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O's, McDonald miss the big picture

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The most unfortunate aspect of the Ben McDonald episode last week was that it simply didn't have to happen. With a little foresight from the Orioles and some big-picture perspective on the part of McDonald, the controversy could have been minimized or avoided altogether.

This is what happened: Orioles manager Phil Regan, after conferring with general manager Roland Hemond, told McDonald Monday night that Jimmy Haynes, and not McDonald, would start on Wednesday night.

The next day, Regan said that McDonald was pitching out of the bullpen because he had more experience working in relief; never mind that McDonald's last appearance out of the bullpen was in 1990. Asked several times in several different manners about whether the decision had anything to do with the fact that McDonald might not be back with the Orioles next year and Haynes will, Regan stuck to his guns -- the decision was based on experience.

McDonald reacted angrily, saying he didn't understand what was happening. After Tuesday night's game against the Boston Red Sox, he said he would not pitch out of the bullpen and, suddenly, the Orioles had a confrontation on their hands. (The face-off ended Wednesday, when McDonald agreed to pitch out of the bullpen and Regan agreed to use him on preassigned days with plenty of time to warm up.)

This is what should have happened: Somebody -- Regan, or his boss, Hemond, who is in charge of personnel decisions -- should have simply announced the obvious. Haynes will definitely be part of the organization next year, and McDonald, because of his uncertain contract status, may not be; logically, then, giving Haynes a taste of the major leagues is more important than having McDonald pitch a few innings.

If McDonald is going to be back with the Orioles next year, he'll have to take a massive pay cut. His agent, Scott Boras, is noted for his stubbornness in negotiations (one of his clients, Jason Varitek, sat out for more than a year after being drafted).

McDonald sat out for months after the Orioles drafted him in 1989, as Boras negotiated a signing bonus. There's no telling what will happen if the Orioles ask McDonald to sign for a salary of less than 50 percent of the $4.5 million he's currently making.

Maybe McDonald would take $1.5 million-$2 million. Maybe not. The Orioles don't know. It's perfectly reasonable they would want to see Haynes pitch, knowing he'll be part of the rotation sometime in 1996, rather than McDonald, who may wind up someplace else.

"Why in the world didn't they just tell the truth? Everybody would've recognized their rationale," another baseball executive said last week.

The Oakland Athletics faced the same dilemma when they released veteran Ron Darling last month, and they were straightforward. They made it clear they liked Darling, thought he was a good guy and he had done a good job. But they didn't consider him to be part of their future, and they were better off giving his spot to someone who will be with Oakland next year.

McDonald mishandled the situation, as well. He's being paid to pitch in whatever role the Orioles think is best for the club, and if that happens to be in the bullpen, McDonald had an obligation to honor that.

McDonald said he wishes Regan would have told him that he was going to pitch out of the bullpen back in August or in early September, but that shouldn't make any difference. McDonald is obligated, in theory, to approach his rehabilitation the same way, no matter what the Orioles planned for him, no matter what his contract status is for 1996. (Maybe he did understand this before agreeing to work out of the bullpen Wednesday).

However, had the Orioles been up front with him and everybody else and explained their perfectly logical reasons for starting Haynes, McDonald's only gripe -- if he had chosen to make it -- would have been with baseball's economic system.

Bad news Bucs

A friend tells this story about a trip to Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium this week: He goes to a ticket window a half hour before game time, to purchase two tickets, normally sold for $14 apiece, on Half Price Night. He hands the salesman a $100 bill. The salesman can't take it -- he doesn't have enough change -- and suggests that the salesman at the next window could do better. The friend does so, handing $100 to the next salesman, for two tickets. The salesman says the cost will be $28. The

friend asks if that's right, isn't this Half Price Night? Oh, yeah, said the salesman, you're right, I forgot, and he goes on to explain that these were the first tickets he had sold since opening his window. Yes, baseball in Pittsburgh is in trouble.

* The St. Louis Cardinals' Tom Henke went 47 appearances without a decision before taking a loss Friday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The record is held by Mike Flanagan, who had 42 appearances without a win or a loss for the Orioles in 1992.

* The Dodgers have benched shortstop Jose Offerman. He sounded surprised at the news, a surprise in itself.

* Anybody who says that the only thing Deion Sanders cares about is money is off base. There are his two kids, Deion Jr. and Deiondra. No word on what he might name his next child, but you could take a pretty good stab at the root word.

Looking at Benes

The Toronto Blue Jays will be scouting potential free agent Andy Benes the rest of the year and may pursue him during the off-season. They'll face competition from the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox.

