1. Jordan rules: Megastar Michael Jordan goes to spring training with the Chicago White Sox just months after announcing his NBA retirement. The public embraces the possibility that Jordan might win a major-league job, but baseball insiders reason that the sport's skills and instincts cannot be acquired in the space of a few weeks. Jordan reports to the minors, proving that in baseball, at least, life does not begin at 30.
2. One strike and everybody's out: The owners finally agree on a revenue-sharing program to subsidize small-market clubs, but the second half of their economic recovery program -- a salary cap -- could lead to a late-season work stoppage. The Major League Players Association is skeptical of both the plan and the premise that baseball is on the brink of financial ruin. If the players do not strike late in the season, the owners might impose the cap unilaterally during the off-season.
3. Cancer strikes: In a series of sobering spring training reports that put baseball into perspective, doctors diagnosed cancer in Philadelphia Phillies first baseman John Kruk, White Sox pitcher Scott Radinsky and Cleveland Indians pitcher Jerry DiPoto. The prognoses for all three are positive. Additionally, Orioles prospect Manny Alexander was found to have a skin tumor, but " doctors indicated that the growth, though technically a form of cancer, was not life-threatening.
4. Baseball brought in for a realignment: It took late-inning negotiations, but the owners and players struck a deal in January that realigned divisions and added a tier of playoffs. Come Opening Day, the powerful Atlanta Braves will play in the same division with the defending National League champion Phillies and the American League West will be without two of the top three contenders from 1993. Come September, there is the possibility of six close races, plus interdivisional competition for the wild-card berth in each league's four-team postseason tournament.
5. Camden Yards wanna-bes: The Indians figure to have their lowest Opening Day attendance in a generation, and they can't wait. The team was famous for giant Opening Day crowds at Cleveland Stadium, but management has traded in that cavernous football facility for 42,400-seat Jacobs Field. The downtown stadium will be christened by an upgraded team that has a chance to be the first AL Central champion. The Texas Rangers will open their new stadium a week later. The Ballpark in Arlington features a two-tiered home run porch in right field and a manual out-of-town scoreboard in left. Like the Orioles' Camden Yards, it is a modern tribute to the ballparks of old, with traditional architecture and asymmetrical dimensions.
6. Iron Horse hears footsteps: Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken embarks on the last full season he needs in his quest to break Lou Gehrig's record of playing 2,130 consecutive games. If all goes well, Ripken will stretch his streak to 2,059 by the end of this year and break Gehrig's record midway through 1995. But the Orioles won't wait that long to recognize his achievement. They'll undoubtedly acknowledge his 1,900th straight game, next Friday night at Camden Yards, and are planning a big ceremony when Ripken plays in his historic 2,000th straight game July 30 -- also at home. No doubt, the club has lobbied to make sure that the record-breaking game in 1995 also is scheduled for Oriole Park, with cushion days built in to absorb early season rainouts.
7. Blue Jays set for a fall: The Toronto Blue Jays still might have the best all-around talent in the AL East, but a difficult spring could signal the end of their divisional dominance. Camp started with a barroom brawl that put pitchers Dave Stewart and Todd Stottlemyre on the police blotter and things went downhill from there, with closer Duane Ward developing biceps tendinitis and perennial MVP candidate Joe Carter sidelined several weeks with the broken thumb.
8. Maddux has it down to a Cy-ience: Atlanta's Greg Maddux is in position to become the first pitcher to win the Cy Young Award three consecutive times. Maddux won for the Chicago Cubs in 1992 and came back last season with a 20-10 record and a 2.36 ERA to win it with the Braves; he's just the second pitcher in the NL and fifth overall to win the award in back-to-back seasons. Can he do it again? He figures to get support from a solid lineup, but so does another contender: teammate Tom Glavine, who won the award in 1991.
9. Special delivery from South Korea: Chan Ho Park, a South Korean, signs a $1.2 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers and displays a sizzling fastball during spring training. He might start the season in the minors, but his lively arm and quirky motion could get to Dodger Stadium soon. Park's arrival ++ adds to baseball's increasingly international flavor. Along with the dozens of Latin American-born players already on major-league rosters, there now are three players from Australia, two from The Netherlands and one from Japan.
