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At crossroads, party is over for O's

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Streak Week became a celebration of baseball, a party in which a nation of sports fans participated. As of Friday, however, Streak Week hangover had set in for the Orioles: Future Hall of Famer Cal Ripken may be a living legend, but he is still shortstop for a bad team facing an uncertain future.

The more Ripken stays the same, the more the Orioles change. Consider all that must be decided by the time spring training starts in 1996.

* The identity of the next general manager. Now that word is out that the Orioles asked about the availability of Cleveland Indians assistant GM Dan O'Dowd, it seems a foregone conclusion that Roland Hemond's tenure with the Orioles is at an end.

Who will follow? Well, by all accounts, Indians owner Richard Jacobs is serious about denying O'Dowd permission to talk to the Orioles. He may have second thoughts if he catches flak for not giving O'Dowd the opportunity to pursue a promotion, but the Orioles should assume, for the time being, that they're not going to get him.

San Diego GM Randy Smith may be next in line, assuming he parts company with the Padres and CEO Larry Lucchino. Whether it's Smith or O'Dowd, it's likely the incoming GM will bring along two or three sidekicks. (Smith, for instance, may wish to retain the services of Steve Lubratich, currently his assistant general manager.)

Once this decision is made, the next major decision is elementary, even something more important than the fate of current manager Phil Regan.

* In what direction is the organization headed? In other words, how will the organization define itself?

Will it be a team devoted to its farm system, such as the Atlanta Braves have been? Will it be a fiscally savvy club, such as Cleveland, which locked up many of its young players to long-term deals? Will the team combine the development of prospects with the signing of middle-class free agents, as the Boston Red Sox seem to be doing? Is this a team that, because of its extraordinary resource -- Camden Yards -- merely lives and dies on the free-agent market?

The GM, whether it be Hemond, or O'Dowd or Smith or somebody else, needs to establish a plan, and stick to it. Time and again, it has been proved that the best teams develop their own players, and when a potential contender is created, the club is augmented with free agents. The Atlanta Braves had good young talent, and then went out and traded for Fred McGriff and signed Greg Maddux.

As soon as this is accomplished, there is this:

* What will be Regan's fate? He started this job under the worst of circumstances, a long players' strike delaying spring training and preventing him the opportunity to evaluate talent. The abnormally high number of roster moves suggests that Regan hasn't liked the makeup of his disappointing team.

So, do you hold one skewed year against a first-year manager who, 12 months ago, was considered the hottest managerial prospect in the game? Or do you recognize and honor the distaste that Orioles fans currently have for Regan, eat the last year of his two-year contract, and move on?

If owner Peter Angelos and the new GM decide to make a change, they could have some big names from which to choose. Davey Johnson, Buck Showalter, Tom Lasorda, Sparky Anderson, perhaps Jim Leyland, if he asks out of his Pittsburgh Pirates contract.

Then come the dozens of player personnel decisions. Among those:

* Which pitchers are going to be retained from the current staff? The Orioles hold options on relievers Jesse Orosco and Doug Jones, and it figures that Orosco will return for sure, based on his performance. Jones, on the other hand . . . good question. Figure that only one pitcher among right-handers Ben McDonald, Kevin Brown and Scott Erickson will return; the Orioles already have a core of six players under contract for 1996 for a total of $26.5 million.

* What to do with Brady Anderson? Rafael Palmeiro will be at first, Bobby Bonilla in right and, quite possibly, Curtis Goodwin in center field. Club officials say that if the team wants to upgrade its power -- sign someone such as Sammy Sosa, assuming he's granted enough time to qualify for free agency -- then Anderson will have to be traded to free up salary and create an opening in the lineup in right or left.

* The bullpen. The Orioles may begin concentrating on player development, but they learned a hard lesson this year, failing to sign enough veterans capable of throwing middle relief -- a time when the Orioles lost so many games this year. They need to start the year with more depth, more experience. In retrospect, they were kidding themselves when they believed that they could get by with Armando Benitez and Brad Pennington holding down critical roles at the start of the season.

* Team speed. They need more, because they don't have speed at catcher (Chris Hoiles), first (Palmeiro), shortstop (Ripken), right field (Bonilla) and third base (whoever). They need a second baseman who can run, and if they do trade Anderson, they need a second baseman who can lead off. Chuck Knoblauch, who may not be tendered a contract by the Minnesota Twins, is one candidate. Roberto Alomar is another. Either would be an improvement. Goodwin may be ready to play center field and bat ninth, but his impatience at the plate (98 straight plate appearances without a walk, at one point) is a clear sign he's not close to being ready to lead off in the majors.

