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For Orioles, word to wise means asking Cal's advice

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The turnover could be massive in the Orioles' organization this off-season. There could be a new general manager, a new assistant general manager, a new manager. There will be many new players, certainly.

Whenever the Orioles decide who will be the general manager -- whether it's Roland Hemond, Frank Robinson, Randy Smith, Dan O'Dowd or someone else -- and then determine whether Phil Regan will return, the GM should solicit advice from one of the most astute minds in the game, someone already on the club payroll.

Cal Ripken.

The reasons are twofold. First, Ripken possesses a deep knowledge of players' strengths and weaknesses, and, some within the organization say, he has strong ideas about how a winning team can be put together (although he's always been reluctant to share these with the media).

The second is that, simply put, Ripken stands tall on this team. Whether he wants to do so or not, this is a fact. Other players look up to him more than they will ever look up to any manager, coach or other teammate. Tacit approval from him means immediate approval from a large contingent of his teammates, whether it's regarding defensive signals or personnel moves.

Naturally, there would be limits on what kind of input the Orioles should get from a player, even of Ripken's stature.

If they look for another manager, should Ripken be put in a position of giving approval to a specific replacement for Regan? Absolutely not. You can't have a manager beholden to a player for his job, or a manager chosen in spite of a player's objection. It won't work.

But Ripken could be asked for general input.

What kind of manager does he think the Orioles need? One who is firm with players, or more of a players' manager? Does he think a manager inclined toward a running game would be better, or a power game? Does Ripken think a manager should be one who relies heavily on starters, or one who uses his bullpen a lot?

Ripken's input would be helpful in player personnel moves. If Bobby Bonilla is going to be the third baseman, the GM could ask Ripken for the names of backup possibilities. He could give Ripken the names of three free-agent pitchers and ask him about the strengths and weaknesses of each, relative to Camden Yards and the Orioles' defense. Ripken could be asked about how he thinks certain free agents might mix in the Orioles' clubhouse.

No situation should be presented to him so that he's asked to make a final decision -- that's the GM's job -- but his suggestions could be taken under advisement.

Smith has worked this way in San Diego with Tony Gwynn, who, like Ripken, commands the respect of his teammates. In '94, Smith gave Gwynn a list of pitchers and asked which ones he liked, and Gwynn recommended Willie Blair -- who was acquired this year by the Padres and has done a decent job as a middle reliever/spot starter.

The Orioles pay scouts thousands of dollars to watch other players and offer recommendations. Why not use their $6 million man in the same capacity?

A bid for La Russa?

A prediction for how the Orioles will conduct business in the first week of the off-season:

Hemond will be moved into a different role, something such as chairman of baseball operations. In the first days that follow the regular season, the Orioles will ask for permission to talk to Oakland manager Tony La Russa, who has a contractual option that can void the final year of his contract with the Athletics in the first 10 days of the off-season. Hemond, who gave La Russa his first managerial job in Chicago, will help lure La Russa to Baltimore.

(Which would cost the Orioles significant dollars; La Russa's 1995 salary was $1.25 million, and he probably would be looking for a three-year contract from his next employer.)

La Russa would replace Regan, who would be offered a special assistant's role in the scouting department. The Orioles could be trying, simultaneously, to hire a general manager, who would be given assurances that he would work in concert with Hemond, rather than under Hemond.

If the Orioles do, in fact, look for a general manager to replace Hemond, assistant GM Robinson deserves consideration. He has put in the time with the organization, he wants to be a general manager and he has been the No. 2 man to Hemond for the past year.

Caminiti takes a hit

The first real indication of the coming depression in salaries is the contract extension that the San Diego Padres' Ken Caminiti will soon sign.

Here's a switch-hitting All-Star third baseman who will finish this year with something close to a .300 batting average, 25 homers and 90 RBIs. He's regarded as one of the finest defensive players at his position, and despite all that marketability, he'll take a cut from $4.35 million for '95 to $3 million for each of the next two seasons.

Keep that in mind when the Orioles make their decisions on Ben McDonald ($4.5 million) and Kevin Brown ($4.225 million).

'Running out of room'

The California Angels aren't masking their feelings of distress over blowing one of the biggest leads in major-league history.

"We're all looking over our shoulders," said pitcher Chuck Finley. The way we're playing, it's not going to take too much to be caught." He said this the day before they were caught.

Angels manager Marcel Lachemann: "Your mind keeps rolling like some kind of mental videotape. You keep going over things . . . the coulda, shoulda, whatever syndrome, I guess. It's my responsibility to get this team back to where it was, but what it's going to take, I don't know. We're running out of leeway; we're running out of room."

