ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Seeing as the whole idea of spring training is to prepare the ballplayers for what they are going to encounter during the season, why don't the Orioles have an abuse coach working with Gregg Olson?
They have a hitting coach to help the hitters. A pitching coach to help the pitchers. A base-running coach to help the base runners. Every morning these coaches are on the field early to attend to the special needs of various Orioles.
The club would benefit mightily, it seems, if Olson trundled out into the spring sunshine early every morning with, say, Andrew Dice Clay -- coach Yo! -- for a session of abuse. Insults. Humiliation.
"Yo, Otter, go buy a new curveball, OK? That thing you got makes me sick."
Thirty minutes a day. Minimum.
"You know what 'closer' means when you're pitching, pal? It means 'Everyone close their eyes!' "
Build up a tolerance for guff. An abuse blister, if you will.
"Excuse me, but while you were making that last pitch I could swear I heard someone say, 'Fire!' "
What better way to prepare the Orioles' young closer for the season?
The guy gets as much abuse as the rest of his teammates combined, particularly now that Bill Ripken is gone. Manager Johnny Oates gets Olson letters that would curdle cottage cheese. The talk shows would have to shut down if the kid was traded. Olson himself even gets it in person.
"Not necessarily the real vicious stuff to my face," he said the other day. "People don't have the guts to do that. And it's not like I get hate mail or anything. But I'll be signing autographs or something, and someone will say, 'Hey, don't throw your curve so much.' Or 'Why don't you work on another pitch?' Great, thanks."
Why Olson gets singled out is no secret, of course. It's not necessarily anything personal. It's the job. Closers on every team are powerful magnets for abuse.
A closer lives with no margin of error. If he closes out the ninth, he is only doing his job. If he doesn't do his job, he loses the game -- he does, not the team.
"You're the last person they see," Olson said. "You're what they remember."
The closer is always going to be the bull's eye. Look at poor Jeff Reardon in the World Series last year. The Braves batted .150 or something, and Reardon took the brunt of the blame. Please.
Dennis Eckersley has ruined life for every other closer. Eck has come so close to perfection that anything else pales. Olson had a commendable 1992 -- 36 saves in 44 chances -- but got blowtorched in the bleachers for the eight he blew.
You remember 'em, right? Everyone remembers 'em, Olson included. The first Friday night in SkyDome. The lost July 4th weekend in Minnesota. And who will ever forget "Turn Back the Clock Day" in 1991, which ended with Olson throwing his uniform in the trash?
"All it takes is a couple of bad outings, and you can wind up catching [heat] for like a month," Olson said. "I hear people [in the stands] saying stuff when I'm in the bullpen. You can kind of hide there, in the little hut. But you can't hide when you're coming in and you hear the boos."
Adjusting to being the bull's eye has been one of the toughest parts of Olson's four years with the Orioles. He is no different than any other major-leaguer in that his career before the bigs was a straight line up. All strikeouts and awards. Nary a boo.
"You never really get used to it," he said. "If it gets bad, I don't read the papers or listen to the radio. I park in a different place and try to take a back route to the clubhouse so I don't have to see anyone. You hate to be that way. To put yourself in a cocoon. But that's the way I deal with it."
Sounds like the perfect candidate for an abuse coach, huh? Think how much more pleasant his life would be -- and how much better he might pitch as a result -- if he didn't flinch at the guff.
"It's not a bad idea," Olson said. "It would probably work. Just get someone to hang me out to dry, huh? But who?"
Andrew Dice Clay would be an option, but there should be an unwritten rule that the person actually has to be at least remotely funny. Don Rickles is too old now. And no, not Ah-nold. We want a trash talker, not a Terminator. The Miami Hurricanes? Not a bad idea, but a 60-man coaching staff might get cumbersome.
(A tape of the club's presentation at Olson's arbitration hearing would certainly do the trick -- that gets vicious -- but Olson has avoided arbitration thus far.)
"You know who would do a really good job?" Olson said. "Sutcliffe. He could abuse me . . . he already does anyway. And then he could pick me up."
# Good idea. You bum.