Get radical, O's get Puckett or Bonds

Watching the Cleveland Indians last weekend had to have been a sobering experience for the Orioles' front office.

Pretty tough to compete with a lineup that has the likes of Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle, Eddie Murray, etc.


Cleveland's No. 7 hitter, Manny Ramirez, might hit cleanup for the Orioles. Same with third baseman Jim Thome. You can match up with these guys if you get a Mike Mussina-like performance.

Otherwise . . . trouble. Time for the Orioles to do something radical, something that would really improve their lineup.


They could add a marginal player, such as Montreal Expos third baseman Sean Berry, and make a minor impact on their offense. We're thinking major impact.

We're thinking Kirby Puckett or Barry Bonds.

The idea has been discussed, in a cursory manner, within the Orioles' hierarchy. No calls have been made -- though they may be forthcoming.

Crazy? Maybe not as much as you might think. The time might be ripe to flex a little big-market muscle and rescue Bonds or Puckett from small-market oblivion.

Puckett is a lifelong Twin, revered in Minnesota. But he costs $6 million a year, and last we checked, Metrodome attendance was dwindling. The team stinks. Time to rebuild.

No better way to do that than to trade an aging player, such as Puckett, 34, for two or three or four good young players.

The Twins are in salary-dump mode, anyway. They're shopping closer Rick Aguilera, and would love for someone to take pitcher Scott Erickson off their hands.

Which gets us back to Puckett, who hinted this spring that he wants to join a contender and that he may exercise a clause in his contract after the season and become a free agent. (His agent, Ron Shapiro, has a cozy relationship with Orioles owner Peter Angelos, which could be a factor).


Then there's Bonds, who is even more intriguing, because of his all-around abilities, because he's a left-handed hitter, because he steals bases, because he's Barry Bonds.

Like the Twins, the San Francisco Giants are experiencing dwindling attendance. The team is on the decline. San Francisco is obligated to pay Bonds $7 million a year over the length of his contract.

They could trade Bonds now, ridding themselves of a huge debt, and still have a pretty meaty bone to throw to their fans: The Giants are expected to be among the front-runners in the bidding for Kevin Mitchell, once he leaves Japan.

The Giants could trade Bonds for prospects and remain in contention in the weak NL West by signing Mitchell. (And Bonds isn't a fan favorite in San Francisco the way Puckett is in Minnesota.)

What would it take for the Orioles to get Puckett or Bonds? No doubt, their top prospects. Alex Ochoa would have to be in that deal, and probably pitcher Jimmy Haynes.

If the Giants or Twins wanted a major-leaguer included, the Orioles likely would be open to parting with pitcher Ben McDonald, who is the team's No. 3 starter at the moment, behind Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown; but because McDonald is arbitration-eligible, and already part of baseball's high-rent district, his inclusion would be unlikely.


But it would be worth it. Think how much the Orioles' lineup would be improved by a big-time RBI man in the middle of the order. Puckett or Bonds hitting behind Rafael Palmeiro would enable manager Phil Regan to hit Cal Ripken No. 6 and Chris Hoiles No. 7.

Bonds, 30, could make an impact on the Orioles' lineup the way he did in San Francisco. Regan could hit him fifth, behind Ripken, and force opposing teams to pitch to Ripken, the way teams have been forced to pitch to Matt Williams. Bonds would give the Orioles needed speed, the potential of 40 stolen bases from a player in the middle of their lineup.

Bonds has reputation for being a disruptive force because of his flamboyancy. But that's not true. He was so outrageous in Pittsburgh that his teammates simply ignored him. And like Puckett, Bonds shows up to play every day, injured or not. He may be arrogant, but he plays hard.

The calls should be made. If possible, a deal should be done. Bonds or Puckett would transform the Orioles from a team that relies almost entirely on pitching and defense to a team that could match offense with the Yankees, Blue Jays and Indians.

Something to watch for in the weeks ahead.

Wicked switch of the West


The AL West moved over .500 for the first time in its two-year post-realignment history last weekend. Last year, the AL West, you may recall, had no team over .500 and combined for a 199-256 mark.

"It's definitely a false sense of security [to assume you can compete in the West with a .500 mark]," said Texas first baseman Will Clark. "I don't think you can be mediocre in any division in baseball and get by with it."

The Orioles will test the division for the first time this week.

Nomomania swamps Lasorda

The hoopla surrounding pitcher Hideo Nomo -- followed around by a pack of Japanese reporters -- Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda says, is even greater than Fernandomania.

"It's worse," said Lasorda. "I came to the ballpark at 1:30 today and there were 15 guys out there with cameras waiting on him. They want to know everything he eats. They're watching every move he makes. They want to know everything I tell him.


"They asked me, 'What are you going to tell him tomorrow?' I said, "I don't know, I'll wait till tomorrow."

Nomo struck out 14 Pirates in seven innings last week, and if you got a chance to see how much his pitches move, breaking down and in to right-handed hitters, you know he's the real thing.

