O's bring back McLemore for utility job

Veteran switch-hitter gets spring training look as latest Oriole to return

Baseball

February 05, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

If the Orioles decide to hold a reunion game this summer, they won't have to mail out many invitations. They can just pass them around the clubhouse.

Another former player has returned to the organization, with Mark McLemore agreeing yesterday to a minor league contract that includes an invitation to spring training.

The deal will guarantee McLemore, a switch-hitter who broke into the majors 18 years ago, $725,000 if he makes the team.

McLemore, 39, spent the past four seasons with the Seattle Mariners. Used at shortstop, second base, third base and the outfield last year, he batted .233 with two homers and 37 RBIs in 99 games.

"We're just trying to bring in some players with some experience," said executive vice president Jim Beattie, who contacted manager Lee Mazzilli about the club's interest in McLemore before moving forward.

"Maz has known him for a while. We'd like to at least give him some alternatives, some more options as we get into spring training, for utility players. They're always useful if they're healthy, and with his experience and everything."

McLemore played for the Orioles from 1992 to 1994, mostly at second base and right field, before joining the Texas Rangers. His career began with the California Angels in 1986, and he also made brief stops with the Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros.

"I really didn't think I'd be back in Baltimore. It's not one of those things I would have thought about," said McLemore, a career .259 hitter in 1,755 major league games.

"I have a lot of fond memories there. That's probably my favorite ballpark. It's a cozy place to play. The fans are right there - not too close, but not too far away."

McLemore often has marveled at the number of people who stand behind the bullpen area and atop the flag court for all nine innings.

"I'll see them there for three hours," he said. "That's a true fan."

With Melvin Mora projected as the starting third baseman this season, the Orioles could use a player on the bench who's capable of moving around the field. McLemore would fill a super-utility role.

"I'm trying to decide right now which gloves to bring," McLemore said. "I'll have my usual assortment with me."

McLemore joins Rafael Palmeiro and Sidney Ponson as former Orioles who returned to the organization as free agents this winter. B.J. Surhoff signed another minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

"I'm sure with the number of teams Mark has been with, he's probably a `former' with a lot of clubs," Beattie said.

Pitchers and catchers report to the Orioles' spring training complex in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Feb. 20, and Beattie indicated that any other roster moves before that date also would involve minor league deals.

"I think all the heavy lifting is done," he said.

That statement contradicts published reports that the team is in the running for free-agent pitcher Greg Maddux.

Though Beattie wouldn't comment on Maddux, a team source said no offers have been made to the four-time Cy Young winner. It's believed that Maddux doesn't want to pitch on the East Coast.

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