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Sorry, Cal, you'll have to get in line for MVP in power-packed AL

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Two-time American League Most Valuable Player Cal Ripken finished June on a pace for a career-best 115 RBIs, 21 home runs and was hitting .307.

Yet, despite those numbers and another terrific season in the field, Ripken isn't an MVP contender in this, the year of the hitter.

Consider the paces, through June, of seven contenders who rank ahead of Ripken, the most valuable everyday player on the Orioles:

1. Frank Thomas, Chicago: .371, 63 home runs, 138 RBIs, 179 runs.

2. Albert Belle, Cleveland: .371, 50 home runs, 147 RBIs, 140 runs.

3. Ken Griffey, Seattle: .319, 67 home runs, 134 RBIs, 143 runs.

4. Kirby Puckett, Minnesota: .325, 26 home runs, 156 RBIs, 109 runs.

L 5. Kenny Lofton, Cleveland: .363, 153 runs, 81 stolen bases.

6. Jose Canseco, Texas: .295, 47 home runs, 149 RBIs, 145 runs.

7. Will Clark, Texas: .352, 26 home runs, 149 RBIs, 113 runs.

Notice both Griffey and Thomas are on a pace to break Roger Maris' single-season home run record of 61, set in 1961.

"I'm not concerned with it because I don't know what's going to happen," Thomas said. "Well, I do know what's going to happen. A strike is going to happen."

Baseball's hidden slugger

Lost in the shadow of America's obsession with Griffey and Thomas, San Francisco Giants third baseman Matt Williams headed into July on a pace to match Babe Ruth's home run total of 60 in 1927, which would break Hack Wilson's National League record of 56 set in 1930.

Williams, with 29 home runs, broke the NL record for home runs through June. Willie Stargell hit 28 in 1971.

Williams doesn't foresee anyone bumping Maris from the record books.

"If you asked me right now if I think I could do it, I would say no, so why worry about it?" he said. "It's a long grind, a long grind. I have to realize the job at hand rather than worry about all that other stuff."

He likes Griffey's and Thomas' chances better than his own, but even they are long shots, he suspects.

"It would be tough," Williams said. "Pitchers read the papers. They could just quit pitching to you. Regardless of who's hitting in front of you and behind you, they could just quit pitching to you, and it would be tough."

Williams, a noted competitor, goes to bold lengths to gain an advantage while fielding his position. He routinely intrudes on discussions between the third base coach and the base runner, sticking his head right in between them.

Last week, he successfully pulled the hidden-ball trick on Dodgers shortstop Rafael Bournigal, just called up from the minors. Williams told Bournigal to step off the bag so that he could clean it. Bournigal obliged.

Said Bournigal: "I never thought a nice guy like him would do something like that to me. Now I know there are no nice guys in this league."

Cash (f)or Charge?

The Montreal Expos said they will not pay right fielder Larry Walker during a four-game suspension imposed because he charged the mound after being hit by a pitch. He earns $25,000 per game.

The players association filed a grievance on Walker's behalf. Either way, Walker said, he won't see any of the money.

"If we win, I'll give the $100,000 to a Montreal charity," Walker pledged. "I'm challenging the Expos to do the same with the money if they win."

Walker blasted the Expos in spring training when they stopped supplying suntan lotion, multi-vitamins and other standard clubhouse items as a means of cutting costs.

Now Walker has a cost-cutting measure of his own, one that will enable him to exact revenge on pitchers at a more reasonable cost.

"From now on, I'm going to have someone who makes the minimum charge the mound for me," Walker said. "I'll pay him $5,000. Maybe I'll get Lenny Webster to do it. He could get fined, get suspended and still come out $400 ahead."

Flight for Albuquerque

It's not often a first-place team demotes its everyday shortstop to Triple-A, but that's what the Los Angeles Dodgers did with Jose Offerman.

Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, long fed up with Offerman's unreliable glove, long has disagreed with general manager Fred Claire as to Offerman's value. Lasorda never has been as high on Offerman as Claire.

