Orioles' focus for final weeks, next season starts with Mercedes


The Baltimore Orioles finally are focused on the future, and the next four weeks should provide a telling preview of spring training 1992.

2 Now that we've got that straightened out . . .


San Diego Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn is one of the best hitters of his generation, but who are the hitters he respects the most? You might be surprised.

Gwynn said recently that if he could watch only one guy hit, it would be St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Pedro Guerrero. Not Wade Boggs. Not George Brett. Not any of the "pure" hitters.

"Everyone is always complaining about his defense, or complaining about this or that," Gwynn said, "but you watch. The Cardinals will probably let him go and he'll sign as a free agent with someone else and he'll do the same thing he always does. He'll keep on putting up the big numbers without getting much fanfare. Dang, I love to watch him hit."

Gwynn also has a couple of picks for the future -- the near future. He says that Chicago Cubs first baseman Mark Grace and New York Mets infielder Gregg Jefferies are on the verge of superstar status.

"Jefferies and Grace are going to be guys who one year are going to have years that at first will be looked on as a career years, but then they are going to keep doing it year after year," Gwynn said. "They haven't peaked yet, and when they do, people are going to be amazed. Both guys are already good hitters, but I look for them to come into their own and do things

people never imagined they can do."


Brett on Bo: Brett says Jackson missed a chance to be one of baseball's premier players by splitting his time between two professional sports, and not just because he got hurt playing football.

"If he had quit football, gone to the Instructional League after his first year in Kansas City, devoted his life to baseball and really studied the game and learned to get better, he would have been one of the best players in the game today," Brett said. "He just has so much potential, but he didn't do any of those things, and he will have to wait and see how close to his potential the hip injury will allow him to come."


The Dodgers have a chance to go to the World Series this year. They also have a chance to come back next season with an entirely different infield. How often has that happened?

First baseman Eddie Murray, who finally is bouncing back from the rib-cage injury he didn't tell anyone about, still is no lock to re-sign with the club. Second baseman Juan Samuel and shortstop Alfredo Griffin also will be eligible for free agency, and young Dave Hansen could replace the Lenny Harris-Mike Sharperson platoon at third.

In all, the Dodgers have 11 players who could be eligible for free agency, though in most cases that depends on whether the club offers them arbitration.


Everyone marvels at the number of no-hitters that have been pitched the past two seasons, but who would have thought that Major League Baseball would try to counter the trend by changing the rules and removing 50 of them from the record books?

The rules change left Harvey Haddix with nothing but a loss for the 12 perfect innings he threw before losing one of the greatest games ever pitched. But Joe Cowley, who walked eight and gave up a run in his 1987 no-hitter against the California Angels, remains in the record books.

/# Nobody said the world was fair.


This might come as a shock, but the Cleveland Indians were eliminated from the American League East race on Wednesday, the first major-league team to fall by the wayside this year.

"You mean we're out of it this early," said catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. "It means we'll be on a mission next year. It'll be judgment year next year. We can't do any worse."

The Indians remain on pace to lose 108 games, which would break the club record for losses (102).


Remember how the Indians moved the fences back at Cleveland Stadium before the season to take advantage of their team speed? Now, the Cardinals are planning to move the fences up at Busch Stadium, apparently in hopes of making the park more attractive to free-agent power hitters.

The Cardinals took advantage of Busch's spacious dimensions during the Whitey Herzog era and went to the World Series three times in the 1980s. But the emphasis is changing.

The fences will be moved up 8 feet (from 383 to 375) in the power alleys and 12 feet (from 414 to 402) in center field.


Joke of the Week: Philadelphia Phillies reliever Mitch Williams aka "the Wild Thing") will be eligible for free agency after this year and reportedly will seek a four-year contract worth $13 million. Funny thing is, he'll probably get it.

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