At This Stage, Mora's Exit Really All That's Left

August 04, 2009|By Peter Schmuck

Melvin Mora was not in the starting lineup for the first game of the four-game series against the Detroit Tigers on Monday, and you have to wonder whether he succeeded in talking himself off the team with his verbal attack on manager Dave Trembley on Sunday morning.

Guess we'll find out today, when the club has to make room for heralded pitching prospect Brian Matusz.

That would be sad. Mora has been a fixture in the Orioles' lineup for most of this decade and has conducted himself honorably and charitably in the community throughout his career here. But he has been around long enough to know that when you pull a public him-or-me on the manager in front of a team full of impressionable players, you're asking to be released.

And, for that matter, he basically did make it known that he was ready to move on, so the chances of his getting that opportunity in the form of his unconditional release seem pretty good right now.

That's no way for his career to end here, but it probably can't be helped. Mora has been a good Oriole, and he's one guy who has made it clear all along that he loves Baltimore and wants to stay in the area after his career is over. He has been a fan favorite throughout, but the combination of his sickly run-production numbers and his poor judgment Sunday are going to make it very difficult to patch things up with Trembley and the organization.

This is a complicated situation that doesn't lend itself to either the gut-level fan reaction ("Don't let the door hit you on the butt on your way out.") or any diplomatic internal solution. Mora popped off at a time when Trembley already is walking on eggshells and the Orioles' rebuilding program is shifting away from the remaining veteran players on the team.

He's almost certainly out of here at the end of the season anyway. His contract is up, and there really isn't any scenario - even if he suddenly perked up and duplicated last year's second-half surge - that is going to justify the club picking up his $8 million option for the 2010 season. The only possibility would have been a one-year contract at a greatly reduced salary with the understanding that his playing time would continue to diminish, and he pretty much took care of that with Sunday's eruption.

If Mora perceived Trembley's tenuous job security as an exploitable weakness, it didn't work. If he felt that his long relationship with owner Peter Angelos would gain him the high ground in a showdown with the manager, there are whispers that it probably did just the opposite.

The Orioles are still obligated to pay Mora about $3 million for the remainder of his contract, so it doesn't make great financial sense to release him and eat that guarantee when the club is already short on organizational depth at the corner infield positions, but Mora has backed Trembley into a corner. Mollifying him in any way probably would send the wrong message to the young players who are supposed to be learning from the veterans how to conduct themselves at the major league level.

Still, you have to feel for Mora, too. He has reached that point in his career where age has crept up on him and - if you'll forgive the obvious Dylan Thomas paraphrase - he's starting to rage at the dying of his competitive light. He thinks he has a big finish in him, and he thinks the team owes him the chance to try and salvage the season, but he's probably the only one in the organization who doesn't think Ty Wigginton is the better option at third base.

So he accused Trembley of "disrespecting" him - even though the club stuck with Mora as the everyday No. 5 hitter throughout a dismal first half - and created this very uncomfortable situation for himself and the team.

Trembley chose not to fire back, other than to say he was disappointed that Mora saw things that way, but he gets the last word every day when he fills out the lineup card. The only question now is whether Andy MacPhail will make the problem go away entirely or press his embattled manager and frustrated third baseman to play nice for a couple of more months.

Listen to Peter Schmuck weeknights at 6 on WBAL (1090 AM).

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