Orioles shouldn't save best for last in contract talks with Olson

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Now that the early-season struggles of Orioles reliever Gregg Olson are just a bad memory and he has emerged again as one of the top closers in the game, can negotiations on a new contract be far down the road?

Probably not, but agent Jeff Moorad said this week that there have been nothing more than informal conversations with club officials during the past few weeks.

"We have not begun formal discussions about Gregg," said Moorad, who also represents Orioles second baseman Mark McLemore and rookie phenom Jeffrey Hammonds, "but I think they [the Orioles] know that it is in all of our interests to consider a long-term contract at the end of the season."

Moorad isn't the threatening type. He has a good relationship with the club, as evidenced by the quick and friendly Hammonds negotiations last year. But the Olson situation is a little more complicated.

His two-year contract runs out at the end of this season, but he is one year short of free-agent eligibility. That should be incentive for the Orioles to lock him up for at least three years, if his early-season problems and the presence of promising left-hander Brad Pennington don't cloud their judgment.

There is also the question of whether Olson harbors any hard feelings after the way he was treated by Orioles fans during his early-season slump, but he'll have the rest of this year and all of next year to get over them.

Arms deals imminent?

There already are rumors circulating that several big-name pitchers will be traded soon to lighten the payrolls of hopeless clubs. It may be a little early for the Montreal Expos and Cincinnati Reds to give up on this season, but both teams are believed to be shopping key pitchers who will become free agents at the end of the year.

The Expos apparently are willing to move former Oriole Dennis Martinez in the right deal and the Reds are thought to be actively shopping Tim Belcher.

Three teams -- the Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays -- are believed to be bidding on Belcher. The possibility of a deal for Martinez is complicated by his status as a 5-10 player. He can veto any deal and he reportedly has told the Expos he wants to be traded to a National League club.

What about the Orioles? They probably wouldn't turn up their nose at a front-line pitcher, but they aren't likely to give up the kind of young players each of those teams is after.

Mismanagement

You can't help but feel sorry for Texas Rangers manager Kevin Kennedy, who will always be remembered as the guy who couldn't protect Jose Canseco from himself.

Canseco said last week that he had only himself to blame for the ill-fated pitching performance that led to a career-threatening elbow injury, but it isn't as simple as that. Kennedy, rookie manager or not, is responsible for the welfare of his team, and that stunt cost the Rangers more than one hard-to-handle superstar.

It cost them credibility as an organization. It may have cost them a chance to get back in the American League West race. It cost them the player they sacrificed three other front-line players (Ruben Sierra, Jeff Russell and Bobby Witt) to acquire.

Kennedy is a decent guy who has not ducked his responsibility, so here's hoping that he can hang on to his job and make people forget. But they don't make mistakes any bigger than that.

From the home office in Arnold

With the usual apologies to temporarily unemployed talk show host David Letterman, here's my top 10 reasons why baseball should expand by two more teams:

10. Charlie Hough doesn't have anything else to occupy his time over the next five years.

9. Six-division format guarantees more pennant races than a human being should be allowed to enjoy.

8. Who says Tulsa isn't a major-league city?

7. Still hope for Sam Horn.

6. First .500 hitter only another expansion draft away.

5. Right now, Rockies have no one to trade with.

4. Seventeen shutout innings by Fernando Valenzuela and Jamie Moyer -- What pitching shortage?

3. Because $190 million doesn't grow on trees, that's why!

2. One more opportunity to blow off Tampa/St. Petersburg.

1. Mets will have only one-in-three chance of being worst team in baseball during next expansion year.

Warehouse power

Philadelphia Phillies catcher Darren Daulton was asked recently about his chances of hitting the warehouse at Camden Yards during the All-Star Game.

"Just leave it to me," he said.

However, when he was apprised of the distance (460 feet) and some of the hitters who had failed to hit it with their best shots, Daulton backed off.

"If I ever play there and there's a hurricane warning and I can get

one out in front," he said, "then we'll talk."

Great expectations

The minor-league managerial career of former Oriole Mike Epstein didn't last very long. He was fired after 12 games managing Single-A Helena in the Milwaukee Brewers' organization.

Brewers minor-league director Mike Stanley said the firing hamore to do with Epstein's managerial style than the club's 4-8 record after a dozen games. It seems that Epstein did not have the patience to deal with losing and rookie mistakes.

