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O's can't always get what they want will they get what they need?

The Orioles spent the past week evaluating the organization and mapping out the off-season, apparently intent on getting an early jump on the competition. But they didn't need a panel of experts to tell them what went wrong in 1992.

OK, OK. There were a lot of things that went right over the course of their surprising season. Everybody knows that. The club far exceeded expectations. It's just that this is not the time to pat yourself on the back if the next step is to be the American League East title.

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Club officials cannot afford to be seduced by the notion that the youthful nucleus of the team will grow more teeth. That was the mistake of 1989. The next step -- the one that takes the Orioles from third place to first -- is going to require a more aggressive off-season strategy.

Orioles president Larry Lucchino already is on record as saying that the front office will move aggressively to solidify the team, though it is not yet clear what that means. He also said that the club retains its view that "free agency is not a panacea," which may not leave him very much room to maneuver.

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It isn't difficult to figure out what the Orioles need. Just look at the final month of play. When it mattered most, the lineup tied a club record by going 21 consecutive games without scoring more than four runs. This team needs a big hitter, preferably one who can play right field. Preferably one who is a known quantity.

Don't hold your breath.

The Orioles have done their big spending. They signed Cal Ripken to a five-year, $30.5 million deal. They have to pay Glenn Davis nearly $4 million next season. Emerging stars Mike Devereaux and Brady Anderson will command big salaries. The payroll is going to rise dramatically without any new spending, so don't expect to see Barry Bonds or Ruben Sierra patrolling right field next year. It just isn't going to happen.

The club will get no argument here. They have answered the will of the fans and laid out some serious green to keep Ripken. They will spend a very respectable amount on player personnel next year. It just won't be enough.

If they are not in a position to fill their most pressing need, they cannot hope to keep up with the Blue Jays, who have proven again and again that they will spend whatever it takes to win.

Forget about Andre

The Orioles tried to fill their run-production gap by making a play for Chicago Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson in August, but the Cubs balked because they were still in the hunt for the National League East title.

Dawson is a potential free agent, but the Orioles apparently won't get a chance to bid on him even if they throw off their financial restraints. He was quoted in the Chicago newspapers recently saying that he is almost certain that he'll finish his career in Chicago.

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La Russa rides the fence

Oakland Athletics manager Tony La Russa was ever the diplomat when someone asked him which of the two National League playoff managers he most would like to face in the World Series.

"They are two outstanding managers," La Russa said. "The only difference is, I know Jim [Leyland] better, and Bobby [Cox] was there last year. As a friend, I would like Jim to experience a World Series. But Bobby Cox is not somebody I ever pull against."

Now that we have that settled . . .

Playoff duds

Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Barry Bonds has taken some criticism for the .148 (8-for-54) playoff batting average he carried into yesterday's game, but he isn't the only one to rank among baseball's worst League Championship Series hitters.

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Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Candy Maldonado entered yesterday's game with a .123 playoff average (7-for-57), which is the third-worst average in playoff history for a player with more than 50 at-bats.

Who were the worst? The runner up is Cesar Geronimo at .095 (6-for-63). The record-holder is Toronto coach Gene Tenace, who batted .088 in playoff competition, but did much better in the World Series.

Trivia quiz

Which two American League teams combined to hit the most home runs when they faced each other in 1992, and who hit the fewest?

Yankees cutting back

Talk around New York has the Yankees possibly choosing not to tender a contract to arbitration-eligible Mel Hall, despite a solid season in which he batted .280 with 15 home runs and 81 RBI.

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The club apparently is not interested in paying Hall the salary he undoubtedly would win in arbitration, so the Yankees will try to trade him until it's necessary to offer him a contract. If they do not send him a contract by Dec. 20, he becomes a non-compensation free agent.

There also have been rumors that the Yankees will leave outfielder Danny Tartabull off their 15-man protected list. They don't feel that an expansion club will pick up the remaining $19 million guaranteed under the contract the oft-injured Tartabull signed last year. If they are wrong, they can live with that, too.

What playoffs?

The Pirates held off the Montreal Expos to win the National League East and are trying to fight off the Atlanta Braves, but you won't see a word about it in the local papers.

That's because the local newspapers -- the Pittsburgh Press and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette -- have been shut down by a strike for the past five months, leaving info-hungry Pirates fans to depend on television news and USA Today for their baseball fix.

If anyone doubted the impact the print media have on baseball, he need only look at the Pirates 1992 attendance, which was off 11.9 percent from the previous season.

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"All I know is that we were 60,000 ahead of last year when the papers went on strike," Pirates marketing vice president Steve Greenberg told sidelined Pittsburgh Press reporter Bob Hertzel last week. "The newspapers provide two things. First, you get your knowledge of the game from the papers. But, more important, whether the articles are positive or negative, it creates some kind of controversy, a day-to-day atmosphere where people talk about baseball. The electronic media just can't do that."

Change that tune

Chicago White Sox 20-game winner Jack McDowell had three saves blown behind him this year, perhaps enough to cost him a strong bid for the American League Cy Young Award. The culprit each case was left-hander Scott Radinsky, who also is the drummer in V.I.E.W., McDowell's rock-and-roll band.

The chop revisited

Lots of strange news becomes fit to print during the postseason, if the presses are rolling in your town. The Atlanta Constitution ran a story this week advising Atlanta Braves fans on how to avoid elbow soreness from doing the tomahawk chop.

The tips, which came from local orthopedic surgeon Craig Weil, included getting into midseason shape gradually, stretching beforehand and switching hands from time to time to alleviate stress on the elbow. If joint soreness occurs, Weil advises the application of ice and the use of aspirin or some other form of pain reliever.

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Trivia answer

The most volatile home run combination in the American League this year was -- surprisingly -- the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians, who hit a total of 40 home runs in their 13-game season series. The least volatile combination was not so surprising. The California Angels and Boston Red Sox combined to hit just seven home runs in their 12 meetings.


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