It was written: Hold the predictions

THE BALTIMORE SUN

This is a place for second-guessing. Orioles general manager Roland Hemond gets second-guessed. Bud Selig and Donald Fehr get second-guessed. Managers get second-guessed.

But, in fairness, much of what has been written here can and should be second-guessed. The preseason predictions, for example. For many examples, actually.

It was written: Philadelphia will be terrible in '95, and in particular its defense will be terrible.

With 20-20 hindsight, that was about as close to reality as that Chicago Tribune headline -- DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN -- in 1948. The Phillies are in first place, and they've committed the second-fewest errors in the NL.

It was written: The Boston Red Sox are in trouble because their pitching is so thin without Roger Clemens.

With 20-20 hindsight, that was a stupid statement. After taking two games from the Orioles last week, the Red Sox ranked second in the AL in pitching.

It was written: The Atlanta Braves are invincible.

With 20-20 hindsight, they're about as invincible as Glenn Davis. They're trying to win with a young and inexperienced lineup, and that makes it hard to remain consistent.

It was written: The Pittsburgh Pirates are the most boring team in baseball.

With 20-20 hindsight, that cannot be true. No one goes to their games, so who would know?

It was written: The Orioles will win the AL East.

With 20-20 hindsight, don't always believe what you read.

L It was written: The Chicago Cubs have no chance, never will.

With 20-20 hindsight, some things you just can't get wrong.

Good times with Jordan

Oakland infielder Jason Giambi played against retired minor-league baseball player Michael Jordan in the Double-A Southern League, and with him in the Arizona Fall League. "It was unbelievable," he said. "He's such a regular guy. We'd play pool together, go out to dinner. It was amazing. I don't know why he liked me so much, but he did."

Giambi played in those now-legendary pickup games with Jordan last fall, along with Orioles minor-leaguers Curtis Goodwin and Alex Ochoa.

"He let us play," Giambi said. "But whenever we needed points, we'd give him the ball. He had a blast." Giambi offered some evidence as to what kind of person Jordan is: "We were going to have dinner, and he got invited to play in Scottie Pippen's charity game in Chicago. He called to let me know he wouldn't be able to make [the next pickup game]. I realize that's not unusual, but this is Michael Jordan. He didn't have to call me."

Beanball wars

In the latest chapter of the San Francisco-Colorado beanball wars, the Giants' Trevor Wilson hit the Rockies' Larry Walker in the helmet.

"I didn't feel it when it first happened," said Walker. "When I got to first, I was a little queasy, but I was OK in 20 minutes. If he hits me in the legs, I'm done. Hitting me in the head, I'm OK. If I can take a few slap shots off the head, I can take a baseball." (Walker grew up in Canada, playing hockey.)

This thing has got to stop. Time for NL president Leonard Coleman to step in and talk to Rockies manager Don Baylor and Giants manager Dusty Baker, who've escalated the trouble by accusing the other side.

Dustin's debut

San Diego rookie Dustin Hermanson, the third pick in last summer's amateur draft, made his debut Monday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. With two runners on base, Hermanson retired three straight and earned a victory.

"He's going to be something else," said general manager Randy Smith. The Padres have the most talented staff in the National League, but one of the most inexperienced. If they can hang close in the first half, they could be an outstanding second-half team as the youngsters get settled. One potential problem: The Padres may have the worst bench in the NL.

About those Phillies

A play against Atlanta last week is indicative of just how absurd their season has been. With runners on first and second and nobody out, Chipper Jones ripped a shot that bounced off Phillies third baseman Charlie Hayes, right to shortstop Mariano Duncan, who threw to Hayes for a 5-6-5 force play. The Phillies wrapped up a four-game sweep of the Braves that night.

More angry fans

Patrons in Oakland showered the field with debris in the club's home opener.

"They were throwing everything," said Texas left fielder Mark McLemore. "I've never seen it here before. They are loud and they talk to outfielders, but I've never seen them throw things."

The Rangers think that slugger Juan Gonzalez could be back in the lineup by June 1. He's on the disabled list with a herniated disk, and McLemore is filling in.

"Mac has done a good job, both offensively and defensively," said manager Johnny Oates. "But I look forward with a great deal of anticipation to getting the big guy back in left field. When we do, we'll find some other place for McLemore to play."

Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza is on the disabled list after suffering a torn thumb ligament, so L.A. turns to Carlos Hernandez, who was batting .056 without an extra-base hit at the time of the injury.

"I know one thing, man," said Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda. "It's going to be tough losing that guy. He's a huge asset. He can ignite our whole offense."

* Looks as if the AL East isn't going to be quite as good as everyone thinks -- the Yankees, Blue Jays and Orioles are defining their weaknesses quite nicely in the early season -- and the NL West apparently isn't going to be as bad as everyone thought.

