More long odds don't bother Boone


TORONTO -- Dan Boone is back in the major leagues and proud of it, but the odds against a 36-year-old knuckleballer making the Baltimore Orioles pitching staff in 1991 have to be astronomical.

Of course, the odds of Boone making it back to the major leagues after eight years in semipro leagues and working construction weren't very good, either, but here he is.

"Stranger things have happened," Boone said. "There were nine no-hitters pitched in the major leagues this year. That probably will never happen again."

Boone obviously believed that he had a chance to happen again, else he would not have journeyed to the Senior Professional Baseball Association in Florida last winter to prove he still could pitch. He spent parts of two seasons in the majors in 1981 and '82 (with the Houston Astros and San Diego Padres) but apparently couldn't get the majors out of his blood after he left professional ball in 1984.

"This is a dream come true," he said. "It is very satisfying. It's a miracle to me. This kind of thing obviously doesn't happen every day."

When Boone entered last night's game against the Toronto Blue Jays, it has been 2,907 days since his previous major-league appearance, which took place Sept. 30, 1982, against a San Francisco Giants team managed by Frank Robinson. The last pitcher to go longer than that between appearances was Jim Bouton, who went 2,964 days between July 29, 1970, and Sept. 10, 1978.

Boone's chance to stay around depends on the effectiveness of the knuckleball he developed during the winter. Orioles scout Birdie Tebbetts saw him pitching in the senior league and recommended him to general manager Roland Hemond and assistant general manager Doug Melvin.

"They signed me to a Rochester contract," Boone said. "There were no promises. There was pressure on me the whole time [at Rochester], because, at my age, if I didn't do well for even a short period, I stood a good chance of being released."

He pitched very well for the Class AAA Red Wings, especially after he was inserted into the starting rotation. He was 7-1 in 11 starts and 4-4 in relief.

The man is a walking human-interest story. He is a distant relative of frontiersman Daniel Boone, and he is one of the smallest pitchers in major-league history, 5 feet 8 and 142 pounds. You have to go back 68 years (Jose Acosta, 1922) to find anyone lighter (140 pounds).

His stature has been an issue everywhere he has played, all the way back to his college days at California State University Fullerton, but Boone said he never has considered it a handicap.

"When I look at myself in the mirror, I don't see what everybody else does," he said. "I look in the mirror, and I see myself as normal size, unless there's somebody standing beside me. I stopped comparing myself to other people a long time ago."

*The Toronto Star ran a photograph of the disputed play at third base in the ninth inning of Saturday's game that showed Craig Worthington tagging the Blue Jays' Mookie Wilson well short of the bag.

Robinson had two copies on his desk and laughingly threatened to tape one of them to his chest for the exchange of lineup cards at home plate. But first-base coach Johnny Oates took out the lineup card, saving Robinson certain ejection from the game.

*Reliever Gregg Olson said yesterday that his arm feels much better than it did when he was sidelined for eight days recently, but he concedes that his velocity probably has declined in the latter stages of the season.

"I don't think it has gone down that much," he said. "What happened the other night [when he blew a two-run lead in the ninth Friday] was one of those things that happens to everybody."

Still, Robinson has decided to use him more sparingly the rest of the way.

"He isn't going to be the Olson of old until next spring," Robinson said. "I'm not afraid to use him, but I'm not going to use him like I did before ... not in every situation."

*Some friendly fans in Toronto lowered a giant stuffed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle into the Orioles bullpen during Saturday's game -- a gift for Olson after a frustrating night.

"I thought at first it was a reference to the way I pitched, because it was hanging by its neck," Olson said, "but they were smiling and waving. They were just being friendly."

Olson has added the toy to his large collection of Ninja Turtle figures.

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