Before it's too late, Orioles should trade Alexander

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Manny Alexander sits and waits for his chance to play, and the Orioles hang onto him, sitting and waiting for the day when Cal Ripken moves to third base or retires. It's a game that has been going on for years.

The time has come for the Orioles to trade Alexander. They are to the point where sitting and waiting no longer makes any sense.

Ripken has been the Orioles' shortstop for almost 14 years now, and there is no reason to believe that trend is going to end soon. Ripken no longer is the impact player he once was, but he continues to be a relatively good offensive shortstop, and a solid defensive shortstop.

He does not have Alexander's range or his cannon throwing arm. But Alexander isn't nearly as consistent as Ripken, doesn't possess Ripken's knowledge of hitters or his experience, and doesn't command the respect Ripken does. Roberto Alomar came here, in part, because he wanted to play with No. 8. And, above all else, the Orioles appear as if they're going to keep on winning, the best reason for keeping the current alignment intact.

Alexander sits and waits for a chance that obviously isn't going to come this year.

But what makes anyone think that opportunity will come next year?

Let's assume the Orioles qualify for the playoffs this year. Let's assume that next year, manager Davey Johnson wants to see how his team would perform with Alexander at short and Ripken at third. Could he justify the move -- to Ripken, whose stubborn competitiveness is part of what makes him such a great and historic player -- if the Orioles are coming off their first postseason trip in 13 years?

It's a quandary that has taken on another level since the season began. Could Johnson justify moving Ripken and B. J. Surhoff, who is proving to be a highly competent third baseman?

Maybe Johnson, with his managerial acumen established, could pull it off, if he so chose. But Johnson said that one of his jobs as manager is to be right "100 percent of the time." What if he made Alexander the shortstop, and Alexander made an inordinate number of careless errors and batted .220? Where would Johnson stand then in the eyes of a veteran team? It's a risky proposition.

The time to trade Alexander is now, when he has some value, when he's coming off a decent showing in spring training (although he did fade at the end). This is the second straight season wasted in his development as a shortstop, and that isn't exactly augmenting his market attractiveness.

He's young enough that teams will look at him as a possible everyday player for a few years. Alexander is 25, according to the Orioles' media guide. But most scouts and executives believe he's older than that. Other teams look at him as an infielder in his late 20s, with four or five productive years remaining in his career.

Alexander hasn't adjusted to sitting on the bench, as have the Orioles' two other utility players, Bill Ripken and Jeff Huson. Alexander is unhappy and he wants to play, and he wants to play shortstop. An occasional start in right field or left or at third will do nothing to satisfy his desire to be an everyday shortstop in the majors.

Johnson wants to give more outfield playing time to Bobby Bonilla, and he says he wants to expand Mike Devereaux's role and play Jeffrey Hammonds just about every day, and establish Tony Tarasco. Makes sense. But Johnson can't do all of that and find a regular opportunity for Alexander. There just aren't enough at-bats to go around.

Alexander doesn't see any future with the Orioles. He has said repeatedly he cannot imagine a time when Ripken isn't the shortstop, and it's hard to argue with him.

Trade Manny Alexander. Trade him now.

The longest game

Fifteen years ago last week, a couple of guys named Boggs and Ripken played in the longest game in pro baseball history.

It took 32 innings on April 18-19, 1981, and a 33rd inning two months later for the Pawtucket Red Sox to surface as 3-2 xTC winners over the Rochester Red Wings.

Pawtucket's Wade Boggs had a key hit to prolong the game in the bottom of the 21st. In a sign of things to come, Rochester's Cal Ripken played all 33 innings.

"Of all the games I've played in, that's one of the few that I easily remember," Ripken told the Associated Press. "Has it been 15 years? It's still fresh in my mind. We've all played in marathon nine-inning games and extra-inning games, but that game was different."

The last inning was played June 23 before thousands of fans and a horde of national media drawn by its novelty and the news drought during the 1981 major-league strike.

Ripken, who was 2-for-13, said the suspension -- at 4: 09 a.m. Easter Sunday with 19 fans in the stands -- was merciful.

"It never would have ended that night," he said. "They had to [suspend it] because it had no chance of ending."

The game eventually did end when Dave Koza singled to left off Cliff Speck to score Marty Barrett. Game time: 8 hours, 25 minutes over 66 days.

Perusing the box scores

Andy Benes allowed 12 hits in five innings and had no strikeouts against the Pirates last week, curious numbers for a guy who's supposed to be a power pitcher.