Streak Week was great. But everyday reality is here again, and it's back to the drawing board for the Orioles.

One man's vote

I'm lucky enough to have a vote in this year's AL Most Valuable Player balloting, and I've figured out who will get my 10th-place vote -- Ripken.

By normal standards, Ripken couldn't be ranked among the top 10 players on the field, based on his performance. He has had a good year defensively, average offensively, and wouldn't be considered in the same group as Albert Belle, Jose Mesa, Tim Wakefield, et al.

But Ripken has been important to baseball, lending credibility to a sport sadly lacking in such in the aftermath of the labor war. He is baseball's poster child; ESPN's ratings for Game No. 2,131 broke records, and Ripken's achievement stirred the consciousness of many of those fans who angrily abandoned the game.

One would argue that Ripken may be doing more for baseball than any player since Babe Ruth in 1920 and 1921, when the Bambino's awesome power overwhelmed the cynicism created by the 1919 Black Sox scandal, and since Jackie Robinson, who broke the color line in 1947.

Ripken is not a contender for the MVP award. But he is baseball's most valuable player, and just for that, he deserves some special recognition. A 10th-place vote for meritorious service should be just the start.

RIP, Kingdome?

A Seattle-area resident named Thomas E. Fallihee died last week, and at the end of his obituary, after the family and funeral information, the obituary reads: ". . . In lieu of flowers, a 'Yes' vote on the new stadium would be appreciated." On Sept. 19, King County voters will decide whether to bankroll another park for the Seattle Mariners to call home.

* New England Patriots coach Bill Parcells asked Oakland

Athletics manager Tony La Russa to read his new book and offer comment for the book's jacket. La Russa loves the book, and he plans to have copies distributed among the players after the book is published in December.

* The Colorado Rockies spent millions on pitchers Marvin Freeman, Bill Swift and Bret Saberhagen. But it has been two products of the club's farm system, Roger Bailey (third-round pick, 1992) and Bryan Rekar (second round, 1993) who have kept the team in wild-card contention.

* He was a member of the Cleveland organization when it was awful, and now Mike Hargrove is the manager some 41 years after the Indians last won a title. "I take a lot of personal satisfaction in being a part of this, because it hasn't happened in a long time," he said. "The club we have here today had nothing to do with 40 years of frustration, but it is a little more personal for me."

It was quiet, too quiet

The in-house crowd at Minnesota's Metrodome Wednesday was a little over 2,700. One time, a foul ball was hit down the left-field line, and after a minute or two, a fan walked over casually to pick up his souvenir. "It was so quiet that I could hear people's hearts beating," said Twins right fielder Kirby Puckett.

* Giants executive vice president Larry Baer said last week that he expects San Francisco fans won't dump on Deion Sanders if he signs with the Dallas Cowboys -- as he did yesterday -- instead of the 49ers. Sure, fans are very tolerant of what they would consider to be a form of treason.

* Gulf Coast League manager Woody Huyke compared Chad Hermansen, Pittsburgh's No. 1 pick this year, to Barry Bonds: "He can hit, run, throw, hit for power." And he's just 17.

* Boston manager Kevin Kennedy isn't saying whether Wakefield or Roger Clemens will start the first game of the AL playoffs.

208 and counting

At about the moment Bonds was watching Ripken's record-breaking game Wednesday on ESPN, somebody mentioned to the Giants outfielder that he had played in 208 straight games. "Come on, that ain't no streak. I ain't even in that class," Bonds said.

* Red Sox right-hander Erik Hanson has revitalized his curveball, which he threw for a time but hurt his arm trying.

* Visiting the Indians' clubhouse as an out-of-town writer is akin to walking through a bad neighborhood at 4 a.m. Of course, Cleveland writers get the same treatment from the likes of Belle, so there is no great loss.

* The Detroit Tigers asked pitcher Mike Moore if he would like to quit or be released, just as Oakland did with Ron Darling. Moore opted to go home.

A weighty move

The Houston Astros have moved left-hander Greg Swindell to the bullpen. He needs to talk to Sid Fernandez about weight loss.

* Speaking of El Sid, he has been bothered by stiffness in his left (throwing) shoulder.

