Angels' Bavasi was right on the money...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Angels' Bavasi was right on the money at the wrong time for 0) Ryan

Buzzie Bavasi turned out to be right after all.

He was the general manager of the California Angels when that club decided that Nolan Ryan was too old and too prone to break down for a multimillion-dollar contract.

That was in 1979, when Ryan was 31 and the asking price of $1 million per year was -- to be fair to the Angels -- still considered exorbitant.

Ryan had thrown too many innings. He had put too much strain on his arm with that 100-mph fastball. He was only a .500 pitcher.

It all turned out to be true . . . . It just took another 14 years to become apparent to everybody else.

Of course, everybody knows the rest.

Ryan would go on to add three no-hitters to the four he pitched for the Angels. He would go on to become the greatest strikeout pitcher of all time. He would thumb his nose at all of the conventional wisdom about the aging of athletes. He had an arm that still could crank it up to 95 mph when other guys were becoming grandfathers.

That wonderful, awe-inspiring appendage finally gave out last week, sending Ryan into retirement after a remarkable 26-year major-league career that began in New York when Lyndon Johnson was president.

I was there when the Angels made what is commonly considered the greatest mistake in that hapless organization's history. Bavasi actually told reporters at the time that he could get "two 8-7 pitchers" to replace the Express and save the club a fortune. He now admits it was the greatest baseball blunder he ever made.

No one could have known then that Ryan would contend for greatest pitcher of all time, but somebody should have known after four no-hitters that he was not just another thirtysomething pitcher heading out to pasture.

The Angels acknowledged that mistake in 1988, when they tried to sign Ryan as a free agent, but it was too late.

He could have made the difference in a number of near-miss seasons during the 1980s, yet they remain pennant-less to this day.

No doubt, Orioles fans hope the "new owner syndrome" will kick in as soon as the ownership group headed by Peter Angelos assumes control of the club in October.

It has become common practice for new owners to make a big splash in the free-agent market. It happened in San Francisco, where the Giants acquired Barry Bonds for a record price. It happened in Houston, where the Astros acquired starting pitchers Doug Drabek and Greg Swindell.

Can it happen here?

That is a distinct possibility. Angelos and his fellow investors didn't pay $173 million to finish third every year, so look for the club to go after an impact player this winter.

There has been some speculation that first baseman Fred McGriff will be available once the Atlanta Braves decide to get a grip on their payroll, but don't bet on that. If Ted Turner decides to cut costs, there are better places to start than with the guy who put this year's club back on the road to the World Series.

The Orioles might be better off going for Will Clark of the San Francisco Giants or Rafael Palmeiro of the Texas Rangers in the free-agent market, or trying to trade for Chicago Cubs first baseman Mark Grace.

Plenty of other big-ticket players figure to be available when the also-rans begin to reassess their priorities during the off-season, though some of the biggest names -- such as Kevin Mitchell and Darryl Strawberry -- could create more problems than they solve.

One man's opinion

Bonds should be voted the National League's Most Valuable Player this year, according to a player whose objectivity on this matter may be subject to question.

"I feel I've done the same thing that Terry Pendleton did in '91," Bonds told reporters this week.

"I'm bringing this team from fifth place to contention. Unfortunately, we're in the same division with Atlanta."

Pendleton was voted Most Valuable Player after leading the Braves to the National League pennant in his first year with the team. Bonds appeared headed for MVP honors this year, until the Giants let a big lead get away down the stretch. Now, the trophy is up for grabs.

"I hope I win it," Bonds said. "I've worked hard, and I've put up the numbers. I lead the league in slugging percentage, on-base percentage and home runs. I'm hitting .330-something, and I have 100-something walks. I've had 30-something intentional walks, and I still lead the league in slugging percentage. That says a lot. I've been very valuable to the San Francisco Giants organization."

No argument there. Now if he could just do something about his shyness.

Second wind

There was some question how Giants starter Bill Swift would hold up in the latter stages of the season, especially after he went 0-3 during a span of six starts recently. But he has gotten his second wind at just the right time.

Swift (19-8) is in his first year as a full-time starter. He had never pitched more than 165 innings in a season until he pushed into the 200s this month. There was plenty of reason to believe that his arm was giving out during the six-game slump, but he hasn't given up a run since he passed the 200-inning mark.

He has won his past two games and strung together 19 scoreless innings. He has looked so strong that manager Dusty Baker probably will go with a four-man rotation for the final eight games of the season.

"I feel like it's the beginning of the year," he said. "My fastball is a lot harder than it has been, and my slider is sharp. I've never been in this territory before, but so far it has been pretty good."

Angel shuffle

The Angels completed their front-office shuffle last week, appointing Bill Bavasi assistant general manager, after the firing of Dan O'Brien, and former Angels pitcher Ken Forsch to take over Bavasi's previous role as director of minor-league operations.

In a heart-warming twist, Bavasi was given the office that was occupied by his father, Buzzie Bavasi, when he was the general manager of the club.

Grace wants to stay

There are rumors in Chicago that the Cubs will trade first baseman Mark Grace in an attempt to bolster the pitching staff and cut the payroll at the same time, but he said last week that he would prefer to remain with the club.

"As far as long-term circumstances are concerned, I will -- under the right circumstances -- take less money to play for the Cubs," said Grace, who is having a career year.

He'll be eligible for arbitration after the season, so anyone interested in acquiring him would have to give up a quality pitcher and expect to pay him about $4.5 million for the 1994 season.

Trivia quiz

Who was the last Orioles player to strike out against Nolan Ryan?

Young guns

The White Sox acquired right-hander Tim Belcher from the Cincinnati Reds in July to add experience to the starting rotation for the pennant stretch and the postseason, but it doesn't appear as if he'll be in the White Sox's playoff rotation.

Manager Gene Lamont will go with a four-man postseason rotation, and he appears to be leaning toward a couple of hot young arms for the two spots behind Jack McDowell and Alex Fernandez.

Left-hander Wilson Alvarez has won six straight decisions since returning from a minor-league assignment, and rookie Jason Bere enters tonight's start with a five-game winning streak.

Belcher, meanwhile, has yet to beat a team with a winning record. Lamont apparently thinks that the two youngsters can handle the pressure.

"I think what they've been through already shows me that they are two pretty poised guys," Lamont said. "Jason has won some big games. Wilson has won some big games. I'll be confident with either one."

Trivia answer

The last Orioles player to get a whiff of Ryan was center fielder Mike Devereaux, who struck out in the third inning of Ryan's final appearance against the Orioles on Aug. 21.

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