Kevin Brown is 0-3 and the Marlins are sinking. Wonder how he's handling that.

Jose Offerman is being replaced more and more often by David Howard as the Royals' shortstop.

The Orioles were belittled from these parts for losing to Oakland lefty Doug Johns last season, but it looks more and more as if Johns is legitimate.

Sherman Obando's batting average is about half of Tony Tarasco's.

Two former stars, the Cubs' Ryne Sandberg and Cincinnati's Vince Coleman, aren't hitting at all; it'll be interesting to see how patient their respective managers are, given that both are subpar defensively.

John Olerud, who hit one homer at SkyDome last year, has two at home this year.

Florida right-hander David Weathers, pursued by the Orioles in spring training, had a higher ERA (5.06) than any Orioles reliever until Friday night's fiasco in Texas.

Another right-hander the Orioles tried to acquire, Mike Dyer, has a 5.79 ERA with the Montreal Expos.

Neagle's soft stuff works

Pittsburgh lefty Denny Neagle revealed recently that he threw so much soft stuff at Cleveland this spring that he began hearing choice words from the Indians -- "74 . . . 75," the speed in mph of Neagle's pitches. The biggest culprit was Cleveland left fielder Albert Belle. "A few years ago, that would have bothered me," Neagle said. "But I realized they were frustrated. It was a compliment to me." Montreal manager Felipe Alou calls Neagle "The master of the soft."

The Giants were livid at Dodgers rookie Roger Cedeno, who stole second with a nine-run lead with two outs in the top of the ninth Wednesday. San Francisco second baseman Steve Scarsone, third baseman Matt Williams and Giants manager Dusty Baker all screamed at Cedeno, who was later lectured by his teammates about his breach of baseball etiquette. Said Baker: "That was terrible. I've never seen that in baseball. He told Scarsone he was confused. I've never seen anybody that confused. If a guy's that confused, somebody needs to get him a manual on how to play baseball."

Pittsburgh has the oldest pair of starting pitchers in baseball with 40-year-old Danny Darwin and 35-year-old Zane Smith, who have started the year with a combined 2.02 ERA in 35 2/3 innings.

The Gonzalez mystery

Johnny Oates is confounded by the nagging injuries to his star slugger, Juan Gonzalez. "If it's not one thing, it something else," Oates said. "Go figure it. It's a mystery to me."

Reds outfielders Eric Davis and Vince Coleman are at odds with umpire Joe West. Davis said that he complained about one ball-strike call, and West responded, "I'm not the one taking pitches, swing the bat." Davis was furious. "Those guys aren't perfect, but they don't need to be making comments. They don't need to yank off their masks and question my manhood in front of fans." Coleman took what he thought was ball four and began moving toward first. West called a strike, and according to Coleman, West said, "You ain't walkin'."

Oates recently asked umpires to check Chicago White Sox pitcher Kirk McCaskill for evidence of scuffing the ball -- interesting, considering that Oates' own pitcher, Kevin Gross, is often suspected of doctoring the baseball.

Jones closed out

Doug Jones is out as the Cubs' closer, after blowing three of his first four save chances. Manager Jim Riggleman was diplomatic when asked about Jones, while sounding suspiciously like Phil Regan last year. "I have a lot of confidence in Doug," Riggleman said. "Because his ERA was high last year and he's not a young kid, questions surround Doug. You hear fans booing and stuff."

That 14-4 blowout the Orioles inflicted on the Indians embarrassed everyone, said Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove. "These guys take a lot of pride in how they play and who they are. It wasn't a wake-up call, but it was a healthy dose of ice water thrown in our face."

Leo Gomez is the Cubs' new everyday third baseman. "This is what I wanted from the time spring training began," Gomez said.

Dibble back

Three weeks after he said he was finished with baseball, Rob Dibble has signed with the Marlins and is investigating his theory that his extreme control problems have been caused by a punctured eardrum. How did Dibble puncture his eardrum? He says the injury might've occurred at a Megadeth concert in 1993.

Matt LaChappa, the San Diego minor-leaguer who suffered a heart attack while warming up two weeks ago, remains in a hospital, in critical condition.

Fifty years ago on April 18, Jackie Robinson made his professional debut, as a member of the Montreal Royals. Robinson went 4-for-5 with a homer and three RBIs against the Jersey City Giants, and he went on to bat .349 that season, and joined the Dodgers the next year. Happy anniversary.

Pub Date: 4/21/96

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