A month ago, Jim Edmonds was considered a front-runner for the AL MVP balloting. On Wednesday, Lachemann pinch hit for him with the Angels down three runs. "If I was the manager," Edmonds said, "I think I would have pulled me out of there in the third inning. That's how bad I've been lately." He's not alone.

Belle, media don't mix

The AL office is somewhat concerned over the potential clash between Cleveland slugger Albert Belle and the media in the off-season. Belle has become infamous for his treatment of writers and broadcasters. His best blow-off line of last week, to a Chicago radio reporter: "I don't know you, I don't want to know you, I don't want to talk to you." . . . . Barry Larkin has become a leader in the Cincinnati clubhouse. Last week, he called a players meeting, aired his opinions to his peers for about 30 minutes and then, a few days later, led the Reds to victory in spite of a hand injury.

Cards' deck pleases Smith

The Cardinals' play hasn't generated much optimism in St. Louis this season, but the team's recent burst has Ozzie Smith feeling hopeful.

"You see what Ray [Lank- ford] is capable of doing now," Smith said. "[Bernard] Gilkey is taking what he did a year ago and has expanded on it. And Brian [Jordan] has made giant strides.

"You add [Alan] Benes and allow these other guys to have another year under their belt, I think it's going to be a team to be reckoned with. We have a good nucleus here and I'm really getting excited about it." . . . . NL umpire Bruce Froemming, asked if there were similarities between St. Louis rookie pitcher Alan Benes and his older brother Andy: "He's tall."

Look out, Flanny?

If La Russa is hired by the Orioles, it figures that he might want to bring along Dave Duncan as pitching coach. . . . As lousy as the Giants have been, they may get worse; they don't have any way to make substantial changes in the off-season. San Francisco already is obligated to pay almost $20 million to three players -- Barry Bonds ($8 million), Matt Williams ($6.25 million) and Robby Thompson ($4.625 million). . . . Braves catcher Eddie Perez is making a strong impression playing in place of injured Javier Lopez. Perez has been better defensively, and he's hitting, as well.

Orosco is '96 bargain

The Orioles' '96 option on lefty Jesse Orosco, by the way, is a bargain, at $500,000. The decision on Doug Jones' option will be a little tougher -- $1.3 million. There aren't many free-agent closers available after this season, the best being Rick Aguilera (expected to re-sign with Boston) and Randy Myers. But Philadelphia seems willing to part with Heathcliff Slocumb, who has faded in the final weeks of the year, and San Francisco may decline to tender Rod Beck a contract. The Orioles have to make decisions on Jones and Orosco by Oct. 31.

Avery gets special tutor

Atlanta pitching coach Leo Mazzone grew so frustrated with left-hander Steve Avery (7-13, 4.91 ERA) that he has invited broadcaster Don Sutton to talk to the pitcher. In his first outing after conversing with Sutton last week, Avery beat the the New York Mets with his first complete game since May. . . . In midseason, Mets manager Dallas Green was supposedly a goner. But the the Bergen (N.J.) Record reported yesterday that Green will be back next season.

No help for hitters

Detroit's new stadium, which may be built in time for the 1998 season, will have the same dimensions as Tiger Stadium. That means hitters still will be able to hit 440-foot flyouts to straightaway center field. . . . The Los Angeles Dodgers say they won't bid on any of the Japanese pitchers expected to come to the United States before next season. "I think Hideo [Nomo] is a special case," said Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley.

The numbers game

Fred McGriff's streak of 30-homer seasons is in danger. McGriff, who has hit at least 30 homers in each of the previous seven years, had 26 going into the Braves' weekend series with Montreal.

One reason for the great California collapse of '95: Tony Phillips, who ignited this offense in the first months of the year, is hitting .200 with twice as many strikeouts (62) as walks (30) since Aug. 1.

Through games of Tuesday, Seattle's Edgar Martinez has produced a higher percentage of his team's runs (26.5) than any other player in the AL. Jim Edmonds ranked second (24.4), Mo Vaughn third (24.1), Rafael Palmeiro eighth (23.0).

The Dodgers may have the upper hand in the NL wild-card race, because of the Jim Gott factor: Every team that has rid itself of Gott has gone on to make the playoffs the next year. St. Louis in 1982, Toronto in 1985, San Francisco in 1988 and Pittsburgh in 1990. Gott left the Dodgers after last year to sign with the Pirates.

During a span of eight at-bats Monday and Tuesday, Cleveland's Albert Belle saw 20 pitches, swung at eight of them, and hit homers in five of his eight swings.

The Rockies used eight different starting pitchers over nine games recently.

When the mighty Cleveland Indians established a club home run record Wednesday, the guy who put them over the top, with No. 188, was Bill Ripken.

