personal pain. Ripken receives a $100,000 incentive bonus compared to $50,000 for Surhoff and $25,000 for Mussina.

Made the first overall choice by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1985 draft, Surhoff, the American League leader in hits, has undergone three position switches and two turns at free agency to reach this point. He turns 35 Aug. 4 and becomes the American League's oldest first-time All-Star since Doyle Alexander was named with the Detroit Tigers in 1988.

Mussina was honored for the fifth time and the first since 1997 but none have meant as much. Mussina recalled May 14, 1998, when a line drive by Sandy Alomar caught him flush just above the right eye, causing him a severe laceration and a broken nose.

Surhoff thanked numerous Orioles employees, including the team's training staff and its public relations department, but he also recalled the advice given him by Brewers general manager Sal Bando during his nine-year tenure with his original team.

"He impressed upon all of us that there are three things you can control -- you can control your attitude; you can control your concentration level; and you can control your effort every day," Surhoff said. "I've tried to remember that since the day I heard it. The more I think about it, the more I believe in it."

Surhoff received consideration in 1997 but was bypassed by Torre. A year ago he hit a career-high 22 home runs with 92 RBIs but was not a strong candidate.

"I had a couple opportunities before but they didn't work out," Surhoff said. "This [season] has been a little bit better statistically but not as satisfying. When your team is winning you have a better opportunity of making it."

Long considered among the game's most efficient but underappreciated talents, Surhoff's statistics would not allow him to be overlooked this time. Surhoff had two more hits last night and is hitting .338 with 20 home runs and 69 RBIs. He also has constructed three hitting streaks of 12 games or more, a staggering feat within a half-season.

Torre indicated the last two weeks that Surhoff's naming was likely. However, because of the requirements that every team be represented coupled with the Orioles' miserable first half, Mussina thought himself "on the bubble" before notification about 3 p.m.

Mussina, a first-time All-Star at 23 and a two-time 19-game winner since, returned from the disabled list last June 6 with an increased appreciation for his talent.

"I think being able to come back from that changed my perspective of the game," said Mussina, recalling that he and his wife Jana were expecting their first child at the time of the injury. "[I think about] how close I was to not being able to do this anymore.

"We just had a child last year and he never would have been able to see me play. There are a lot of things that changed when I was able to come back.

"You get hit and you think it's a tragic thing. It was very traumatic. But I was very lucky in the fact that I can still play."

Mussina has not only played, but performed at an elite level. He enters his final start of the first half Saturday 10-4 with a 3.61 ERA. As manager Ray Miller cited, Mussina could have 13 wins if not for three blown saves behind him.

Recognition by Torre rather than fan balloting makes the honor even more significant, he said. "I'm selected by a group of my peers based on my performance in the first half. By no means is it a popularity contest. You either earn it or you don't," said Mussina.

Pub Date: 7/08/99

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