ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- After a trial of 19 exhibition games, Orioles manager Johnny Oates has decided against the outfield realignment he announced last month.
The decision means that Mike Devereaux will return to the center-field position he has played for most of the past five years. Brady Anderson, the central figure in the realignment, goes back to left field, with rookie Jeffrey Hammonds now shifting to right.
The moves mean that all three outfielders will be in different positions than at the start of the spring.
Oates announced his latest outfield shuffle after yesterday's 8-6 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. He tipped his hand earlier, however, by playing Devereaux in center field while both Anderson and Hammonds had the day off.
From all indications, Oates' latest decision was easier to make than the previous one. He debated what turned out to be the temporary move of Anderson to center field through much of the off-season and initially indicated he wouldn't make any changes. But, after talking with his coaching staff and the principals involved, Oates made the move.
At that time the manager qualified his decision by saying "it isn't written in cement." When he reversed himself yesterday, Oates appeared much more comfortable with the situation.
"I felt good the day I did it [announced the realignment] and I feel good today, when I'm retracting it," said Oates. "I sat with the three guys involved this morning and told them my feeling.
"The goal was to make us a better club than last year. We gave it a try, but I didn't think it was totally working. I wasn't totally comfortable with it."
Devereaux, who has been bothered by a sprained ankle, appeared to be having problems adjusting to right field. But he insisted that he was capable of doing it, and Oates also expressed belief that, given time, the move could have worked.
"I still think that if I could wait until May 1, it would've worked and I could've said 'I told you so,' " said Oates. "Mike is a good athlete, he's played there [right field] before and I know he could've played there.
"But we just ran out of time. I don't think we could afford to wait until May 1. I just felt we'd be better overall this way.
"Evidently they [Anderson, Devereaux and Hammonds] were seeing it the way I was -- Devo's excited about going back to center field, Brady's excited about going back to left field and Jeffrey is excited about moving to right field."
Excited is probably not the best word to describe the reactions of the two key principals, Anderson and Devereaux, who are good friends in a somewhat awkward position. "When Johnny made the move before, I went along with it because I thought it was best for the team," said Devereaux.
"He knew all along I favored center field and I play a better center field. I think it [the switch to right] would have worked in time. I would have adjusted. But, I do honestly believe this is better for the team."
Anderson, who like Devereaux and Hammonds had left the club's training complex before the announcement was made, also has a preference for center field. When contacted later in the evening, he didn't sound thrilled about the move, but didn't voice any objections.
"Johnny's the manager -- I didn't argue with him when he moved me to center field and I'm not going to argue about him moving me to left field," said Anderson. "I really don't have a lot to say about it."
Asked if he felt the Orioles would be stronger with a return to the old alignment, Anderson said: "I hope so -- I really don't know.
"My honest opinion is that I don't think Devo would've had any difficulty playing right field," added Anderson. "Some of the things got magnified because of the move.
"It's really hard to see the ball during the day at Al Lang [the stadium where the Orioles play their home exhibition games]. I had trouble [following the ball] in center field, and I know he [Devereaux] got some bad jumps because of that."
Oates is content that Anderson has no reservations about the move. "There was no confrontation, there was no 'why?' " Oates said of his conversation with Anderson.
"The first word I expected to hear was 'why?' but all he said was 'OK.'
"I've said it before, but the only person I ever saw who was in Brady's class as a left fielder is now the manager of the San Francisco Giants. Dusty Baker was the best I'd seen, but you can't play that position any better than Brady has played it the last two years."
When it came time to determine the bottom line with his outfield, Anderson's ability in left field had a lot to do with Oates' reversing his decision. Overall, he didn't see the Orioles improving by moving Anderson and Devereaux. And he's
convinced that Hammonds has the talent to play any of the three positions.
In that vein, he removed any doubt Hammonds might have had about being in the Opening Day lineup. "We've been kidding him, telling him he had to make the club," said Oates. "But we can put that to rest. I told Jeffrey 'you're our Opening Day right fielder -- go for it."
Oates knows the Orioles are poised to "go for it" -- and it's his job to put them in the best possible position to make a run.
So, after 19 exhibition games, it was Oates' judgment that his cause would best be served if he realigned his outfielder realignment.