FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Several Orioles players say privately that one thing they really like about new manager Davey Johnson is that he hasn't come into camp trying to establish himself. Rather, he's willing to listen and talk with the players before making decisions.
In the first days of camp, he has spent a lot of time talking with the players about different aspects of fundamentals, different ways of running plays. In particular, he has been in constant conversation with shortstop Cal Ripken.
Coincidentally, the first flashpoint between former manager Phil Regan and the Orioles players who would say he wasn't the best communicator occurred early in spring training, when Regan tried to change defensive plays.
Johnson, on the other hand, is listening to Ripken and Roberto Alomar and others and reaching a consensus. Yesterday, for instance, he effectively allowed Ripken and Alomar to run the cut-off plays on one field while he tended to the cut-off plays on the other.
"They'll keep everybody in the right spot," Johnson said.
Ripken is measured in his praise, even of people for whom he has tremendous respect. But already he has good things to say about Johnson.
"I don't know that much about Davey yet," he said. "I haven't played against him. . . . But he's a winner -- just check his track record. When he comes on the field, everyone knows he's the leader."
Alan Mills persuaded Regan last year to let him keep his Fu Manchu mustache, but he's having no such luck with Johnson. The new manager noticed Mills' facial hair growing in yesterday, and told Mills, with a smile, that he could keep a mustache, but not one that grew beyond his lower lip. . . . The cover of the Orioles media guide is a collective cartoon of many of the Orioles' players, new and old. Reliever Roger McDowell is
depicted as giving Johnson a hotfoot, lighting the manager's shoe on fire. McDowell said in his first two years playing for Johnson in New York in the '80s, "I gave Davey so many hotfoots, he said that if I did it again, I wouldn't pitch anymore. It stopped."
B. J. Surhoff appears to be settling down at third base, fielding grounders and throwing with greater ease. Surhoff is attempting to play a position he didn't play at all in 1995. . . . David Wells had an ingrown toenail taken off his left big toe. . . . Johnson said McDowell continues to be bothered by a sore right shoulder and the manager didn't plan on using him in the intrasquad games today or tomorrow. But pitching coach Pat Dobson asked McDowell about resting his shoulder, and McDowell told him he wants to pitch. "So he's going to pitch," Dobson said, shrugging his shoulders. . . . McDowell and Scott Erickson made their teammates laugh with their dramatic pursuit of fly balls during batting practice. By the end of the day, Erickson's pants were covered with grass stains. "Power shagging," he called it.
Making the pivot
Early in the workout, Johnson worked with Alomar, Bill Ripken, Brad Tyler and Jeff Huson at second practicing the double play, taking the throw from short and avoiding the runner as they stepped on the bag.
Notably absent was Manny Alexander, whose primary position last year was second base. Alexander has devoted nearly all of his defensive work this spring to shortstop, a position that he wouldn't play much for the Orioles this season, barring an injury to Ripken or a shocking lineup change.
Just throw strikes
In the intrasquad games today and tomorrow, Johnson and Dobson will put a premium on pitchers who throw strikes, get ahead of the hitters and keep the ball down.
Dobson has been stressing to the pitchers that they should try to get opposing hitters to put the ball in play, and take advantage of the extraordinary defense the Orioles should have up the middle with Ripken, Alomar and Brady Anderson.
Myers nearly ready
Randy Myers, who reported to camp eight days after the rest of the pitchers and catchers, will throw batting practice for the first time tomorrow, for about 10 minutes, and may pitch in the Orioles' first "B" game on March 5. "He'd been throwing a lot before he got here," Dobson said, "so he's in pretty good shape."
Two down, four to go
The Orioles signed outfielder Mark Smith ($130,000 if he makes the major-league team, $50,000 in the minors) and pitcher Mark Lee ($190,000 majors, $89,000 minors), leaving four unsigned players -- pitcher Rick Krivda, catcher Cesar Devarez, Alexander and outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds.
Assistant general manager Kevin Malone says he expects to sign Krivda, Devarez and Alexander shortly, but isn't sure what's going to happen in negotiations with Hammonds.
If the Orioles can reach an agreement, they will unilaterally renew his contract Saturday. "I hope not," Malone said. "But we're trying to be fair, and they're trying to do what they think is fair, and you don't know [where that will lead]." Hammonds made $250,000 last year.