NEW YORK - The Orioles suffered the fate of a fourth-place team yesterday as catcher Charles Johnson, shortstop Mike Bordick and right fielder Albert Belle were overlooked as reserves on the American League All-Star team.
New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, who, as manager of the defending world champions, picked the team for the third time in the past four years, offered reasons but no excuses for his selections. Having a career offensive season, Johnson was hurt by Torre's preference for his own catcher, Jorge Posada, and Bordick and Belle were excluded because of too many bigger names at their position. The slights leave injured third baseman Cal Ripken as the Orioles' only representative, the first time since 1995 the team hasn't sent multiple players.
Johnson appeared the most likely Oriole to be named as a reserve but was handicapped by Torre's allegiance to his own player and the All-Star Game policy of allowing free substitution at catcher in case of injury to a backup.
"You try to keep an even keel about it because you don't know one way or the other," said Johnson, who made the 1997 NL All-Star team as a replacement for Todd Hundley. "Posada had a great first half. He's done things to help them win ballgames. Joe Torre's a great manager, and he's going to choose the guy who helped him. He's well-deserving of that."
Posada entered last night hitting .314 with 14 home runs and 39 RBIs. Johnson was hitting .313 with 19 home runs and 44 RBIs.
As Torre admitted, the home team wins all ties.
"Charles and my guy have close numbers. My guy is my guy. I'm the Yankee manager so I'm going to choose him," said Torre, citing Posada's third-place standing in fan balloting as further validation. Torre named Johnson, Chicago White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas, Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Tony Batista and Kansas City Royals left fielder Johnny Damon as the toughest omissions.
Amid the swirl, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said yesterday that the Orioles would consent to Ripken playing and personally endorsed him playing if physically able.
"I hope he does play. But that's Cal's decision. I can't make that decision for him," said Hargrove. "But certainly in talking to [vice-president of baseball operations] Syd [Thrift], we have no problem with him playing in the game if he's physically able to play. I think it might be a good opportunity to see where he's at."
Ripken will not be eligible to leave the disabled list until July 13, two days after the All-Star Game, but Major League Baseball officials say Ripken could play if the club and Torre agree.
Jason Johnson's role with the Orioles has changed. So has his opinion of going to the bullpen.
Once finding no relief in being removed from the rotation, Johnson sounded yesterday like he endorsed the idea. His start Saturday will be taken by Jose Mercedes, leaving his record at 0-7 and his vantage point at the start of games a lot further from the field.
Johnson was given the news by Hargrove after Tuesday's 7-6 victory over the Yankees. He left the ballpark soon after, but he said yesterday that he understood Hargrove's decision.
So much has gone wrong for Johnson this year, but he was saying all the right things.
"It doesn't matter to me whether I relieve or if I start. I'm going to work my problems out, and being in relief I'm going to have more chances. Rather than waiting every five days, I might get in there two or three times every five days and get a chance to get my mechanics back to where they should be and get my confidence back," said Johnson.
"I think it's a real good thing for me, and I will work this out. I wasn't expecting this, but I could see where he was coming from. The numbers aren't where they should be. I'm better than that. I know that, he knows that."
Johnson's previous start ended like so many others - prematurely. He lasted only five innings Monday, allowing six runs and walking five. He threw 92 pitches, and his ERA bloated to 6.53. Hargrove no longer could justify keeping him in the rotation.
No `fire sale'
As Orioles pitcher Scott Erickson officially gained enough service time to veto any trade, Orioles owner Peter Angelos said yesterday that the club isn't interested in conducting a July "fire sale."
The Orioles continue to take offers for their innings-eater but are unmoved by minor-league talent. Having waited beyond midnight, they now must gain his approval before dealing him.
"Our baseball professionals are exploring every possibility of any trade or acquisition," Angelos said yesterday. "We're not in a fire-sale situation. We're not going to give up a front-line pitcher for minor-league players. Will be trade? Not unless we get value in return."
Thrift contacted Erickson's agent, Jeff Borris, after Major League Baseball recalculated the pitcher's service time, postponing his 10-and-5 status from June 26 to last night. An understanding was reached, according to Borris, that Erickson's new club would be liable for any compensation beyond salary, including a buyout of his no-trade.
The soreness in Ryan Minor's left side has eased enough that the Orioles third baseman expects to swing a bat today for the first time since being scratched from Saturday's lineup.
Minor strained a muscle in his side while hitting in the indoor cage at Camden Yards before Saturday's game.
Second baseman Delino DeShields, noted improvement in the strained muscle in his upper back that had caused neck pain. DeShields didn't play again last night for the third straight game.
Sun staff writer Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.