Offerman appeared in 72 of the club's first 74 games and was leading the team with 11 errors. His batting average peaked at .229 on May 7. He was batting .210 Monday, when he was demoted to the minors for the first time since 1991. He had two RBIs in his last 30 games.

Offerman hit a home run May 7 in San Francisco and couldn't stop swinging for the fences after that, hitting .199 from that point. The home run was his fourth in 1,538 at-bats.

Offerman's demotion led to an interesting question: What would Lasorda do with his parakeet named, "Offerman?" Reliever Roger McDowell gave Lasorda five good-luck parakeets in spring training. Lasorda named the blue bird Piazza after his catcher and named the yellow ones Karros, DeShields, Offerman and Wallach after his four infielders.

"I had to take Offerman back to the pet store so he can learn to sing better," Lasorda said.

Good line.

Good roster move, too. Light-hitting Bournigal, called up to replace Offerman, has a more reliable glove.

"History is made," Dodgers center fielder Brett Butler said. "L.A., for the most part, has made moves that were offensive-oriented. This one was made because of defense. This guy [Bournigal], there's not a guy with better hands in this entire organization. This has got to be a sigh of relief for those guys on the hill."

Either way, he wins

Colorado Rockies outfielder Dante Bichette, the man the California Angels were foolish enough to trade to the Milwaukee Brewers, who were foolish enough to leave him unprotected in the expansion draft, is on a pace to hit 40 home runs and steal 35 bases. The 30-30 club has only 15 members.

Bichette said he hopes his numbers will land him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

"I've hit better, I've stolen more bases, and I've played better defense. I don't know what else I can do. I'd be bummed if I didn't make it."

The Rockies finish the first half of the season in Miami, and Bichette is having a home built in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., so he has an alternative plan in the event he is snubbed.

"I'll have four days at home where I can just go out there and boss some people around," he said.

Where are the candles?

The Florida Marlins recently went more than a week without having a lead. Then they were shut down by Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Fernando Valenzuela, fresh from the Mexican Leagues.

Valenzuela is listed in the program as 33 years old. Said the Marlins' ancient Charlie Hough: "Yeah, and he broke in when he was 11 after 10 years in the Mexican League. Maybe he's 33 in dog years."

He was young enough to defeat the Marlins, who won only five of their first 25 games against left-handed starting pitchers.

Jordan-bash of the year

A quote from Chicago White Sox general manager Ron Schueler made its way onto the Cleveland Indians' bulletin board.

"It could happen to any club," Schueler said of a streak in which the White Sox lost 12 of 15. "It's going to happen to Cleveland. They ain't that good. Besides, they haven't proven they can beat us yet."

Cleveland first baseman Paul Sorrento answered with the best comeback of the year.

"He's the guy who signed Michael Jordan, isn't he?" Sorrento said.

What's your name again?

Even the Boston Red Sox players must have trouble getting the names straight without a program.

Cory Bailey became Boston's 20th pitcher of the season when he was brought up Tuesday.

Only one-third of the pitchers who make up the Red Sox's 12-man pitching staff have been on the team since Opening Day: Roger Clemens, Aaron Sele, Jeff Russell and Joe Hesketh.

At least the Red Sox aren't alone in suffering pitching problems.

Of pigeons and a pitcher

A statue of Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller stands outside Jacobs Field, beyond center field. For reasons of balance, the sculpture didn't get the leg kick exactly right, Feller said, but he gave it his stamp of approval nonetheless.

"I can't complain," Feller said. "I like it. It's 10 feet tall, weighs

1,500 pounds and is home to every pigeon in Cleveland."

With friends like that . . .

New York Mets manager Dallas Green didn't gush sympathy when he learned Dwight Gooden had flunked a drug test.

"Doc's problem is his problem because he's an athlete who's fallen by the wayside by his own choice," Green said.

"Obviously, the organization is hurt. Baseball should be hurt, and above that, his wife and kids, they've got to be devastated."

The 60-day suspension will cost Gooden about $1.2 million in salary.

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