SARASOTA, Fla. -- You can scrawl a big, red "X" through the month of March if you happened to have one of those Orioles pocket schedules. As of 2 p.m. today, the Orioles' Grapefruit League games will be canceled.
The 11 teams on the Orioles' Grapefruit League schedule informed general manager Roland Hemond via fax yesterday that they were canceling the exhibitions because of owner Peter Angelos' stance against the use of replacement players. The Orioles will be limited to intrasquad games, or possibly exhibitions against teams outside the jurisdiction of Major League Baseball, such as college squads.
"We're disappointed," said Angelos. "We consider it an unfortunate decision on the part of the clubs. . . . On the other hand, it's their prerogative to play who they want to play. . . . They have that choice, as the Orioles have the choice not to play against replacement players."
In a conference call of general managers Monday, the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals expressed some willingness to match minor-leaguers with the Orioles. But the issue was passed on to the Baseball Operations committee for recommendation. The panel, which included Oakland general manager Sandy Alderson, Chicago Cubs president Andy MacPhail and Florida general manager Dave Dombrowski, advised teams to cancel their exhibitions.
The letters received by Hemond yesterday -- just like those received last Friday, asking for clarification of the Orioles' policy -- were virtually identical.
The Orioles' Triple-A and Double-A players will leave the Sarasota complex after tomorrow's workout, and play their first official intrasquad game Friday at Huggins-Stengel Field in St. Petersburg. The Orioles' first two intrasquad games at Al Lang Stadium, on Sunday and Monday, will be played free of charge.
The Orioles have received no assurances from baseball that their exhibition schedule will be restored if the strike is resolved.
The cancellations soon may hit closer to home if the strike is not resolved: The April 1 exhibition against the Philadelphia Phillies at Camden Yards would seem to be doomed, because the Phillies are laden with replacement players and are one of the 11 teams to cancel spring games with the Orioles.
Colorado general manager Bob Gebhard indicated that if the strike continues into April, the Rockies' April 2 exhibition at Camden Yards will be wiped out. "It's in the contract between the Baltimore Orioles and the Colorado Rockies," Gebhard said, "that the game will not be played [if there is a] strike or a lockout."
Gebhard said he spoke with Bill Murray, executive director of the Baseball Operations committee, and was told to wait and see.
U.S. Immigration has given major-league baseball teams clearance to apply for work visas for their major-league players, according to Lee MacPhail, the Orioles' player development and scouting assistant. This will help facilitate the visa process once the strike is settled. For instance, if the preliminary paperwork has been done and a labor agreement is reached on March 15, the foreign-born players could report to spring training in about a week.
The visa issue will be critical for the Orioles, because their projected closer -- right-hander Armando Benitez -- is in the Dominican Republic, along with Manny Alexander, who is expected to contend with Bret Barberie for the job of regular second baseman.
The Orioles have cleared up immigration hurdles for 13 minor-leaguers from the Dominican Republic.
One of the players is infielder Junior Noboa, a utility infielder with major-league experience. The Orioles have hired Matt Slater as their scouting administrator. Slater worked for the Milwaukee Brewers in a similar capacity until last fall, when he was laid off because of strike-related cutbacks.
Scouting director Gary Nickels said that Slater, a graduate of Marquette, will be "responsible for day-to-day operations" within the scouting department.
Around the horn
Minor-league catcher Jairo Cabrera, who played rookie ball last year, is opening eyes with his exceptional throwing ability. Cabrera, who threw out two would-be base stealers in one inning of a Single-A intrasquad game yesterday, is timed regularly at 1.85 seconds from the instant he catches the ball to the moment his throw reaches second. A time of 1.95 is considered excellent, even for major-leaguers.
Manager Phil Regan said that infielder Jeff Huson's chances of making the big-league team as a utilityman are improving as the strike continues. . . . About a dozen of the Orioles' minor-leaguers attended the union meeting in Tampa on Monday night.
O'S FROM AFAR
Foreign-born players on the Orioles' 40-man roster:
Pos. Player .. .. .. Age .. Birthplace
P Armando Benitez .. 22 ... Ramon Santana, Dom. Rep.
P Billy Percibal ... 21 ... San Pedro de Macoris, D.R.
C Cesar Devarez . .. 25 ... S.P. de Macoris, D.R.
2B Manny Alexander . 23 ... S.P. de Macoris, D.R.