10. See you in Cooperstown: Three AL cities will have to live without their baseball heroes. George Brett, the greatest Kansas City Royal ever, retired after a farewell season in which he had 19 home runs and 75 RBIs. Robin Yount, the greatest Milwaukee Brewer ever, retired after a season that was not up to his standards. And Nolan Ryan, perhaps the greatest Ranger, Houston Astro or California Angel, was pushed into retirement at the age of 46 by a serious elbow injury. Also, this will be the first full year without Carlton Fisk and Dale Murphy, who retired before the 1993 season ended.
Why watch in '94?
10. How many more chances do you expect to get?
9. New network contract promises more regional coverage of players strike.
8. Removal of baseball's antitrust exemption will mean end of Western civilization. (Just ask Bud.)
7. New speed-up rules expected to reduce average time of game to 4 1/2 hours.
6. World Series as good an excuse as any to let your kids stay up until 2 a.m.
5. For first time since 1969, Indians not picked to finish last in American League East.
4. Prospect of Jose Canseco pitching to Michael Jordan too good to pass up.
3. Barry Bonds nearing 3,000th career premature comparison to Willie Mays.
2. Realignment means Orioles can make still make playoffs after losing late-September series to Blue Jays.
1. Three words: the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Here's a position-by-position rundown of the opposing hitters and pitchers with the best career numbers at Camden Yards. Hitters must have a minimum of 20 plate appearances.
Pos. .. ..Name .. .. .. .Avg. ...HR .. ... .RBI
C .. ..Ivan Rodriguez.. .375 .....1.. .. .. . 3
1B .. .Don Mattingly.. .382 .. . 4 .. .. ...13
2B .. .Roberto Alomar.. .341 .. ..0 .. .. .. .7
SS .. .Travis Fryman.. .412 .. ..3 .. .. ...10
3B .. .Dean Palmer.. .. .316 .. ..7 .. .. ...14
OF .. .Juan Gonzalez.. .327 .. ..4 .. .. ...11
OF .. .Bernie Williams. .356 .. ..1 .. .. ...10
OF .. .Ken Griffey.. .. .304 .. . 4 .. .. ...10
DH .. .Julio Franco... .320 .. ..1 .. .. .. .4
Jeffrey Hammonds, OF (Orioles)
We're not just being parochial here. Hammonds is one of the most promising rookies in either league. The question around baseball is, how did he manage to retain his rookie status after spending much of the 1993 season in the major leagues. The answer, of course, is that he spent most of that time injured and came up a handful of at-bats and service days short of being considered a candidate for the sophomore jinx.
Ryan Klesko, OF/1B (Atlanta)
The 22-year-old batted .274 with 22 home runs and 74 RBIs in Triple-A last year and was Most Valuable Player of the International League All-Star Game. In a couple of short stays with the major-league club last year, he batted .353 (6-for-17) with two home runs and five RBIs. He might share left field with another rookie, Tony Tarasco.
Steve Karsay, RHP (Oakland)
The Blue Jays raised some eyebrows when they parted with the promising right-hander in the trade that sent Rickey Henderson to Toronto late last season. It didn't look any better when Henderson made a very modest contribution to the Blue Jays' stretch drive and Karsay stepped right into the major-league starting rotation in Oakland.
Carlos Delgado, C/OF (Toronto)
There is little question that Delgado is the team's catcher of the future. The only question is whether the future is now. The club had enough confidence in him to shop veteran Pat Borders around in the off-season, but it appears that Borders still will get most of the playing time in 1994.
Alex Gonzalez, SS (Toronto)
The Blue Jays were so confident in their Double-A shortstop that they didn't even give Tony Fernandez a second look this off-season. Toronto has veteran Dick Schofield just in case, but Gonzalez could get a great deal of playing time this year.