* One phenomenon on another: Padres left-hander Fernando Valenzuela, the reason for Fernandomania back in 1981, said Japanese pitcher Hideo Nomo has arrived in the majors at just the right time.

"Baseball needs him," Valenzuela said. "I remember in my rookie year, we had the strike in 1981, and what I did was very important for baseball. Well, now that we had another strike, we need somebody else to come through. We need Nomo."

Interestingly, though, as Nomo comes in, Valenzuela may be heading out. He likely is one of the three players who will be taken off the Padres' roster tomorrow, when clubs reduce their ++ teams from 28 to 25. Right fielder Tony Gwynn, who has tremendous influence in the organization, is outspoken in his belief the Padres ought to keep Valenzuela, in spite of his sporadic pitching.

"Seeing how he's worked with the younger guys," Gwynn said, "and with the Latin guys, trying to keep their heads on straight, I think he's helped -- a lot."

* Rangers first baseman Will Clark is getting booed in Texas for his adamant union stance during the strike. "When you hit a home run and get booed, you get drilled and they boo you, it's like, 'Well, I guess it's going to be this way for a while.' "

* Hitting cleanup for the White Sox last year (and protecting Frank Thomas in the lineup), Julio Franco drove in 23 runs in the first 23 games. Oh, what a difference a year makes. Franco is in Japan, and the White Sox are in deep trouble. The Chicago cleanup hitters combined for six RBIs in the first 13 games. Chris Sabo hit fourth to start the year, and now it's Warren Newson.

Sabo left without talking after hitting a pinch three-run homer Wednesday. Before the game, he said: "I'm totally healthy. So you'll have to talk to the manager. I got in trouble last year for saying something." True. Sabo was the best thing that ever happened to Leo Gomez.

* Former Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog said last week that he thinks the world of new Cubs manager Jim Riggleman and found a way to take a shot at Harry Caray in the same breath. Riggleman used to be a first base coach for Herzog.

"The one thing that really surprised me when he coached for me was that he wasn't afraid of a star," Herzog said. "He stood up to guys once in a while and told them off. Now if Rigs doesn't punch out [announcers] Harry Caray or Steve Stone, he's cool. And if he does punch them out, he's cool, too."

* In one six-game stretch last week, Pittsburgh shortstop Jay Bell ran into outs at the plate three times.

* A shouting match. Oakland right fielder Ruben Sierra vs. Tony ** La Russa. Last Tuesday. The winner: La Russa, who benched Sierra for two straight days. "He's a better player than he's showing," said a diplomatic La Russa. "He needs to play better, like he's capable of playing." At the time of the spat, Sierra was hitting .209. Sierra said: "If I'm not playing well and he doesn't have confidence in me, then put in another player. He knows what kind of player I am."

* About former Orioles farmhand Vaughn Eshelman: He's 3-0 after three major-league games, two more wins than Detroit's Buddy Groom, who has appeared in 77.

* The lights went out in Montreal last week, with the Marlins visiting. "I wasn't really shocked," said Marlins shortstop Alex Arias. "It's happened in the Dominican a few times."

* Tigers left-hander David Wells has issued just two unintentional walks this season. The first good news out of Detroit in 1995.

* Might be a good thing the Orioles didn't have a chance to sign Padres pitcher Andy Benes. There's no doubt Benes has great stuff, but he continues to do just enough to lose. When the Padres score two runs, he'll allow three. When they score six, he'll give up seven. He has blown two leads this year, and hasn't earned a victory since last July 3.

* Cleveland is said to be interested in Houston's John Hudek. The Astros are willing to deal Hudek and make Todd Jones the closer -- but only if the Indians take on Greg Swindell and his $3.73 million contract for '95, and $4.8 million in '96. Only an insane person would make this deal, John Hart.

* Toronto just beats on Jack McDowell, who is 3-10 vs. the Blue Jays lifetime, and 1-6 at SkyDome.

"He's the type of pitcher who likes to throw a lot of strikes, so you have to go out and be aggressive when you face him," said Roberto Alomar. "I think he's trying a little bit too much against us. We hit him good, but I don't know how to explain it."

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays have talked to former Blue Jays GM Pat Gillick about overseeing the development of that expansion franchise.

* Cardinals second baseman Geronimo Pena is out until June 1 with a stress fracture, which is hardly a surprise. He has been hurt in one fashion or another almost every year since 1989. There was the fractured wrist ('89), the tuberculosis ('90), the broken collarbone ('92), the broken foot ('93) and bruised left elbow ('94).

* Speaking of Phillies shortstop Duncan -- who signed for a shockingly low contract of $350,000 -- he was somewhat taken aback last week when Reds general manager Jim Bowden pulled him aside and said: "We would have loved to have had you if we had known you would sign for so little. Why didn't you call us?"

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