Politics aside, Delgado worthy of endorsement

ON BASEBALL

Baseball

December 05, 2004|By JOE CHRISTENSEN

There's a lot more to Carlos Delgado than the fact he chose not to stand for the singing of "God Bless America" last season and spoke out against the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Beyond averaging 38 home runs and 120 RBIs for the Toronto Blue Jays over the past seven seasons, the first baseman has dedicated himself to causes such as the Special Olympics.

He was the Blue Jays' nominee for the 2003 Roberto Clemente Award, which is given annually to the major leaguer who combines talent with work in his local community.

Now, Delgado is one of the Orioles' primary pursuits on the free-agent market, along with pitcher Carl Pavano, who will be in Baltimore today to meet with team officials.

The Orioles are far enough along in their negotiations with Delgado that they've already resolved the "God Bless America" issue. Delgado has notified club officials, through agent David Sloane, that he would stand for the song if they ask him to stand.

"Carlos has said he will never do anything that puts himself above the team," Sloane said. "There is no policy on the Blue Jays regarding `God Bless America.' If he signs with a team that has a policy that all players must stand on the top step for `God Bless America,' that's what he'll do."

This is a sensitive issue for the Orioles. They respect Delgado's right to have his own political viewpoints, but if Camden Yards becomes his new home, they would consider it his workplace. And they don't want to cause a distraction for other players.

Apparently, Delgado is fine with that, further proof that he's as solid a person as he is a player. The Orioles know they'd be lucky to get him, and probably will make an offer before heading to the winter meetings on Friday.

Hargrove gets a scare

Former Orioles manager Mike Hargrove took a congratulatory call on his cell phone in mid-November after being named manager of the Seattle Mariners, and he was in serious distress.

"I'm in the middle of a bank robbery!" Hargrove said.

Hargrove was at a bank near his home in Richfield, Ohio, when a police officer with a shotgun ordered him to stay in his truck, presumably to avoid harm from an armed robber inside the building.

"The policeman came over and hid behind my truck, and told me, `Stay in the truck for your safety.' Pretty soon I realized I was the one sitting between the two guys with the guns. For my safety? I rolled down the window and said, `Something's not right here.' "

Alas, it was a false alarm. Hargrove was just glad he could laugh.

"I found out my heart could beat 300 times a second," he said.

Hargrove's new team appears to be the Orioles' primary competition for Delgado and fellow free-agent first baseman Richie Sexson. The smart money has Sexson landing in Seattle because he's an Oregon native.

Delgado hails from Puerto Rico, and after playing his whole career in Toronto, he's much more familiar with Camden Yards than is Sexson. Another team to watch is the New York Yankees, who are looking for a slugger to replace Jason Giambi at first base.

Pavano's priorities

When Pavano gets to Baltimore today, on his tour of American League cities, he'll undoubtedly be impressed with Camden Yards. But another of his priorities is video equipment, and this might be a disadvantage for the Orioles.

Pavano's current team, the Florida Marlins, has a state-of-the-art video room at Pro Player Stadium, while the Orioles' system could best be described as outdated, one baseball man said last week.

To be sure, Pavano is doing his homework. ESPN The Magazine did an article on him recently, and the photo shoot took place off the Florida coast, on the private boat of Barry Praver, the agent for Orioles pitcher Sidney Ponson.

Praver is friends with Pavano's agent, Scott Shapiro, and while aboard the vessel, Pavano asked several questions about the Orioles. Praver set up a phone call between Pavano and Ponson, who sang the virtues of Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller.

The going rate?

Several baseball executives bristled when the New York Mets re-signed pitcher Kris Benson to a three-year, $22.5 million contract last month. Many think the Mets overpaid to justify their trade for Benson in July.

Benson is 47-53 with a 4.28 ERA for his career, and his new contract almost certainly raised the bar for Pavano, Brad Radke, Eric Milton, Derek Lowe, Russ Ortiz and the other pitchers on the free-agent market.

"A lot of people in management are trying to eliminate the Benson deal from consideration, saying it's an aberration," one agent said. "But the fact is, it's out there now, and people are looking at it as they set the market."

Jottings

Give the Orioles credit for exploring new ways to evaluate talent, with their recent study of psychological test scores. In some cases, mainly with pitchers, it has been an effective tool, but the system is far from foolproof.

According to major league sources, the Orioles had a chance to obtain outfielder J.D. Drew from the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003 but wrote him off because of his test results and his penchant for injuries. Drew went to Atlanta, where he hit .305 with 31 home runs and 93 RBIs this year, and now he's looking for a five-year, $50 million contract on the free-agent market.

Still, if you were wondering why the Orioles have yet to express interest in Drew this fall, there's a good clue.

The major league minimum salary will get a cost-of-living increase for next year to about $312,000 after sitting at $300,000 for the past two years.

Many baseball people think the Orioles gave up too fast on pitching prospect Denny Bautista, dealing him to the Kansas City Royals for aging reliever Jason Grimsley. But Bautista was 0-3 with a 5.57 ERA in his first five appearances in the Dominican winter league after going 0-4 with a 6.51 ERA in five late-season starts with the Royals.

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