* If and when the Orioles seriously consider going after Minnesota Twins second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, they should remember that his lifetime batting average on grass is about 50 points less than it is on artificial surfaces.

* Florida Marlins right fielder Gary Sheffield is going to work out with former Mr. Universe Lee Haney in the off-season. "I want to look like Ron Gant next year," Sheffield said.

* Chicago owner Jerry Reinsdorf says he sees no reason why the White Sox can't compete with Cleveland for first place next year. Here's one reason: The Indians will win about 20 more games.

Tigers farewell

When Detroit finishes its season in Baltimore -- and the careers of manager Sparky Anderson, Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell come to an end -- the Orioles are planning some sort of ceremony to honor those Tigers. Anderson has said Whitaker and Trammell will play second and shortstop together only twice more the rest of this season, in Detroit's last home game and the last game of the year, at Camden Yards.

* When Anderson ordered an intentional walk of the Brewers' David Hulse in the ninth inning Wednesday night, it was Milwaukee's first walk in 22 innings.

* A NL coach says the team that nobody wants to play these days is the New York Mets. "People talk about the Pirates' pitching and the Padres' pitching," he said. "They're not even close to the Mets. In about two years, when all those young pitchers develop, they're going to have an awesome staff."

* The Marlins had Atlanta Braves reliever Mark Wohlers clocked at 103 mph last week. "It's the only time in the majors that I've seen that," said Florida pitching coach Larry Rothschild. "We had the 'Nasty Boys' at Cincinnati, but I've never seen anything like that. Rob Dibble, on his best day, hit 100. Wohlers wasn't under 100 the whole time."

Canseco in right

Jose Canseco has begun taking fly balls in right field, to prepare for the possibility of playing against an NL team in the World Series. After the Red Sox clinch the AL East, Canseco will play a few games in the outfield, which he hasn't done since May 1993. "Right now, I'm able to throw very well from short distances and I'll just have to expand that little by little," he said.

* The Seattle Mariners called up Mac Suzuki, who is, like Hideo Nomo, a native of Japan. But Suzuki's promotion was spurred by a contractual obligation.

* After a game Tuesday night, Oakland manager Tony La Russa posted his lineup for Wednesday, saying that it helped players prepare.

* Colorado's Dante Bichette realizes that others around baseball think his numbers are somewhat farcical because he plays in hitter-friendly Coors Field. "Unfortunately, you do not get respect for playing in Coors Field," he said. "I don't like not getting respect. I think I'm a pretty good player. Maybe I'm not a 40-home-run guy somewhere else, but I'm a pretty good player." Cincinnati Reds GM Jim Bowden calls Coors Field "a joke . . . where they play arena baseball."

'A team player'

The Tigers claimed second baseman Steve Rodriguez on waivers from the Red Sox, and he immediately caught a red eye to the Motor City. Unfortunately, his equipment was lost en route, and he had to borrow from other Tigers. "I've got [Scott] Fletcher's cleats, "Trammell's batting gloves, [Danny] Bautista's bat, [Phil] Nevin's T-shirt and [Joe] Boever's glove," he said. "I guess you could say I'm a team player."

* The Athletics' Rick Honeycutt, describing his ERA with the Texas Rangers last year: "I had a jumbo jet ERA, 7.27."

* Cubs GM Ed Lynch said last week that it's time to start looking bTC for answers as to why his boys play so poorly at Wrigley Field.

* Toronto general manager Gord Ash believes his team is prepared to move forward, with only $13 million committed in long-term salaries for next year (to Joe Carter, John Olerud, Pat Hentgen and Tony Castillo). "We're down right where we want to be, salary-wise," said Ash, who likely will bid on closers Rick Aguilera or Randy Myers this off-season.

* The Blue Jays probably won't exercise their $4 million option on Paul Molitor, which will make him a free agent. This might be someone for the Orioles to think about, if they look beyond Harold Baines. Molitor, who says he's willing to sign someplace other than Minnesota or Milwaukee, still could play some first base, as well, if Rafael Palmeiro wanted a day off.

Cal West?

Third baseman Tim Wallach earned much respect from his Dodgers teammates for returning to the lineup, even after doctors told him he needed surgery to repair a torn ligament in his knee suffered Aug. 26. "Just call him 'Cal' Wallach," said bullpen coach Mark Cresse. "The guy's incredible, isn't he?" Pitcher Tom Candiotti said, "It's absolutely amazing. Here we are, two weeks ago, thinking he's out for the season. Not only is he back, but he's back in the lineup." Wearing a brace.

