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Belgrad, enjoying Oriole Park, knows his job is only half-done


The trim, smallish man with the neatly parted hair was inconspicuous as he walked along Conway Street among the fans arriving for the ballgame at Oriole Park.

None of them seemed to realize that without the work of this man the very thing they were doing -- packing the ballpark again for an Orioles game at a critically acclaimed building in a rejuvenated part of downtown Baltimore -- would have been possible.

The lone stroller was Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, which built the ballpark -- and which now is concentrating on landing an NFL expansion franchise for Baltimore. Belgrad had a right to the self-satisfied smile on his face.

"I have a parking space at the ballpark," he said, "but I much prefer to walk here with the fans. It's great fun to move along with the crowd and hear what they're saying and see how much they're enjoying this."

Still, the job is only half-finished for Belgrad and the stadium authority. The top priority now is pursuit of the football franchise.

"I'm very optimistic, and that's not phony," Belgrad said. "I talk to the NFL owners and I feel the vibes, and I think it looks good for us. If we don't get a team, nobody'll be more disappointed than I'll be."

With that, he peered toward the far reaches of the parking lots south of the ballpark.

"Now if we can get a football stadium built down there," he said, smiling again, "we'll be all right."

* The demand for Orioles tickets is so great these days that even the players are being cut back.

That's not to say they can't get tickets for their families and friends. But in years past when a player called for an extra pair of tickets on a given night, the request was granted. Always. Now players are being told: "There's nothing left for tonight."

* In The New York Times, this question was asked:

What will happen if the Orioles are scheduled on the West Coast on the date in 1995 when Cal Ripken is due to break Lou Gehrig's record of playing in 2,130 consecutive games?

I'll tell you what will happen. The American League schedule-maker will not only be fired. He might be shot by a Baltimore fan.

* The league has sent the wrong message with its dismissal of xTC the Orioles' protest of the game in which New York pitcher Tim Leary was alleged to have scuffed the ball.

AL president Bobby Brown said his umpires have been instructed not to search players for evidence that they may have doctored baseballs.

"We want to avoid a circus atmosphere," said Brown. "A few years ago the umpires suspected Gaylord Perry of doctoring balls. They had him take his shirt off and raise his arms. We don't want that."

What they'll get is more scuffing. As former Orioles relief ace Tippy Martinez said after Brown's ruling when he was asked if he had ever scuffed a ball: "No, but maybe I should have."

* Bob Brown has come up with a good one in the current Oriole Gazette. The longtime Orioles PR man discovered that Earl Weaver is seventh among all-time major-league managers in winning percentage at .583. One place ahead of him is his former Orioles second baseman, Davey Johnson.

Johnson, as manager of the New York Mets, had a record of 593-417 for a percentage of .587.

I can remember how proud Weaver was after his first tour as manager here (1968-1982) when he was asked how many managers had a better won-lost percentage than his, which was then .596.

"Just Joe McCarthy, that's all," Earl snapped. McCarthy is still No. 1 at .614.

Then came Weaver's ill-advised second term as O's skipper in 1985-86. Weaver really didn't want to come out of retirement then, but owner Edward Bennett Williams offered him so much money Earl couldn't refuse. The club went 126-141 under Weaver then and now he ranks behind a former player.

With the Mets presently having such a bad year under first-year manager Jeff Torborg, you just know some fans in New York are wondering why the club ever fired the sixth winningest manager in history.

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