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Contract time again for Mussina


SARASOTA, Fla. -- Mike Mussina isn't wearing a goatee this year, but nothing else has changed. He again came to camp unsigned and figures to stay that way until the March 11 contract-renewal deadline is close at hand.

Last year, he sprouted the beard and dubbed himself "Rebel without a contract," vowing not to shave until he was under contract. This year, he is cleanshaven and seemingly unconcerned, though there has been little contact with the club about his contract for 1994.

Serious negotiations didn't begin until yesterday, when agent Arn Tellum and Orioles assistant general manager Frank Robinson spoke by telephone for the first time since the club sent out contracts in December.

"I was the last to sign last year and I'll probably be the last to sign again this year," Mussina said.

vTC The club tendered him a contract Dec. 20 with a salary of $450,000, which represents his 1993 salary plus the $25,000 bonus he received for making the All-Star team. Despite the injuries that limited his effectiveness last year, he figures to command a substantial raise once negotiations begin.

Of course, the club has the option of renewing him at any figure it wishes (though certain restrictions apply) if he does not sign a contract by March 11, but it is in the interest of both sides to negotiate a settlement and avoid creating the kind of bitter relationship that has alienated right-hander Jack McDowell and the Chicago White Sox.

Mussina, 25, said yesterday that he would love to sign a multi-year contract, but that seems unlikely until he has proved that he has recovered fully from the back and shoulder soreness that limited him to 25 starts last year. He finished with a 14-6 record but had a 4.46 ERA.

The Orioles have set their own unofficial renewal date for March 3, the day before they open the Grapefruit League season. That isn't chiseled in stone, but most of the nine players still unsigned figure to be under contract or renewed by that date.

McLemore reports

For the third spring in a row, Mark McLemore arrived at camp in a new role. He made the club as a utility infielder in 1992 and emerged as a regular outfielder last year. This year, he's the starting second baseman, though he may still play a few games in the outfield.

"I told him not to throw that outfield glove away just yet," manager Johnny Oates said. "He's my second baseman, but there may come a time when we'll need him in the outfield. There's that flexibility again. He gives us another option where I can make a move and not feel like I'm playing someone out of position."

McLemore seemed loose and comfortable, even though he again had to deal with difficult contract negotiations during the off-season. The club threatened not to tender him a contract before he agreed to a one-year deal in December, which wasn't exactly what he had expected after a career year in 1993.

"I wasn't happy with it," he said. "I didn't forget it, but that stuff is done. That contract was signed two months ago. It's time to play."

Despite the dispute, McLemore said he doesn't want to be anywhere but Baltimore this season.

"I like it here," he said. "This is one of the nicest places I've ever played. They just made a decision on what they wanted to do and I didn't agree with it. That doesn't make them bad people or me bad people."

Union business

Mussina will be the Orioles' union representative again this year and reliever Jim Poole the alternate, but that doesn't figure to cut into their preparation time at spring training.

The collective bargaining negotiations are scheduled to begin March 7 in nearby Tampa, but Mussina said yesterday that he did not expect to be heavily involved.

"I might sit in and watch a negotiating session if I get the chance, but I'm not on any committees or anything," he said. "I'll attend our meetings if we have any."

Still more on Mussina

When Mussina confirmed that the Orioles had added last year's $25,000 All-Star bonus to the 1994 base contract he was tendered in December, he had to chuckle.

"We won't be asking for any All-Star bonuses this year," he said. "There's no way I'll be getting one of those."

Mussina was making light of the feud that erupted between him and Toronto Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston after last year's All-Star Game. Gaston again will be managing the American League squad and will have the dominant voice in selecting the pitching staff.

Cook returns for another try

Journeyman right-hander Mike Cook, who was a surprise call-up late in September last year, pitched in the Puerto Rican Winter League again and is back for another run at the Orioles' roster. But he knows the odds are stacked against him.

"They've brought in a lot of people," he said. "I guess I'll have a better idea [of his chances], when the games start."

Manuel opening eyes

Reliever Barry Manuel, acquired by the Orioles on a waiver claim from the Texas Rangers last July, continues to draw attention during early workouts.

He is throwing the ball very well and has impressed everyone with his work ethic.

"He's got a pretty good arm," said assistant general manager Doug Melvin. "When a guy works that hard, you've got to give him a chance."

Manuel was a second-round draft choice out of Louisiana State who picked up some of his work habits from a friend in Texas. A guy named Nolan Ryan.

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