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Crossing the line to what end?


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Suppose the strike continues. Suppose the Orioles stand pat and decline to participate in replacement games once the regular season starts.

Now suppose that some Orioles major-leaguer, desperate for money, crosses the picket line and tells the team he's ready to play -- for a team that's not playing.

What will the Orioles do then?

This brain teaser, a real possibility if yesterday's National Labor Relations Board decision does not end the strike, is something the Orioles' front office hasn't thought about much.

"I don't want to think about that," owner Peter Angelos said last night. "We've got enough to worry about."

For a disgruntled player wanting to get back to work, the Orioles -- because of their stance against replacement games -- would be a perfect employer.

Say that, for example, Orioles pitcher John Doe is three months behind on his house and car payments and he disagrees with the union negotiating strategy. His million-dollar contract, one of those renewed by the Orioles last week, becomes effective the moment he reports to the team.

So on April 3, the scheduled Opening Day, John Doe shows up at Camden Yards with his glove and his spikes and he's ready to play -- knowing full well that Orioles aren't participating in replacement games.

Orioles general manager Roland Hemond said the possibility has not been discussed at length. But another major-league general manager believes that, like other major-league clubs, the Orioles would be obligated to embrace the strike-breaker, paying him his full salary.

"What other choice would they have?" the GM asked rhetorically.

In that case, John Doe would be cashing checks for doing nothing. "We can't play with one player, right?" said assistant general manager Frank Robinson. "We would need a full complement of players to cross the line . . . because we're not going to play against replacement players."

Twenty-five Orioles strikebreakers. Playing against replacement players fielded by other owners. The potential irony was too delicious to resist.

"Bring them on, boys!" Robinson said, laughing. "We would kick their butts. The Orioles, 50-0."

Seriously, though.

"I think we would keep our stance against playing in any tTC replacement games," Robinson said. "Now that's my opinion; that's not the official stance of the club."

Phyllis Merhige, the American League vice president for media affairs, was just as perplexed.

"I would think that any player who wants to come back from the strike," she said, "would be welcomed back. But let me talk to someone and get back to you."

She called after the NLRB decision and after talking with a Player Relations Committee lawyer.

"He said it was a very good question," Merhige said. "A very complex question -- one that he didn't really want to get into on a day like today."

Angelos groaned slightly when asked about how he would deal with a strikebreaker. But, like Robinson, he warmed to the idea of the Orioles returning en masse.

"I think even the union ought to support that," Angelos joked. "We would destroy the scrubs."

But seriously.

"Let's just watch what happens in the negotiations today and tomorrow," Angelos said. "Hopefully, we can continue negotiations and reach a fair settlement."

One in the family

Claude Osteen, the Orioles' Triple-A pitching coach, talked with his son David in January and February about the pros and cons of playing replacement baseball, but the subject hadn't been raised in recent weeks.

Then Osteen, a union representative when he pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers, picked up the newspaper and read that David, who last pitched professionally in 1991, had signed with the Philadelphia Phillies.

"It didn't surprise me," said Osteen. "I knew that he was probably in that category. I'm sure that he's not doing it with any intentions of revitalizing his career.

"A lot of [the replacement players] are doing it for the money . . . and I think that's probably where he's at."


Former Orioles left-hander Jim Poole has signed a minor-league contract with the Cleveland Indians. . . . The Orioles defeated Manatee Community College, 12-3, running their record against college clubs to 3-0. Trovin Valdez went 2-for-3 with a single, triple and two RBIs.

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