Son's care made Surhoff choice easy

THE BALTIMORE SUN

MILWAUKEE -- B. J. Surhoff was booed upon his return to Milwaukee last night, and the vast majority of the fans at County Stadium didn't even know why he left.

Surhoff's wife, Polly, said that "probably 75 percent" of his decision was based on his desire to secure better care for their son, Mason, 4, who has a form of autism.

"If you've ever experienced the bond between Mason and B. J., it's like . . ." Polly said, her voice trailing off. "Sunday night, when B. J. leaves, it will be devastating for him."

Mason is the second of four children, ages 1 to 5, and the only one who is autistic. Polly said the family will remain in Milwaukee through the end of school, then move to Baltimore on Father's Day weekend.

Surhoff, 31, said yesterday that he signed with the Orioles for several reasons -- the chance to play for a contender was one, and the Ellicott City roots of his wife, the former Polly Winde, were another.

But the possibilities for Mason in Baltimore are so extensive, Surhoff said he might have moved his family to the city even if he had re-signed with the Brewers.

"The fit was right," said the Orioles third baseman, who spent the first nine years of his career in Milwaukee. "I'm not sure I could have gone any place but Baltimore."

The Brewers offered him more money and greater security, but he rejected their four-year, $4 million offer to sign a three-year, $3.7 million contract with the Orioles.

It was an excruciating decision for Surhoff, who wanted to become as much a fixture in Milwaukee as former teammates Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and Jim Gantner.

But Mason came first.

"I think we understood all along that that was really playing a central role," Milwaukee owner Bud Selig said. "Clearly, a player should always do what is in the best interests of his family.

"As much as we wanted to keep B. J., as much as we want to win, I know how concerned they both were. That had to be the primary factor."

Surhoff didn't disagree.

"Had I thought it was better for him to stay here, I would have stayed here," Surhoff said.

"Even if it was a place where the team never had a chance to win at all, I would have had thoughts about sacrificing any chance I had to win for a chance for him to do better, be better, have a better chance.

"It draws on my emotions. I just consider that so important. Winning is everything to me as a player. But it's hard to even express how deep your concern goes for your kids when there's something like that.

"Not that you wouldn't do that for your other kids, but you know they have the ability to adjust when he may not have that ability. He may, but you don't know."

Polly said Mason is highly functional -- he can read words like "video" and even the sign for the restaurant "Applebee's." But both she and B. J. believed he had a better chance to become part of the mainstream in Baltimore than in Milwaukee.

After Mason was diagnosed on May 2, 1994, Polly said her family in Ellicott City made her aware of Baltimore's Kennedy-Krieger Institute, which serves children with neurological disorders and developmental disabilities.

Polly also said Mason will attend Timonium Elementary School, entering one of two classes for autistic children. His early-childhood program in Milwaukee included only one other autistic child.

"I want Mason to be part of our family in the school system as well as at home," Polly said. "It just seemed that it would happen in Baltimore."

Surhoff also mentioned the parental-support network in the region. "It's huge there," he said. "That's one of the things we've been impressed with."

Yet, even with all that, Surhoff found it difficult to leave the Brewers. Yount, Molitor and Gantner spent 15 years together in Milwaukee, the longest tenure of any trio in major-league history.

Surhoff wanted to follow the same path.

"I'm not sure I've ever gotten over that," he said. "I always thought I'd play my entire career here, right up until the point I walked in to tell [general manager] Sal Bando I wasn't coming back."

The No. 5 he wore in Milwaukee wasn't available in Baltimore -- the Orioles retired it for Brooks Robinson. Neither was Molitor's No. 4 (retired for Earl Weaver) or Yount's No. 19 (worn by Scott Erickson).

So, Surhoff took No. 17, in honor of Gantner -- and got off to the best start of his career. He's batting .318 with nine homers and 21 RBIs, and continues to play solid defense at third base.

Still, they booed him last night in Milwaukee, booed him after nine years of honest effort, booed him as if he was just another free-agent mercenary.

"He would have gotten more money here. He would have gotten four years security here," Polly said. "But he's very much into his family.

"It came down to his family and Mason."

Pub Date: 5/11/96

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