Last O's change may come at GM

THE BALTIMORE SUN

This season has been one transaction after another for the Orioles, from the signing of Kevin Brown in April to the trade for Scott Erickson on Friday. But there's at least one major decision forthcoming -- next year's general manager.

The contract of general manager Roland Hemond expires after this season, and his fate might rest on how the team fares the rest of the way. If the Orioles win the division and play deep into the postseason, they've made a great case for him. If not, owner Peter Angelos might look for a replacement.

He could look in-house, at assistant general manager Frank Robinson, who has been with the Orioles for 19 seasons as a player, manager and executive. He may consider Syd Thrift, the club's director of player development, or scouting director Gary Nickels.

Or Angelos may go outside the organization, and perhaps talk to San Diego Padres general manager Randy Smith, whose option for '96 hasn't been exercised.

Whenever a decision comes to pass, remember this name: Dan O'Dowd, the thirtysomething assistant general manager for the Cleveland Indians. His reputation is growing within baseball because of his work as the right-hand man for Indians general manager John Hart; this week, the expansion Tampa Bay Devil (( Rays asked for permission to talk with O'Dowd about becoming their general manager.

O'Dowd has a history with the Orioles. For five years, he worked in the organization in different roles, including assistant director of player development, before going to Cleveland in January 1988. He was responsible for the development of the Indians' minor-league system, which was rated the best in baseball by Baseball America in 1993. Hart has credited O'Dowd with playing a major role in helping to plan and instigate the rebuilding of the franchise.

"Like anybody in my job," O'Dowd said Friday, "my goal is to run a baseball team."

More work for Aguilera

Acquiring Rick Aguilera to fill their closer's role is a major addition for the Boston Red Sox, but it will be interesting to see how antsy manager Kevin Kennedy handles him.

Playing for bad teams the past few years, the aging Aguilera was used sparingly because he didn't have many save opportunities, a nice and easy way to keep his arm healthy. Now Aguilera is shifting into the thick of a pennant race.

He'll go from having one save opportunity a week to two, three or four -- and that's not even accounting for all the times Kennedy may have him up just because he manages as though every game is the seventh game of the World Series.

An educated guess: Aguilera will break down by the start of September.

* When Melido Perez went on the disabled list last week, the New York Yankees were left with a rotation that consisted of Jack McDowell and four pitchers with a total of 14 major-league starts going into this season.

* In the past two weeks, some Orioles have fallen into the habit of not running out every fly ball and ground ball, sometimes coasting to first base and sometimes not reaching it at all. The lack of hustle looks terrible, there's no good reason for it, and if it continues, it will inevitably cost them a run and maybe a game. Philadelphia Phillies catcher Darren Daulton is the latest player to take issue with the umpires. He was ejected by plate umpire Ed Rapuano 10 days ago for arguing a balk call -- Daulton didn't even turn his head back to the ump as he talked.

"The best way to know an umpire has done a good job is when the game is over, nobody has noticed him," Daulton said. "But you're asking guys who want to be on prime time not to be noticed. I think an umpire's job is to control the game and keep order. But don't let your calls decide which team wins and which team loses."

* Kevin Mitchell, the wannabe San Francisco Giant, is apparently Japan-bound. Again. "I talk with Joe Sroba [Mitchell's agent] all the time, and Kevin is going back to Japan." said Cincinnati GM Jim Bowden, "His knee is getting better. He's going back in about two weeks." San Francisco manager Dusty Baker talked in the past tense about the possibility of getting Mitchell.

* After striking out in consecutive at-bats Wednesday, San Diego Padres catcher Brad Ausmus, a Dartmouth graduate, attacked a water cooler -- and lost. He suffered a four-stitch gash across his palm and wrist that knocked him out of the lineup. "There's a fine line between frustration-intensity and stupidity," said Padres manager Bruce Bochy. "He crossed it. He's an intense competitor, but you have to realize this is your hand. He did a good job on it. He was a mess."

* There are growing concerns in Cincinnati that Reds ace Jose Rijo isn't going to make it through the season without having surgery to remove a bone spur on his right elbow. He can't throw his slider, and he's battling perpetual stiffness in the joint. Rijo also is afraid that cortisone shots are reducing pain and masking a serious injury.