"He was having a hard time getting young players to play up to his standards," said Stanley.

Go figure. Epstein was a .244 career hitter in nine seasons at the major-league level.

Trivia quiz

What pitching great once served up a line drive that sent his own mother to the hospital?

Braves big push

The Atlanta Braves are looking at this two-week period before the All-Star Game as their best opportunity to close the gap with the first-place San Francisco Giants, and why not?

The Braves are in a 13-game run that includes 10 games against the expansion Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies. The Giants are in the midst of a grueling 13-game road trip that includes visits to Los Angeles, New York, Montreal and Philadelphia, and they are without RBI leader Matt Williams, who is on the disabled list with an abdominal strain.

"This is our biggest test," said Giants manager Dusty Baker, "but the season is full of tests. I hope this is our last one, but realistically it's not."

It also will be a test for the Braves' inconsistent offense, which has tested the patience of starters Greg Maddux and John Smoltz. Maddux is 7-6 despite a 2.71 ERA, thanks to the total of six runs he has gotten in his six losses. Smoltz is 7-7 with a 3.25 ERA and the Braves have scored nine runs in his seven losses.

Canseco revisited

Can you imagine what would happen if Orioles manager Johnny Oates sent Cal Ripken out to pitch an inning in a blowout game and allowed him to hurt himself? Ripken originally was scouted as a high school pitcher, but you won't ever see him on the mound in an Orioles uniform. Oates may want to see his name in the history books someday, but not for something like that.

Chief Wahoo to remain

The Cleveland Indians have decided to keep Chief Wahoo as a club symbol, despite protests from Native American groups who feel it is a demeaning representation of American Indians.

The club listened to debate on both sides and may have been swayed by a group called "Save the Chief," which submitted a pro-Wahoo petition that included 8,000 signatures.

"This is not a knee-jerk decision," said owner Richard Jacobs. "A lot of thought has gone into it. What it came down to is that we've heard from many Native Americans as well as other fans who favored keeping Chief Wahoo. Baseball belongs to the fans. If they want us to keep our logo, we will."

Jacobs tried to stress the club's respect for Native American culture, but he may have taken the point too far when he offered his opinion that "a majority of them are proud to have this kind of link with a professional sports team."

OC The Indians, after all, have not won a championship since 1954.

Trivia answer

Hall of Famer Bob Feller was on the mound on Mother's Day in 1939 when a screeching foul ball off the bat of Marvin Owen struck Feller's mother in the forehead. While she was rushed to the hospital, Feller went on to finish a 9-4 victory over the Chicago White Sox.

EXCLUSIVE CLUB

Third baseman Gary Sheffield joined an exclusive group when he was traded from the San Diego Padres to the Florida Marlins recently. He is only the sixth player to be traded within one calendar year of winning a batting title.

The last time it happened was in 1976, when back-to-back

National League batting champion Bill Madlock was traded from the Chicago Cubs to the San Francisco Giants for Bobby Murcer, Steve Ontiveros and Andy Muhlstock. Madlock went on to hit .300 five more times and win another batting title before he completed his career.

Here's the rest of the best:

Harvey Kuenn: He won the American League batting crown in 1959 (.328) before he was traded to the Cleveland Indians for Rocky Colavito, but that turned out to be a better trade for the Tigers. Colavito went on to hit 139 home runs over the next four seasons. Kuenn played for the Indians just one season before being traded to the San Francisco Giants.

Ferris Fain: He won batting crowns in 1951 (.344) and '52 (.327) before being traded from the Philadelphia Athletics to the Chicago White Sox for Joe DeMaestri, Eddie Robinson and Ed McGhee. The timing was perfect for the A's, because his average dropped to a career-low .256 the next season.

Ernie Lombardi: He won the National League batting title in 1942 (.330) and then was traded from the Boston Braves to the New York Giants for Hugh Poland and Connie Ryan. He batted .305 the next season.

Chuck Klein: He won the Triple Crown in 1933 before the Philadelphia Phillies traded him to the Cubs. His .368 batting average that year was the highest of any batting champ who has been traded during the next year. He was traded for Harvey Hendrick, Ted Kleinhans, Chief Hogsett and $65,000 cash. His average fell to .301 in 1934.

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