'95 team mostly new and, so far, unimproved


While the Orioles floundered through the first 44 games of the season like a sailboat without wind, one major factor was virtually ignored. Or, at the least, gone generally unmentioned.

The turnover rate from last season to this might be unprecedented in baseball history. Seldom, if ever, has a team -- even a bad team -- undergone such a drastic make-over.

In many ways, the Orioles are a team of strangers. Only three starting position players (Cal Ripken, Brady Anderson and Chris Hoiles) remain from the team that won 89 games just two years ago.

In addition, of the 32 currently wearing the Orioles' uniform, 20 were not around last year. That's a 62.5 percent changeover -- from a team that was 2 1/2 games away from a playoff position and on pace to win 91 games when the strike shut down baseball last Aug. 12.

When it became obvious that owner Peter Angelos wanted no part of Johnny Oates, it was apparent there would be a heavy turnover at the top. A new manager more often than not brings a new look to the coaching staff, but having only one holdover (Elrod Hendricks) is unusual.

As it turned out, however, that was only the start of something new and different, if not necessarily better. Of the 25 players now on the active roster, 14 (56 percent) were wearing a different uniform a year ago. And that's not all.

Of those 14 newcomers, nine were not even in the organization. That means 36 percent of the current roster was coming into a new system, under a new manager and five new coaches.

That should not be interpreted as a reflection on manager Phil Regan's staff. He has a good mix of ex-Orioles (Hendricks, Al Bumbry, Lee May and Mike Flanagan) plus two coaches with big-league managing experience (Steve Boros and Chuck Cottier).

But the bottom line is that the degree of change has been extraordinary. Some has taken place because players haven't fulfilled expectations (Armando Benitez, Brad Pennington, Arthur Rhodes, et al). Others (most notably Mark McLemore), however, are gone for more obscure reasons.

In baseball, the rule of thumb is to never stand pat. There are also a couple of other rules -- if it isn't broken down, don't rebuild it; and don't make changes simply for the sake of making changes.

Much has been made of the fact that the Orioles come up short in the chemistry department. That evolves into the leadership, or lack thereof, that is such a popular topic on losing teams.

In reality, what the Orioles are missing is continuity. The shortened spring training robbed Regan of valuable time he needed to learn his personnel.

It wasn't readily apparent, but at the same time the Orioles were in the process of a rather radical make-over. Not even after the 1988 season, when the Orioles lost their first 21 games and finished 54-107, did the team undergo such a drastic change.

In 1989, when they made their near-miracle run, the Orioles featured "only" 10 players who were not part of the disaster a year earlier. In retrospect, what the Orioles are going through JTC now is little more than a natural period of transition.

That's what happens when you turn over more than half the playing personnel and virtually the entire management staff. What remains to be determined is if the extensive make-over, and subsequent transition, was necessary -- and if it is successful.

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