Can't get any worse

Minnesota general manager Terry Ryan is taking some heat for allegedly ruining the team, by trading off Aguilera and Erickson (and Kevin Tapani may be next).

This is ridiculous. The Twins are the worst team in baseball; it's not as if Ryan is splintering the core of a championship club. To repeat, this is a bad team. The Twins didn't intend to offer Erickson a contract after this season -- his 5.95 ERA had something to do with that -- and Aguilera can be a free agent. So Ryan's going to let those two walk away for nothing? Better to get something for them while he can.

Now, if Ryan really wanted to do it right, he would call at news conference and state the obvious: Nobody was coming to the Twins games, and for that reason, the small-market team needed to cut payroll and focus on rebuilding its franchise.

He should place Kirby Puckett on the open market and say, "Hey, we'd like to keep this guy here forever but nobody's coming to watch him and help pay his $6 million salary." It makes no sense to keep Puckett if he's not drawing fans. The Boston Red Sox's Roger Clemens was asked if he would ever dominate again.

"I sure will," he said. "I can throw a baseball as hard as I've ever thrown it. I have a better idea of where to throw it. I don't see anything negative about myself."

Clemens said umpires aren't giving him the high strike anymore.

* Dwight Gooden, suspended for substance abuse, threw for Chicago Cubs scouting director Al Goldis on Wednesday.

"Al was very, very impressed," said Ray Negron, an agent for Gooden. "The guy was throwing 92-93 mph. Several times we had to tell him to slow down, slow down."

That may be so, but in light of the backlash baseball has felt after the Yankees signed Darryl Strawberry, it seems unlikely Gooden's suspension will be lifted this season.

* Several teams have called St. Louis Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty to ask whether pitcher Ken Hill is available. "Vultures," said Jocketty, who wants to see if he can sign Hill to a multi-year contract before considering a trade. If he can't sign Hill in the next two weeks, though, he may look to swap the pitcher before the July 31 trade deadline.

* Chicago White Sox interim manager Terry Bevington said conditioning is relative. Take John Kruk, for example. "Take a look at him and [whether] he's in good shape is purely personal opinion. He's in good shape for the shape he's in." Just a guess, but Bevington won't get hired on a permanent basis using that sort of logic.

* Atlanta Braves shortstop Jeff Blauser could make a career as a stand-up comedian with the material he has generated for himself with his hitting problems this year. Blauser, his average barely over .200, beat the Los Angeles Dodgers with a bloop single earlier this week. When was the last time he won a game with a hit?

"When did Noah build his ark?" Blauser said. "I think it was a year or two later."

* Cardinals manager Mike Jorgensen says he's baffled by pitcher Allen Watson, out with biceps tendinitis.

"He said he's too sore to pitch at [Triple-A] Louisville," Jorgensen said, "but that he could still pitch here. . . . We need to digest that comment and then decide what to do."

Star struck

The California Angels' Lee Smith, on his selection to the All-Star team: "To be 37 and be picked is awesome. It'll probably cost me a lot of money with all my kinfolk going down there [to Arlington, Texas], but that's OK. I hope to get my Dad [Willie, age 63] to go. He's been ill and hasn't been getting around much lately."

* Last year, Florida Marlins outfielder Jeff Conine did not get to play in the All-Star Game despite being selected. He will play this year, according to NL manager Felipe Alou.

"I was picked for three All-Star Games, and I didn't play in two of them," Alou said. "I know how that feels. You hate to have your wife, your kids, your friends watching the game and then you don't get to play in it. Anybody on my All-Star team is going to play."

* Reportedly, the one AL manager to leave Texas Rangers left-hander Kenny Rogers off his list of All-Star nominees was none other than Kevin Kennedy, who was ripped by Rogers after Kennedy left the Rangers.

Second-chance predictions

Picks for the second half of the baseball season (because so many of the first-half picks here have been wrong): Braves, Reds and Dodgers in the National League, with the Phillies as the wild card, and the Angels, Indians (out on a limb, eh?) and Red Sox in the American League, with the wild card coming out of the East. It would figure that in such a ludicrous season, the Detroit Tigers would find a way into the playoffs.

* Besides earning credentials for the Cy Young Award, the Kansas City Royals' Kevin Appier is ensuring that the Red Sox will give him a long-term deal during the off-season.

