Hard to fathom paranoia over replacements

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The members of the Major League Baseball Players Association laughed at the replacement games last March. No way the caliber of those games, the big-leaguers insisted, is anything close to the product produced by real big-leaguers.

And they were absolutely correct. Replacement games were dominated by pitchers with 80-mph fastballs, hitters who couldn't drive the ball out of most parks. The fans ignored the games during the exhibition season. In the end, the replacement games were a moot issue, having zero effect on the ultimate truce arranged by owners and players.

All this begs the question: Why have major-leaguers become so hung up about the handful of replacement players who have trickled into the big leagues this year?

It defies logic. After treating the replacement players as a punch line in spring training, some members of the MLBPA now treat them as if they were an incurable virus.

The latest flash point was the clubhouse of the Los Angeles Dodgers, after former replacement player Mike Busch was promoted from Triple-A Albuquerque. Busch dressed and took batting practice without being acknowledged by his new teammates, standard stuff for those who cross the line.

But then the Dodgers overreacted. They kicked him out of the clubhouse, held a 40-minute team meeting and tried to force executive vice president Fred Claire to send Busch back to the minors. They voted unanimously that they didn't want him around, and refused to let him speak.

The Dodgers, however, had plenty to say.

"He's a scab, pure and simple, and there will be individuals who will treat him as such," said center fielder Brett Butler, one of the union's militant members.

"Obviously, the players aren't happy with the decision that was made. There's a lot of pressure on everybody right now. Our focus is trying to win a world championship and distractions are not what we need right now."

The question is, who's creating the distraction? Is it the Dodgers' front office, which is trying to put together the best possible roster? Or is it the Dodgers' veterans, who choose to make an issue of what they and everyone else recognized to be a complete farce?

There have been similar responses to replacement players in San Francisco, Cincinnati, San Diego and Houston, the players reacting angrily to the promotion -- in the case of San Diego minor-league outfielder Ira Smith (Maryland), the near-promotion -- of a former strike-breaker. The Orioles immediately released Jimmy Hurst after they discovered he had been a replacement player, maintaining a policy established by owner Peter Angelos in spring training.

Much ado about nothing. This was not like strike-breaking truckers filling in for other striking truckers. The replacement players were more like strike-breaking truckers attempting to fill in for jet-fighter pilots.

It would be disingenuous for Butler to say that replacement players like Busch ever posed a threat to his well-being, or for Roger Clemens, another outspoken member of the union, to say that someone like Hurst contributed to the erosion of the players association.

Interestingly, the Milwaukee Brewers have relied on two former replacement players, pitchers Brian Givens and Jamie McAndrew, in recent weeks. The two strike-breakers will never be voted most popular by their teammates, but the Brewers chose to look past old wounds and recognized that Givens and McAndrew are helping them win.

What players may need to consider, too, is that the bottom line for everybody -- the union members, the owners, the replacement players -- was money. The players were striking to maintain their own financial well-being, the owners were trying to improve their share of revenue, and the replacement players were looking to pick up the very little that trickled down from the labor war.

Mets outfielder Chris Jones, a fringe major-leaguer the past six years, turned down the chance to become a replacement player in spring training. A decision motivated by morals or principle? Hardly.

"I wasn't going to jeopardize anything," Jones said. "I've had a taste of the big leagues for four years. I thought about when I saw Eric Davis' check of $179,000 for 15 days in Cincinnati in 1991, and figured what's $5,000 for me [$5,000 being the signing bonus received by replacement players]. They could keep that.

"Now if they would have offered me a college scholarship, bought me a house and paid for two cars, then we're talking business."

The major-league players were right: They could not be replaced, they cannot be replaced.

& Why so paranoid, then?

Murray could be available

Cleveland officials are considering ways of fitting potential free agent Roberto Alomar into their budget for next season. Under one possible scenario, Alomar would play second, Carlos Baerga would move to third, Jim Thome would play first. The Indians would use the money spent on designated hitter Eddie Murray this year ($3 million) toward signing Alomar next year. That would give the Indians four Gold Glovers in their middle defense -- in Alomar, short stop Omar Vizquel, center fielder Kenny Lofton and catcher Sandy Alomar.