Mitchell leaving Japan

Kevin Mitchell is apparently headed back to the United States, and there have been reports that his attitude has been a contributing factor to his leaving Japan. "That's not a factor in this matter," said his agent, Joe Sroba. "The guy is hurt." Mitchell, Sroba said, has two tears in his knee cartilage. . . . The third baseman who got away, Dean Palmer, is learning how to make contact. More regular contact, anyway. He now has more two-strike homers (four) in 30 at-bats this year than in 174 at-bats last year (three). . . . Salomon Torres, who two years ago was

considered one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, has so frustrated the Giants with his inconsistent mental makeup that they would be willing to hear any sort of trade offers for him. He's only 22. . . . The Red Sox are bound to slump soon because of injuries to John Valentin, Jose Canseco and Lee Tinsley. But they've been the most inspiring team in the league to date.

Rob Dibble is back in the big leagues, recalled by the White Sox earlier this week. Dibble had been pitching for Double-A Birmingham, home of retired minor-leaguer Michael Jordan.


"The accommodations," Dibble said, "were atrocious and the food was horrible, but Michael Jordan's bus was great. It's got his signature on the door and it reminded me every day that The Show is the only place to be."

The White Sox say Dibble is throwing as hard as he did with the Reds, but that's doubtful. The Orioles could have dealt for Dibble a month ago, but the right-hander's poor reputation preceded him.

Cubs for real -- till postseason

After watching his team get shut down by the Cubs' pitching staff, Padres manager Bruce Bochy says Chicago could win the NL Central.

"They've got some guys who know how to change speeds," he said. "They know how to pitch."

Bochy, however, stopped short of predicting the Cubs would stop being the Cubs and actually win some


thing in the postseason.

Umps bemoan bumps

There was lots of point-counterpoint going on after Florida third baseman Terry Pendleton was thrown out of a game Tuesday night for bumping umpire Bill Hohn.

Naturally, the Marlins and the umps disagreed on the call that precipitated the incident, but then umpire Steve Rippley used the forum to criticize NL president Leonard Coleman.

"There's too much abuse of umpires," Rippley said, "and it's because Coleman doesn't back us. Used to be an automatic suspension when you bumped a guy -- a player was out of the next game.

"As soon as a guy [umpire] is bumped, action needs to be taken. I don't care if it's Ozzie Smith, Terry Pendleton or Joe Schmoe, you can't have that stuff."


No Kruk, but no regrets

The Expos talked about signing John Kruk before the Krukster negotiated a deal with the White Sox, and since the season-ending injury to Cliff Floyd, you'd think Montreal GM Kevin Malone would be kicking himself.


"I don't regret anything," Malone said. "We talked to Dave Burke [Kruk's agent] and he wanted a contract without a tryout or without a physical. I'm not taking a chance on a guy like that who has health and weight problems."

The Expos aren't counting on Floyd's return in the near future. Some within the organization say Floyd's injury, which damaged ligaments in his wrist, will end the big first baseman's career.

Shane Andrews takes over, but it's just not the same.


Around the horn

The Athletics are very worried about infielder Mike Gallego, who last week suffered a heel injury very similar to that of first baseman Mark McGwire, who has spent most of the last three years rehabilitating the problem. . . . Mets outfielder Carl Everett is back in Triple-A, and New York manager Dallas Green is watching him closely to see how he reacts to the demotion. The Mets love Everett's talent, fret over his moodiness. . . .

Oakland's Dennis Eckersley, 40, on the idea of saving 300 games: "I'm not going to be around for 400, might as well enjoy this." . . . The biggest individual disappointment this year has been Houston first baseman Jeff Bagwell, whose average was well below .200 this week. Last year, Bagwell's longest streak without an RBI was five games. This season, he has gone nine games and five games without an RBI. "One of these days he's going to swing the bat like he can and break the game open," said Houston manager Terry Collins. "The main thing is he's staying aggressive." . . .

With the team's base of talent stripped down (so long, Ken Caminiti and Andujar Cedeno; goodbye, Steve Finley) and Bagwell slumping, it figures the Astros would have trouble selling tickets. But they are also having a tough time giving out freebies. On May 12, the Astros gave away all 54,350 tickets to a game against the defending champion Phillies, and only drew 30,828. Owner Drayton McLane, who called the turnout "very disappointing," said, "Fans are angry with the players, but it's the owners who are suffering most right now from fan apathy. The players have their contracts, so they get paid the same regardless of attendance. But this will affect them long-term, next year and the year after that." . . .

On the ascent: Cincinnati. On the decline: Milwaukee. . . . It was the sports version of the Boston Massacre. Brian Sutter had been fired by the Bruins, Chris Ford had been fired by the Celtics. After hearing the news, Red Sox manager Kevin Kennedy turned to GM Dan Duquette and said, " 'Dan, am I OK?" Duquette deadpanned, " 'You're OK. But watch it." . . . The most embarrassing moment of this week came with the announcement that the players and owners had worked out a pension settlement that ensures the All-Star Game will be played. Hey, big deal. Get the labor agreement signed and then we'll get really excited.