The Pirates have five pitchers with at least 50 appearances ' Dan Plesac, Mike Dyer, Dan Miceli, Jason Christiansen and Jeff McCurry.

More Belle: He is only the fourth player in major-league history to have more than 50 doubles and 40 homers in a single season. The others are Lou Gehrig in 1927 (52 doubles, 47 homers), Chuck Klein in 1930 (59-40) and Hank Greenberg (50-41).

Ray Lankford and Brian Jordan are the first St. Louis duo to each hit at least 20 homers since 1980, when George Hendrick (25) and Ted Simmons (21) pulled that off.

In '92 and '93, the Braves sold their playoff tickets in a matter of hours. The club put up 110,000 playoff tickets for sale last Sunday, and as of Wednesday, 39,000 remained.

Going into Friday's game, Gary Sheffield already had set Florida club records for homers (9) and RBIs (25) for one month.

In his last five starts, Yankees rookie Andy Pettitte is 5-0 with a 2.57 ERA. Talk about pressure pitching.

On the move

Major League Baseball is looking more and more like the NFL, a league in which two clubs can depart a major media market like Los Angeles in the off-season and nobody blinks. The talk of possible franchise moves has interfered with wildcard fever.

Seattle: The Mariners owners made their stance very clear before the stadium vote this week. Give us a new ballpark and we'll stay. Otherwise, the team would go on the market and look to move.

Pittsburgh: Pirates manager Jim Leyland was in tears after Wednesday's game, thinking that perhaps it would be the final game in Pittsburgh. "I'm a guy who believes in miracles," he said. "I believe I'm going to be managing the Pittsburgh Pirates in Three Rivers Stadium next year, somehow, someway." If he believes wholeheartedly, why the tears? Group from California seems close to deal.

Milwaukee: New stadium proposal may be unconstitutional, lawyers say. Milwaukee's taste for the Brewers seems to be waning, too, so one wonders how much litigation the club can stand.

San Diego: Nothing is imminent, but the club isn't drawing well, and the city seems much more interested in facilitating the Chargers than the Padres. Lease is up after 1999, and maybe the patience of new owner John Moores will be drained.

Caught from behind

Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza is chasing Padres right fielder Tony Gwynn in the NL batting race, attempting to prevent Gwynn from winning his sixth batting title. The Dodgers played the Padres in Los Angeles this weekend, and Piazza had a plan. "I'm going to tell him what's coming every pitch," he said. No kidding? "The way I figure it," Piazza said, "when we make a good pitch, he usually hits it, anyway. So why not try something different?"

Buster Olney's week in review

QUOTE

"I think that [Streak Week] had a lot of effect on him. He wasn't getting any time alone, he wasn't getting any time to spend with us [his friends]. Everybody needs that. You can't concentrate on the game 24 hours a day, which is what he was doing."

Catcher Chris Hoiles, on possible reasons for Cal Ripken's slump

The week ahead

Tuesday-Wednesday. The Orioles play the Blue Jays in what is, in effect, two meaningless games in the standings. However, the O's are looking forward to a team golf tournament on the day off Monday. And maybe Cal Ripken or a couple of the other players can stop by second base and mention to Roberto Alomar about how great it is to play at Camden Yards. The trip to Toronto doesn't have to be a total loss.

Friday-Sunday. The final games of the year, and perhaps the final games in the careers of Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell and manager Sparky Anderson. Mike Mussina pitches the season finale, and perhaps he'll give Whitaker and Trammell a few more fastballs to hit, if the Orioles are comfortably ahead.

The bad

On Monday afternoon, Orioles manager Phil Regan called Curtis Goodwin into his office and told him he needed to be more patient and take more pitches if he was ever going to develop into a major-league leadoff hitter. Goodwin agreed, then swung at the game's first pitch, and swung at the first pitch in three of his five at-bats.

The good

On Wednesday, Rafael Palmeiro became the first left-handed hitter to mash 37 homers since Boog Powell. He also drove in his 100th run, in the Orioles' 135th game of the season.

The ugly

Tiger Stadium. Maybe it's the park's weathered appearance, the old, dingy orange jackets worn by the ushers, the bad home team. But it's a good thing a new park is on the way.

A move that paid off...

Regan allowed Jimmy Haynes, Scott Erickson and Mike Mussina all to pitch deep into their starts against the Tigers, bypassing what has been an enigmatic middle relief corps.

... and one that didn't

Mussina fed hittable fastballs to Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell Thursday, hoping the Tiger legends would get hits in what could be their last at-bats in Detroit. Alas, each grounded out to third in the ninth inning.

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