* You can bet that if Murray leaves Cleveland, the Orioles would be the first to bid on him, giving him back No. 33 and providing a chance for him to hit his 500th career homer in a Baltimore uniform.

* Several other teams scanned the Orioles' roster to consider a trade for a pitcher in the past two weeks, but found that the club had not been able to get waivers on right-handers Kevin Brown and Scott Erickson. Boston has been blocking many AL teams from consummating trades by making waiver claims.

* The Texas Rangers' Mickey Tettleton hurt his knee (torn cartilage) making diving catches in the outfield, but he continues to play. "I've got a blown tire," he said. "It's no big deal. As long as I can go out there, I'll play. It won't take away from my speed, because I never had much anyway. . . . I'll keep playing as long as I'm not hurting the team."

* The Dodgers are laying some blame for Hideo Nomo's recent slump on the media. "I think [Nomo] is doing too much," said Dodgers right fielder Raul Mondesi. "A half-hour before the game, he's got 10 people around the locker. People have got to leave him alone."

* When Minnesota right-hander Brad Radke beat Texas with a 101-pitch complete game last week, he barely missed matching Mike Mussina's 100-pitch victory over Cleveland on May 17 -- the fewest pitches required for a nine-inning effort in the AL this year.

* Indians right fielder Manny Ramirez has run to first base three times on a three-ball count, and twice he has remained at the plate after drawing a walk. This is not the best example of situational hitting. Pirates vice president of marketing Steve Greenberg has shown a sense of humor during what has been a very dismal year for attendance at Three Rivers Stadium. One Pirates ad read: "Our marketing department's exhaustive research has concluded that our low attendance figures may be due in large part to uncomfortable seating. Please remember to fold the seat down. Thank you." Another, before a Pirates-Reds series: "A BUNCH OF SNARLING, RUTHLESS, CUTTHROAT SEAFARING BANDITS VERSUS A PRIMARY COLOR."

* The White Sox are denying rumors that they attempted to trade third baseman Robin Ventura to Los Angeles. Of course, they denied rumors that manager Gene Lamont, unemployed for three months now, was going to be fired.

* Seattle, says Boston manager Kevin Kennedy, will win the AL wild card. He said nothing about his former employers, the Rangers.

* San Diego general manager Randy Smith noted that "every team in the playoffs might be from the old NL West." He's right. Cincinnati and Atlanta are winning their respective divisions, and Los Angeles, Colorado and San Diego are in the running for the wild card.

* Clemens said that if the Red Sox win the World Series this year (stop laughing, please), then he'll likely retire.

Ill-timed injury

Former Orioles farmhand Vaughn Eshelman came up with a case of stiffness in his left shoulder this week, at a time when Boston was desperately looking for a way to replace Eshelman on the postseason roster. What a coincidence.

* Even Chicago catcher Ron Karkovice is expressing concern over the disappearing act of right-hander Jason Bere, hit for six runs in 4 1/3 innings Wednesday. "For some reason, he just wasn't throwing his fastball," Karkovice said. "Two pitches right down the middle -- probably 82-83 mph -- guys just turned on them. Some guys thought they were changeups. I don't know if he was hurting or just taking something off his fastball."

* Dave Burba's ERA at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium is 0.00 -- no runs in 36 2/3 innings. "Yeah, I'm aware of it," he said, "but we won't talk about it. I like the mound, it is easy to pick up the catcher's target, and all I have to do with this team is let them put the ball in play and somebody will run it down."

Can Ayala bounce back?

Norm Charlton has taken over from Bobby Ayala as Seattle's closer, but before the year's over, the Mariners will need Ayala to step up and get out tough right-handed hitters in the late innings. Seattle doesn't have enough depth to survive otherwise.

* Maybe it was the absence of Jeff Bagwell. Or perhaps the Craig McMurtry Factor. Either way, the Astros floundered, losing 11 straight at one point. Houston went 4-12 in its first 16 games after former replacement player McMurtry was promoted.

* Earlier this year, Reds GM Jim Bowden offered to trade any prospect in the Cincinnati farm system for Cleveland left-hander Alan Embree.