His agent, Dennis Gilbert, said: "Let me put it this way -- Kevin lives in the Kansas City area, and the Royals would be his first choice. But Boston would be the next team we would go to." The Royals don't have the cash flow to keep Appier.

Eddie's helmet heads to Hall

The Cleveland Indians will send to the Hall of Fame the batting helmet Eddie Murray was wearing when he got his 3,000th hit, and the first base bag.

* Many of Oakland's veteran players have spoken out in recent weeks about what they consider to be unreasonable selfishness by right fielder Ruben Sierra, who is feuding with manager Tony La Russa.

THE CONE SWEEPSTAKES

Now that Rick Aguilera has been traded to the Red Sox, the hottest commodity on the trade market is Blue Jays right-handed David Cone. Teams that are interested in him, and their chances of getting him:

Team -- Cleveland Indians

(odds) -- (Very Good)

Reasons -- They need a pitcher, what with Dennis Martinez and (very good) Orel Hershiser hurting, and this is their year. They've got a great chance to win it all - the only reason they need to do

whatever it takes to make the deal.

Team -- California Angels

(odds) -- (good)

Reasons -- Disney will inject more capital into the organization, and they've got the prospects to move - minor-league catcher Todd Greene, third baseman George Arias. Or maybe Darrin Erstad, their unsigned first-round pick.

Team -- New York Yankees

(odds) -- (good)

Reasons -- They've got some decent players to offer for Cone, but most of all, the pitcher likes New York and the Yankees have got the money to keep him there.

@Team -- Texas Rangers

(odds) -- (fair)

Reasons -- Desire is there, but GM Doug Melvin doesn't have a lot to offer, and he may not want to part with top prospects Julio

Santana or Wilson Heredia, both right-handers.

Team -- Cincinnati Reds

(odds) -- (fair)

Reasons -- GM Jim Bowden is extremely aggressive and finds a way to get things done, but he's got money trouble. The elbow injury to Jose Rijo makes it vitally important the Reds get another starter.

Team -- Philadelphia Phillies

(odds) -- (poor)

Reasons -- Phillies GM Lee Thomas really wants him, but he doesn't have a lot to offer the Blue Jays in the way of prospects.

Team -- Orioles

(odds) -- (poor)

Reasons -- Now that they've gotten Scott Erickson, there's really need for Cone. And if they're going to trade Armando Benitez, it's got to be for Roberto Alomar now. Don't look for Houston third baseman Phil Nevin to reappear in Houston any time soon.

After being told he was being sent down to the minors Tuesday night -- with a batting average of .117, no home runs and one RBI in 60 at-bats - Nevin took the news rather poorly. He interrupted manager Terry Collins, swore at him, slammed the door and kicked over a trash can in the clubhouse.

Bob Watson, the Astros GM, reacted thusly: "Bob Watson, Terry Collins and the Houston Astros will not be talked to that way. We will not be shown up like that. We're the ones who provide the jobs. We're in control. We're the bosses. We will not be treated like that. I will speak to the young man's agent and tell him that an apology is expected." Ouch.

The numbers game

* When the San Francisco Giants came back to beat the Reds and reliever Jeff Brantley Thursday, it was the first time Cincinnati had lost a game in which Brantley pitched - after 24 straight victories.

* Milwaukee's Kevin Seitzer has gone eight years since his last All-Star appearance, in 1987. The longest stretch between All-Star appearances is 12 years, by Bert Blyleven (1973, 1985).

* None of the top five home-run hitters in the American League were outfielders, something that's never happened over a full season.

* Padres pitcher Joey Hamilton went 58 at-bats before getting his first major-league hit last month. On Wednesday against Florida, he had two hits.

* The Pittsburgh Pirates had 18 multi-homer games through Thursday, after having a total of 19 multi-homer games in '94.

* The Toronto Blue Jays pitching staff had more walks than strikeouts in 23 of the team's first 66 games.

* Remember those speedy St. Louis teams, built on the infield hit? Well, through games of Wednesday, they had only one infield hit the whole year, by Geronimo Pena.

* Despite losing Gary Sheffield on June 10, the Florida Marlins set a club record with 31 homers in the month.

* The demise of the Phillies can be attributed to their lack of offense. During their last, disastrous homestand, they hit .192.

* Texas doesn't have a classic closer, per se, but the Rangers have made up for this with quantity. Six relievers have at least one save, more than any team in baseball.

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