NEW YORK -- A baseball logjam of sorts was broken this week when the Kansas City Royals signed their first choice in last month's amateur free-agent draft.
You may have noticed that there has been little news about the signing of No. 1 picks lately. You may also have detected the subtle influence of Scott Boras, who gains a great deal of notoriety this time every year.
Boras is the California-based lawyer who handled Ben McDonald's negotiations two years ago and has a history of clients who don't sign until college classes are about to resume.
"He's got the top half of the draft all tied up," said one major-league executive. "He's got four of the top 12 and everybody's waiting to see what he does."
Included among those getting legal advice from Boras is Brien Taylor, selected by the Yankees as the No. 1 pick in the country. Reportedly Boras is asking the Yankees for the same $1.2 million deal he negotiated with Oakland for Todd Van Poppel a year ago. Joe Vitiello, the outfielder the Royals made the No. 7 pick overall, is the only one of the top dozen draftees signed thus far. He is not represented by Boras.
The word is that Boras won't negotiate for his three other first-round clients, preferring to wait and see what he eventually gets for Taylor, who will set the market value for the other 10 unsigned first-rounders.
If his track record is any indication, Boras will not rush into agreements for at least another month.
Incidentally, the Orioles' No. 1 pick (ninth overall), Mark Smith, is not one of those represented by Boras. His negotiations are being handled by Arn Tellum, who has Mark Langston among his clients.
Smith apparently has decided not to play with the U.S. Pan-Am team, but that hasn't speeded up negotiations with the Orioles. Until Boras makes a move with his four players, Smith probably will remain a sideline observer.
* JOHNNY COMES MARCHING HOME: Well, not exactly. But it was something of a homecoming here yesterday for John Oates. It's almost like his two years as a coach with the Orioles don't count. Returning to Yankee Stadium as manager elicits considerable more interest.
Oates played for the Yankees during the 1980 and 1981 seasons, the last years of his career. He was asked about his memories of those years.
"What stands out in particular is how much I didn't want to come to New York as a player -- and then how much I enjoyed it while I was here," said Oates. "Most of my experience, except my rookie year , when they were still in the old stadium, was with the National League and Shea Stadium.
"When I would come here, the city seemed too big, too intimidating," said Oates, who had been released by the Dodgers late in spring training. "They had a mini-strike that year  -- and the Yankees signed me on the basis of two or three intra-squad games."
Once he got to New York, Oates found it a lot more pleasant than he did as a visiting player. "One of the things I remember was how many I times I walked in from the bullpen [after a game] listening to 'New York, New York.'
"I also remember getting the biggest cheer and the biggest boo of my career at the same time," said Oates. "Sparky Anderson walked Graig Nettles intentionally three times to load the bases, and Rick Cerone got two singles and then hit a grand slam in the eighth inning.
"I came out to catch the last inning and got the loudest ovation of my life -- until they figured out it wasn't Cerone. Then I got the loudest boo I've ever heard."
A year after the Yankees released Oates, they started him on his managerial career with their Double A Nashville farm club.
* PUTTING THE STREAK IN PERSPECTIVE: Eventually Cal Ripken's consecutive game streak (1,488) entered Oates' conversation with the media yesterday. It was noted that Ripken was still slightly less than four years away from Lou Gehrig's all-time record of 2,130.
Somebody suggested that, if he had a long enough run as manager, Oates might be the manager who decides to give Ripken a day off. Oates appeared mesmerized by the thought.
"I don't think there's a manager in baseball who would even think about giving Cal Ripken a day off," said Oates, who played 583 games less in his 15-year career than his All-Star shortstop has played during The Streak.
Everybody has their own way of putting Ripken's streak into perspective, but Oates missed slightly with his. "Do you realize I was still playing with the Yankees when his streak started?" asked Oates.
Not quite. Oates was finished as a player in 1981 and was in Nashville when Ripken's streak started in 1982.
* IMPERTINENT QUESTIONS OF THE WEEK: Why not just call it Baltimore's Nameless Stadium?
Are the Oct. 4-5-6 games sold out yet?