* Pirates pitcher Paul Wagner said he started to feel really good about his no-hit chances after Dante Bichette, 7-for-14 lifetime against Wagner, tried to bunt in the seventh. The way Wagner figured it, Bichette must have thought Wagner was throwing good stuff to feel as if he needed to try a bunt.

Can you take a hint?

First St. Louis traded for Cleveland third base prospect David Bell. Last week, it acquired third baseman Jose Oliva from Atlanta. Think Scott Cooper has a future with the Cardinals?

* Montreal's Wil Cordero has been moved from shortstop to left field.

* Cleveland pitching coach Mike Wiley is pushing reliever Jose Mesa for the Cy Young Award and the MVP. "When you consider what he's accomplished this year, breaking the record [for consecutive saves], with all the great closers in a game the last 15 years. I think a closer that means that much to his team should get considered," Wiley said.

* Portly Expos reliever Mel Rojas shocked his teammates by deftly fielding a bunt Tuesday. "I guess someone in our dugout must've yelled, 'HAMBURGER,' and Mel dove," said left-hander Jeff Fassero.

The numbers game

* Should Seattle designated hitter Edgar Martinez finish the year with an on-base percentage of higher than .500, he'll become only the sixth player to do so since 1900. The others: Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby and John McGraw.

* Cardinals first baseman John Mabry has batted in every spot in the batting order this year.

* Cincinnati utilityman Mariano Duncan drew his first walk in 318 at-bats on Tuesday. His last walk occured June 19, 1994.

* The California Angels were 11-15 since shortstop Gary DiSarcina, through games of Wednesday.

* Cleveland, its magic number under 10, should break easily the record for the quickest clinching of a division title. The record is Sept. 13, by the 1969 Orioles.

* Bryan Rekar came within three outs Wednesday of being only the second pitcher in Colorado franchise history to throw a complete-game shutout, but was pulled by manager Don Baylor. David Nied shut out Houston on June 21, 1994.

* The Giants are on their way to their worst pitching performance in club history, their team ERA of 4.76 worse than the franchise low of 4.61 in 1930. And last we checked, the Giants are in the running for a wildcard bid.

* The Padres are 5-14 in series-openers on the road, 14-5 in road finales.

* Indians No. 8 hitter Paul Sorrento hit 22 homers in his first 287 at-bats.

* Lenny Webster, one of the Phillies' replacements for injured catcher Darren Daulton, had thrown out only three of 37 runners attempting to steal through Wednesday's game.

* Going into Friday's start against California, Roger Clemens had a 2.19 ERA in his last six starts. His career record following Boston losses is 106-43. Jose Canseco loves to criticize the Athletics and tweak former manager Tony La Russa, and so he was taking a veiled shot at La Russa when he complemented Red Sox manager Kevin Kennedy. "We have a relationship totally different from any other manager I've had," Canseco said, "which is one other manager (La Russa). It's individual respect. Kevin understands me. I understand him. That makes me want to play for him even more." La Russa never backs off a challenge: "The Red Sox were playing their rears off when he was not there, and now he's enjoyed what they've done in the first half of the season, teaching them how to win. He's going to teach Mo Vaughn and Tim Naehring and those guys how to win? ... Jose has a selective memory. The respect quote ticked me off most of all. We respected him when he was here _ at first. But as oon as they need him, as soon as he doesn't care when they need him to

care, they'll stop respecting him." An Orioles fan sent a letter to manager Phil Regan this Week:

Dear Baltimore Orioles and Mr. Phil Regan, I am writing you guys because now I need your help.... I love the Orioles, but I did something maybe I should not have done, I've never bet on anything before. (But) after Mr. Regan took over as manager he made me believe the Orioles could do anything with his leadership, and I know he's a strong-willed man...so I took a risk. I had $700 for a lower and upper plate (of teeth). They cost $980. I had no other way to get any more money, so I bet on the Orioles games with the Red Sox and Yankees (Aug. 6-13). I lost all the money with you, Mr. Regan, Cal Ripken, Rafael Palmeiro and Bobby (Bonilla).... Is there anything the team could do to help me get my teeth? You could go to the dentist with me; I can't chew my food. Please write -- I believe you'll come through for me.

Thank you,

(A fan)

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