* An angry Luis Aquino said the San Francisco Giants released him last week because he was close to attaining a $20,000 incentive clause in his contract. GM Bob Quinn said it had more to do with Aquino's 14.40 ERA.

* The recent hot streak of St. Louis center fielder Ray Lankford came during his 1-year-old daughter's recovery from second-degree burns, suffered when she pulled a container of coffee over herself. "I knew I loved my daughter before," Lankford said. "But now I realize how lucky I really am to have her."

* Rangers manager Johnny Oates was asked if he had any advice for the Orioles before they played the Yankees this week, New York being one of Texas' rivals for the wild-card spot. "No, I don't think they need any help from me," Oates said. "I gave them my advice last year. Look where it got me."

THE NUMBERS GAME

* When Frank Thomas drove in his 100th run Wednesday night, he became only the fifth players to do so in his first five full seasons. The others _ Al Rosen, Hal Trotsky, Joe DiMaggio and Al Simmons.

* Before he walked five lefties pitching against Kansas City Sept. Randy Johnson had walked one left-handed hitter in 167.2 innings _ Brady Anderson, on Aug. 21. Anderson also has three of the nine hits lefties have against Johnson this year, in 72 at-bats.

* Norm Charlton, released by the Philadelphia Phillies July 10, has 28 strikeouts and allowed just 12 hits in his last 21.1 innings.

* Fernando Valenzuela is the only starting pitcher to earn a victory in the Padres' last 23 games.

* Jay Powell was named the No. 1 pitcher in the Florida organization this year, and has an excellent chance to be a setup man in the Marlins bullpen next year. Powell, Orioles fans will recall, was the O's No. 1 pick in 1993, before being traded to Florida for Bret Barberie.

* If Cleveland slugger Albert Belle leads the majors in homers, he'll be the first Indian ever to do so.

* The Reds are trying to align their pitching for the playoffs, and must consider this: Ace Pete Schourek is 12-2 with a 1.81 ERA at home, 4-5 and a 4.53 ERA on the road.

* Dan Miceli become the sixth reliever in Pirates' history to save 20 games. The others are Dave Giusti, Kent Tekulve, Goose Gossage, Bill Landrum and Baltimore's adopted son, Jim Gott.

* On Tuesday night, Padres manager Bruce Bochy used five pinch-hitters in the same inning.

* When Mariano Duncan hit leadoff for Cincinnati Tuesday, he became the eighth different player to do so this year.

* A month ago, Cubs right-hander Jim Bullinger was 10-2 with a 2.71 ERA. In his last six starts, however, he's gone 1-5 with a 8.06 ERA.

The inventors of the wildcard wanted to inject some excitement into the last weeks of the seasons for those teams who would've been otherwise eliminated. For some teams, it has. But for others...

The Yankees: A month ago, the Yankees appeared to be the laughingstock of baseball, a massive payroll with nothing to show for it. Right now, however, they may have the best chance of any AL team to beat Cleveland in the postseason, if the Yankees get there.

Seattle: The Mariners need the wildcard race, as they attempt to convince King County voters to provide a new ballpark for them and keep baseball in the Northwest.

San Diego: Wildcard fever in San Diego means weekday attendance of 8,000. Yeesh.

Oakland: The Athletics wanted to move forward and start planning for 1996 and play their youngsters. But alleged wildcard contention has prevented manager Tony La Russa from doing this. A step in the wrong direction.

Kansas City: Oakland and the Royals met in a wildcard battle Thursday, a crowd of 8,429 overwhelmed the Coliseum. Somehow, it's hard to think of Kansas City being a playoff team, with a lineup of Johnny Damon, Tom Goodwin and Jon Nunnally.

The Braves called up left-handed pitcher Tom Thobe from Triple-A last weekend, and immediately he distinguished himself a flake. Thobe, a native of Huntington Beach, Fla., arrived in the clubhouse wearing old tennis shoes and a pair of khakis, claiming to have misplaced his only tie. And Thobe didn't have a game-ready glove. He lost his own two weeks before the end of the minor-league season, and finished out the year using gloves borrowed from teammates. He did bring with him a left-handed catcher's mitt, and a beat up infielder's glove. His reaction to being called up to the majors: "A big surprise. Cool. I didn't want (the International League) season to be over. I didn't want to go out and find another way to make money." His other options? "You'd look at a video store or something. I don't have a college education. Maybe a Subway night guy."

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