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Even with scorecard, you can't tell players


With the baseball strike over and the clubs in camp, we're supposed to care once again about things like which pitch a new Oriole considers his best.

Frankly, I'm not up for that yet. Not yet anyway.

Neither, I'm sure, are a lot of others.

The nearly eight-month-long players strike changed the thinking of a lot of people. Now, instead of coming back to the familiar, we find, all too often, that there is no familiar to come back to.

The events of recent days have happened with such dizzying speed that it's hard to keep up.

The Orioles sign a couple of pitchers named Brown and Jones and one named Orosco and already we're feeling disoriented.

Who's in Baltimore's bullpen now, and what has happened to Lee Smith? (He's with the Angels.)

Did we really read over the weekend that ex-Oriole Mike Devereaux has signed with the Red Sox? Or was that the White Sox? It was the White Sox.

And was that a typo or did Devo, who earned $3.375 million a year ago making all those sensational outfield catches here, actually sign with Chicago for $800,000? He did. Bet you he never thought that .203 batting average would cost him that dearly.

There were 37 major-league signings last weekend, 24 of them in the American League. There were eight in Boston alone.

L Seventeen free agents accepted drastic pay cuts in two days.

Pat Borders ($2.5 million with Toronto) signed for $310,000 with Kansas City. Pitcher Dave Stewart ($4.24 million with the Blue Jays) dropped to $1 million with Oakland. Andre Dawson is now a mere $500,000 man.

Some aren't that lucky. Catcher Benito Santiago, who throws out runners from a kneeling position, was job-hunting at Camp Unemployment in Florida.

Santiago earned $3.8 million last year. He has been offered $200,000 this year. He once paid more than that for a car.

The top guys still command outrageously high salaries.

Ex-Expo Larry Walker received a four-year, $22 million contract from Colorado. Kevin Brown can't complain about his $4,225,000 for one year with the Orioles.

All clubs need a certain number of top guys and they are paying for them. One level below them a lot of veterans are either out of work or working cheap. Clubs are signing lower salaried kids in their places. One-year contracts are in vogue, as they should have been all along.

No intelligent person is going to shed a tear for the Benito Santiagos. Already they have made millions. If they never earn another dollar in baseball, they're still ahead of the game.

But there are things to regret in baseball's new order. Serious things.

You have to feel sorry for the fans in Montreal, what few there are. Their fine team is being ripped apart, as they knew it would be.

Just before the strike hit last Aug. 12, I took my wife and two sons to Montreal. Naturally we wanted to see the Expos.

When we checked in at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, we asked the concierge if there was any chance of getting tickets for the Expos' game that night. After all, Montreal had the best record in the majors at that point and was on a pace to win 105 games. We were prepared to be shut out?

"Combien [how many]?" asked the concierge.

We could have as many as we wanted -- and this was three hours before a game with the Cardinals. This was nothing like Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

-! What an entertaining club the

Expos had. That night Montreal unleashed a mighty attack. Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom and Moises Alou hit the ball all over Expos Stadium.

Yesterday I called the National League office to get an update on which players are still with financially troubled Montreal.

"Our rosters are a mess," said Nancy Crofts of the league office. "So much has been going on."

Well, Walker is gone, of course. Grissom has been traded to the Braves. Pitchers Ken Hill and John Wetteland are gone. Alou, so far, is still an Expo. But then his father, Felipe, is the manager.

"Felipe Alou wouldn't get rid of his own son, would he?" I said.

"You would hope not," said Crofts.

In baseball today, you can't be sure.

It's a pity that the small-market clubs -- the ones that don't draw the way the Orioles do -- can't afford to pay their own players.

It's brutal on their fans and it's dispiriting to the players.

Proof of that is evident in the reaction of Minnesota's Kirby Puckett to the new economic climate.

First, you have to understand something about Puckett. He's one of the most popular players in the game. He treats fans great. He loves being a ballplayer.

Puckett sees the comparatively low-income Twins faced with a bleak future. He says he will opt out of his five-year, $30 million contract after this year if the Twins are no longer able to field a competitive team.

"What's happening now is only the beginning," Puckett says. "It was expected this year. Wait until next year. It's only going to get worse."

When you know Puckett, you can appreciate what the new economics are doing to the game.

Before I can worry about somebody's changeup I have to figure out who's playing for which team.

Last Sunday night ESPN radio dragged out the classic Abbott and Costello "Who's on first?" bit.

"Who's on first?" asks Lou Costello.

"That's right," snaps Bud Abbott.

More than a half-century after they introduced that act, it's still funny. And, sadly, the question of who's on first has never been more appropriate.

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