* Texas Rangers first baseman Will Clark was ejected Tuesday for not giving first base umpire Dave Phillips a baseball. Clark caught a ball to end a half-inning, and as he walked off the field, he flipped it to a fan. Phillips told Clark to knock it off, Clark complained so angrily that Phillips ejected him. "It's a sad ejection," Phillips said, "in that there was no play involved."

* St. Louis' Tom Henke, leading the NL in saves with 33, is still leaning toward retiring after this season.

The final word

Texas manager Johnny Oates on Ripken: "The thing that made me feel the happiest was seeing his dad there. Everybody who knows me knows what he has meant to my career. Because of things that were out of my hands, he didn't stay around [as an Orioles coach] as long I would have liked. It made my night to see him there, and smiling on top of that. . . .

"I can't comprehend what this must be like [for Cal Ripken Jr.]. It must be a load off his mind. Now the pressure's on the manager when to give him a day off. You can't use The Streak as an excuse anymore."

The numbers game

* Milwaukee designated hitter Greg Vaughn was benched last week, and his production with a runner at third and less than two out may have had something to do with it. In 34 plate appearances in that situation, Vaughn has exactly no hits, and four sacrifice flies.

* In a recent stretch of five games, opposing batters went 11-for-23 (.478) against Cleveland closer Jose Mesa.

* Within a 16-day period, Atlanta's Greg Maddux threw four complete games, averaging 97 pitches per game, 10.7 pitches per inning, and he walked a total of one batter. Twice in that span of four games, Maddux won by the score of 1-0.

* Blue Jays right fielder Shawn Green has 42 extra-base hits this year, breaking Damaso Garcia's club record for rookies.

* Dennis Martinez's victory on Tuesday was the 229th of his career, which ties him with Luis Tiant for second place all-time among Latin pitchers. No. 1 is Hall of Famer Juan Marichal, with 243 wins.

* Ron Gant has killed the Houston Astros this year: 18 hits in 43 at-bats, eight homers and 18 RBI.

* Milwaukee's big problem this year has been identifying a consistent source of power _ and yet the Brewers lead the

majors with 10 grand slams.

* Barry Bonds, Glenallen Hill, Darren Lewis and Royce Clayton are the first Giants' quartet to steal four bases in the same season since 1915, when George Burns (27), Dave Robertson (22), Larry Doyle (22) and Fred Merkle (20) pulled off this feat.

* Fraud alert: The Colorado Rockies are hitting a major-league high .312 at home, but only .245 on the road, the second lowest in the major leagues.

* Boston right-hander Roger Clemens has been relieved with 18 runners on base this year, and not one has scored.

* Since Don Mattingly joined the Yankees Sept. 6, 1982 _ exactly 13 years before Cal Ripken played in Game No. 2,131 _ he has played with 257 players, or 21.1 percent of those who've appeared in games in Yankees history.

The wildcard chase puts a different spin on the Manager of the Year awards. The skipper of a .500 team would've been out of contention by Sept. 1. Now candidates can be created by a mini-run in September. The current front-runners:

AL

1. Marcel Lachemann. The Angels weren't supposed to be this good.

L 2. Mike Hargrove. The Indians were supposed to be this good.

3. Kevin Kennedy. Somehow, some way, the Red Sox are winning. Maybe he's had something to do with that.

NL

1. Jim Fregosi. The Phillies died in the second half of the year, but given all of the injuries and all of the holes they had before the season started, they never should've been in the running to begin with.

2. Davey Johnson. GM Jim Bowden does a good job providing players for him, but even through injuries to key players like Hal Morris and Ron Gant and Jose Rijo, they've just kept right on winning.

3. Jim Riggleman. Even in the Cubs organization, there was fear that this team would be awful this year, its winning percentage under .400. But it has surpassed all expectations. Two-fifths of the Los Angeles Dodgers' rotation could be from the Far East next year, because Chan Ho Park, from Korea, is expected to join Hideo Nomo. Park went 6-7 with a 4.91 ERA for Triple-A Albuquerque, and no longer requires an interpreter. He rented an apartment by himself, and bought a car, and followed Nomomania. "It's great to see what Nomo's doing," he said. "I sent him a letter when he got his first win, and another when he got his first shutout. It was great to see... He has brought respect to our part of the world." Park, 22, will pitch in the Arizona Fall League that begins in October, and may pitch in winter ball, in the Dominican Republic.

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