Cliff Floyd, 1B (Montreal)
Named Minor League Player of the Year by The Sporting News and USA Today, the 21-year-old had 26 home runs and 101 RBIs at Double-A last year and still had time to play 32 games at Triple-A and 10 in the majors. He figures to compete for playing time with former Oriole Randy Milligan.
Rondell White, OF (Montreal)
Part of a big Expos draft class in 1990, White had a monster year in the minor leagues, combining his Double-A and Triple-A stats for a .343 batting average, 19 home runs, 84 RBIs and 31 stolen bases. He also made an impression at the major-league level, with 15 RBIs in 23 September appearances.
Kurt Abbott, SS (Florida)
The 24-year-old was acquired from Oakland after batting .319 with 12 home runs and 79 RBIs in Triple-A. He figures to get a legitimate shot to play regularly with the Marlins, who need to fill the hole left when Walt Weiss signed with Colorado.
1994: SEASON LIGHTLY
It's never to early for a slightly skewed look back at 1994:
Jan. 6: Baseball owners assemble at Chicago Airport Hyatt to hammer out a revenue-sharing plan, but talks disband without agreement after large market owners refuse to pick up check for dinner.
Jan. 17: Owners finally agree to share revenue among themselves, but only if players agree to work for tips.
Feb. 10: Basketball superstar Michael Jordan arrives in Sarasota, Fla., to begin his unlikely audition for a place on the Chicago White Sox roster. His presence captures the imagination of millions of baseball fans, about three of whom actually imagine that he could make the team.
Feb. 18: Orioles open spring training at Twin Lakes Park but continue to get spring training mail at post office boxes in 19 cities.
Feb. 26: Orioles manager Johnny Oates realigns outfield.
March 7: More than 70 players show up for first collective bargaining meeting in Tampa, Fla. Management negotiator Richard Ravitch asks for salary cap. Players laugh uproariously, then get liquored up and try to use him as a pinata.
March 17: MRI reveals that free-agent pitcher Sid Fernandez has inflamed left shoulder, apparently from trying to lift his wallet too early in spring training.
March 21: Orioles manager Johnny Oates realigns outfield.
March 21: Submariner Todd Frohwirth released but asked to play himself in sequel to "The Hunt for Red October."
April 1: Players accept salary cap. Peace declared in Middle East.
April 4: Another crowd of 76,000 shows up to see the Cleveland Indians on Opening Day. Unfortunately, only 42,400 of them will fit into new stadium.
May 1: Orioles owner Peter Angelos buys Tampa Bay Buccaneers and announces that he'll soon move Orioles to St. Petersburg, Fla.
May 15: National League hitters begin to realize that Chan Ho Park is not a spring training facility in Mesa, Ariz.
June 1: Players union/management negotiators meet for collective bargaining marathon. Owners ask for salary cap. Players say no.
July 12: The All-Star Game is held outside Baltimore for the first time in two years.
July 20: Players union/management negotiators meet for collective bargaining summit. Owners beg for salary cap. Players say no.
July 31: Orioles trade 12 prospects for right-hander Andy Benes, forcing Bowie Baysox to forfeit the remainder of the season.
Aug. 1: Major-league players go on strike. (This is not a joke).
Aug. 22: Owners abandon salary cap demand and make major concessions to end strike, extending their collective bargaining losing streak to eight.
Aug. 23: Players return to work. Camden Yards sold out.
Aug. 31: Rickey Henderson clears waivers and is traded to the Chicago White Sox for pennant run.
Sept. 15: Twenty-six teams begin printing playoff tickets.
Nov. 24: Orioles win strike-delayed World Series on ninth-inning home run by Rafael Palmeiro. Gregg Olson, reacquired from the Atlanta Braves, returns from elbow surgery to get save.
Dec. 2: Orioles hold annual midnight madness ticket sell-a-thon. Eli Jacobs appears in Santa Claus outfit and sets up big red collection bucket.
Dec. 8: Rickey Henderson re-signs with Oakland Athletics.
Dec. 31: Ball falls untouched in Times Square. Orioles manager Johnny Oates realigns outfield.