Oates turns comic for Steinbrenner's return


SARASOTA, Fla. -- On the eve of George Steinbrenner's return to baseball, Orioles manager Johnny Oates gave the New York Yankees owner a strong endorsement.

But he couldn't resist having a little fun at the expense of Yankees manager Buck Showalter, who played for Oates in the minor leagues.

"I think it's great," Oates said, when asked what he thought of Steinbrenner's return after a 31-month absence.

"I like George," Oates said. "He treated me great when I was with the Yankees [as a player and later a minor-league manager]. I wish him the same amount of luck as I do to the five other teams in the American League East.

"All George demands is a dollar's effort for a dollar's pay. Although sometimes he gets the exchange rate a little confused.

"I hope Buck keeps his job for 20 years -- but I hope George puts much pressure on him he doesn't know whether to bunt or hit and run."

Steinbrenner officially returns today after sitting out a suspension handed down by former commissioner Fay Vincent. Steinbrenner was technically given a life suspension for consorting with gambler Howard Spira in an attempt to gain information on then-Yankees outfielder Dave Winfield. He was eligible to apply for reinstatement after missing the 1991 and 1992 seasons, and Vincent approved the application, effective March 1, before he was driven out of office by baseball's executive council.

Steinbrenner is expected to be at the Yankees' Fort Lauderdale training camp this morning. He has not said whether he will address the team, or the media, but his personal public relations representatives advised those seeking information to be in camp by 10:30 a.m.

Making an impression

Oates said yesterday that he was satisfied with the smoothness of the Orioles camp.

"I'm real pleased with the way things are going," he said. "I particularly like the versatility and work habits of our young players."

He specifically mentioned players who don't figure prominently at this point -- Jack Voigt, Doug Jennings, Jeffrey Hammonds, Damon Buford, Sherman Obando, Paul Carey and T. R. Lewis.

Lewis has impressed everyone with his hitting.

"Doug Melvin [director of player personnel] mentioned a similarity with Steve Garvey," Oates said, "and I can see it. Both were signed as third basemen and had to switch to first because they couldn't throw. You can tell he [Lewis] can hit."

Fernando flashbacks

Oates was with the Los Angeles Dodgers briefly in 1979, when Fernando Valenzuela, the newest Oriole, was in a major-league training camp for the first time.

"The Dodgers would use minor-league pitchers to throw to the regulars after the [exhibition] games started," Oates said. "I'd go over and catch, and I remember guys like Dusty Baker saying, 'Get that fat little left-hander. He can throw strikes.'

"Fernando wouldn't go out and try to get people out [during batting practice]. He'd just throw the ball over the plate and that's what they [the hitters] wanted."

Control is what veteran pitcher Rick Sutcliffe remembers most about Valenzuela.

"It was unbelievable," said Sutcliffe, a teammate during Valenzuela's 1981 rookie year.

"He had total command of all his pitches," said Sutcliffe, who withheld any other observation.

Location, location

Wildness was evident yesterday with the 10

pitchers who threw batting practice for the first time this spring.

Mark Williamson and Jim Poole both appeared to be throwing with good velocity, but had trouble with location.

"That's the best I've felt since we've been here," said Poole. "As long as I feel good, I'm not going to worry about that other stuff [control] right now."

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