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Next expansion round may put some training sites down for count

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The principal cities involved, Phoenix and the Tampa Bay area, couldn't care less, but baseball's next expansion could be extremely disruptive to a lot of spring training camps.

There are seven major-league teams training in the Phoenix area. Two others are within the city limits of St. Petersburg, with three others in the immediate surrounding counties.

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If Phoenix and Tampa Bay get the next two expansion franchises, as is likely, 40 percent of the major-league baseball organizations would suddenly find themselves training in an area that has its own team. That would make exhibition games far less attractive to the permanent residents and severely limit the media exposure now available to teams that train in Arizona and Florida.

The Orioles moved out of Miami four years ago, long after that city had outgrown its status as nothing more than a spring training site. The New York Yankees, who have been successful in Fort Lauderdale for 33 years, are on the verge of moving their spring training operation to Tampa. Whether another team would move into a facility located in the heart of Florida Marlins territory is questionable.

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The erection of state-of-the-art complexes has been big in Florida and Arizona for the past decade. How, or why, the Orioles have been looking unsuccessfully at least that long for a new spring home is one of the game's big mysteries.

Such facilities are no longer popping up as fast as "cookie-cutter" golf course developments. And, with major-league possibilities on the horizon, the states of Florida and Arizona are no longer trying to lure teams for spring training.

They're talking about the real thing. And if Tampa Bay and Phoenix gain admission to the Big Show, some of the teams training in those areas might have to re-evaluate their situations. It's difficult to see how seven teams could continue to prosper in the Phoenix area and five others in the vicinity of St. Petersburg if those cities have teams of their own.

The scramble for spring training sites could start all over again, meaning the field would have lapped the Orioles and everybody would again be on a level field.

Stewart says he's innocent

Toronto pitcher Dave Stewart is trying to forget the incident that put him in a Tampa jail two weeks ago. But the veteran right-hander, arrested with teammate Todd Stottlemyre and accused of punching a police officer after a nightclub scuffle, insists he is innocent.

"I didn't do anything wrong," said Stewart, who had been lTC celebrating his birthday. "I've built a real strong reputation -- you don't have to be a baseball fan to know what I stand for and what I believe in.

"A police force is trying to make me look a certain way, but I've never been known to strike at anybody unless I'm provoked. I didn't hit anyone," Stewart said. "That's not something you wouldn't remember.

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"When you punch somebody, it's like [things go] in slow motion. You don't forget something like that."

There has been no disposition and little has been said publicly since the incident. "No news is good news," Stewart said. "I think the best thing is to let people sit back and relax and let it settle down."

Angels try to save later

With Whitey Herzog out of the picture, and Billy Bavasi in the general manager's office, the California Angels appear to have taken a page from the Cleveland Indians' negotiating manual. In signing Tim Salmon, Chad Curtis and Gary DiSarcina to long-term contracts, the Angels overpaid up front to get two arbitration-free years from each player.

Curtis and DiSarcina, who signed three-year deals for $4.5 and $2.5 million, respectively, are both two-year players who would've been eligible for arbitration next year. Salmon, who got $7.5 million for four years, was two years away from arbitration eligibility.

Based on his performance last year (31 home runs, 95 RBIs), Salmon would've been worth far more than his contract's average of $1.875 million when he became eligible for arbitration. But the ledger is balanced by the fact that the Angels were obligated to pay him no more than minimum salary (currently $109,000) for the next two years.

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The effects of the contract are difficult to weigh at the moment, and represent a gamble by both sides. But one thing is certain -- by the time the contracts expire they will be outdated and one side will feel like it made a mistake.

Salmon's contract is the largest ever for a second-year player, exceeding the $4.2 million, three-year deal the Dodgers gave to catcher Mike Piazza.

Of the other teams that have tried getting long-term commitments from their young players before they become eligible for arbitration, the Indians have had the most success. The White Sox tried a similar tactic, but were accused of strong-armed negotiation policies. That's one of the chief reasons Cy Young Award winner Jack McDowell has had a long-running feud with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

The Indians, on the other hand, used a low-key approach, which not only was successful, but has helped establish a feeling of team unity.

Carter: Low-key hero

As World Series heroes go, Joe Carter was about as invisible as possible during the off-season. It wasn't by accident.

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"I did two appearances -- the Arsenio Hall Show and Bobby Bonilla's charity bowling tournament," Carter said. "That's the way I like it. I had a request to do something every day if I wanted to, but I didn't.

"I wasn't going to go out seeking to capitalize on my good fortune," said Carter, who ended last year's World Series with a three-run homer off Mitch Williams. "To take time away from my family to do endorsements was not in my best interest.

"People's perspective of me has changed from before the home run to after, but mine hasn't."

Randolph returns to field

The latest guy on the hot seat in New York isn't manager Buck Showalter, or any of his players. Rather it's rookie third base coach Willie Randolph, who knows the perils of the job all too much.

Randolph was the runner who got thrown out at home during the 1980 playoffs -- the play that influenced owner George Steinbrenner to insist Mike Ferraro be removed from the third base coach's box. It also was part of a developing rift with the late Dick Howser, who was dropped as manager despite winning 103 games. Howser's refusal to fire Ferraro, who coached third base for the Orioles last year, was a contributing factor to his dismissal.

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"I never even thought that play would be close," said Randolph, who has a vivid recollection of the play even after 14 years.

Randolph took a strange route to his new job -- leaving a position as assistant to general manager Gene Michael to return to the field. After taking the job last year, Randolph reported to the Yankees' Instructional League team last fall to prepare himself for a job that is thankless even to the most experienced.

Before going to spring training, Randolph stood in front of a full-length mirror and practiced giving signs. "My kids thought I .. was crazy," he said.

Rickey dropping to third?

If he can find somebody else to bat in the No. 1 spot, Oakland manager Tony La Russa has said he'd consider switching Rickey Henderson to the third position in the A's lineup

. A lot of pitchers are hoping La Russa is successful in finding another leadoff hitter.

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Not having to face Henderson as the first hitter of the game, and the possibility of having two outs and nobody on base before he makes an appearance, has to be appealing to American League pitchers. Batting third would also seem to restrict Henderson's stolen-base attempts, because he could effectively take the bat out of the hands of either Ruben Sierra or Mark McGwire by leaving first base open.

There's no question that Henderson has the goods -- speed, average and power -- to bat third. But that would be more than offset by losing the best leadoff hitter who ever played the game.


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