Subtracting Sosa may help O's get back into swing of things

Orioles

July 18, 2005|By Laura Vecsey

SEATTLE - This is not a nice thing to say, but it needs to be said. Sammy Sosa has a selfish swing.

There, I said it.

No, actually. I didn't say it. My friend, Bob Alexander of Towson, said it. And he's right.

Bob's so right that yesterday, when the Orioles took the field against the Mariners, Sosa was not in the lineup and it felt like a huge sigh of relief.

As in: The Orioles ought to look at their club without regard to Sosa and decide what it needs to upgrade for a playoff run.

In fact, after the 8-2 whipping the Mariners put on the Orioles yesterday, when three errors and a lack of offensive production crushed their chances of winning this road series, the organization ought to ratchet up its sense of urgency.

The real season is upon them. Sosa is only one of several critical issues, but nonetheless, his "situation" is a lot less benign than the Orioles have been willing to admit.

He's a detriment. That's a fact.

Is it too early to think about cutting Sosa loose, in whatever form that takes, be it benching, releasing or designating him for ticket sales/billboard duty?

Some of us have always been fond of the expression "addition by subtraction."

The Orioles are working the phones in anticipation of making trades. They can't stop at pitcher A.J. Burnett and third/first baseman Mike Lowell from the Florida Marlins.

If they trade Larry Bigbie with Jorge Julio and Hayden Penn, and even if they don't, the Orioles still need to add power to their outfield. Jay Gibbons is better than Sosa, but that's not enough.

At this point, the question of Sosa's ability to contribute has been answered. He can't.

That's not a nice thing to say, but it's the truth.

My friend Bob helped me see it plain as day when he said, simply, Sosa has a selfish swing.

Bob, a man who once coached his pitcher/son to a baseball scholarship at Florida State, flew to Seattle last week to watch Rafael Palmeiro get his special hit. So the first two days at Safeco Field, we all paid close attention to Palmeiro, noting, of course, the sweetness of Raffy's swing.

It's not ultra-versatile, such as Tony Gwynn's swing, which was all about knocking out singles. But for a power hitter, Palmeiro has flexibility and skill to do more than hit homers. No wonder Palmeiro's 3,000th hit was an RBI double. Just what you'd expect.

With Palmeiro's milestone in the books, it became time to concentrate on who the Orioles are, what they have and where they're going. Sosa's situation is obviously part of the big picture, even if his struggles have been downplayed.

At this point, Sosa's struggles are so blatant, he's being stuffed in the No. 2 hole, at least when he's not being benched.

"He won't be bunting," Mazzilli said, touching on a funky topic of what it is Sosa can do with a bat these days.

It's one thing to curse at people who ask why Sosa didn't bunt in a bunting situation a few weeks back. At least Sosa was still being asked to hit in a power spot in the lineup.

It's another thing to write Sosa into the No. 2 hole, a place where all kinds of trickery, speed and skilled batsmanship are required, and then say he won't be asked to bunt.

"This is a move for the team, not for one player," Mazzilli said about why this experiment is taking place after the All-Star break.

Well, you could have fooled us that this isn't about Sosa, or for him. A Hall of Fame slugger who can no longer slug and who can't change his approach or alter his selfish swing is near the top of the order?

This is good for the Orioles?

Saturday night, Sosa's shortcomings were in plain sight. A 2-2 gem between starters Jamie Moyer and Bruce Chen turned into a ninth-inning Orioles loss.

That night, I sat in the Safeco Field stands with Bob, who arrived at his analysis of Sosa's swing after watching Sosa fail to do anything in at least two critical situations.

With the score tied in the seventh, Sosa struck out looking with two on and one out. In the ninth, after Brian Roberts' double, Sosa struck out with Roberts on second base. Then the Mariners came back and capitalized on the youthful, rushed throwing error by rookie reliever Chris Ray.

Sosa ended the night 1-for-5, dropping his average since May 24 to .203 (30-for-138.) If that's not the kind of evidence that he's done, what will it take?

"He can't do anything to help the team with that swing. It's selfish," Bob said.

"I think you're right, Bob," I said.

Is this the kind of No. 2 hitter a team allegedly contending for the American League East needs or wants? Is this an experiment such a team can afford?

Not now. You don't teach this dog new tricks.

Sammy Sosa was built on that selfish swing. He's going down with it. That doesn't mean the Orioles have to go down with it, too.

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