Alexander way off-base, but frustration justified

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Orioles' Manny Alexander suggested this week that one reason he isn't playing is because he's from the Dominican Republic, an unconscionable, irresponsible remark made out of frustration. Orioles general manager Pat Gillick, assistant general manager Kevin Malone and manager Davey Johnson have established themselves as men dedicated to winning, not promoting non-Latin players.

Gillick, after all, built the Toronto franchise with Latin players such as Tony Fernandez, George Bell and Juan Guzman, and turned the team into a championship-caliber club with his acquisition of Roberto Alomar, who is from Puerto Rico.

As general manager of the Montreal Expos, Malone worked hand-in-hand with Felipe Alou, a native of the Dominican Republic who is perhaps the best manager in the National League today, and together they perpetuated the Expos' strong tradition in developing Latin American and African-American players.

Johnson's teams in New York and Cincinnati were virtual rainbow coalitions, with stars such as Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Dwight Gooden, David Cone, Darryl Strawberry, Barry Larkin, Jose Rijo and Reggie Sanders.

The player Johnson has coveted most as a potential leader has been veteran outfielder Andre Dawson, an African-American. The marquee player on the Orioles is Alomar, a free agent who Gillick and Johnson desperately wanted over another free-agent second baseman -- Craig Biggio, who is white. And how much would Johnson love to have the other Dominican on the Orioles' major-league roster, Armando Benitez, healthy and ready to help his beleaguered bullpen?

That said, the Orioles have botched their handling of Alexander this year. They should have made a hard and fast decision on what they intended to do with him coming out of spring training or early in the season, when his trade value probably was at its highest.

They should have determined to play him here or trade him, rather than waffle and let his skills deteriorate and his emotions fester.

Alexander nearly broke into the lineup two weeks ago, when Johnson talked about moving Cal Ripken to third. But Ripken stopped that from happening by going on a tear offensively and playing better defensively.

Bill Ripken filled in at third and played well. (Alexander should remember that all spring, while he insisted on working out almost exclusively at shortstop, Bill Ripken was taking grounders every day at third base.)

Now Cal Ripken has defended his turf at shortstop, B. J. Surhoff is back at third and the team is contending for the American League East title.

Alexander's window of opportunity for 1996 has passed, barring an injury to Ripken. The Orioles will go into next year not knowing anything more about Alexander's abilities than they did in March, his trade value will be down even more, he will naturally become more and more bitter and less likely to succeed for the Orioles once he does get his chance.

They should deal him now, rather than keep him around as insurance against something -- an injury to Ripken -- that has never happened. There's no guarantee that Alexander would succeed if Ripken did go down, particularly since he hasn't played regularly in 2 1/2 months.

But if the Orioles keep Alexander, then they need to play him occasionally at short, once a week or so, like every other young player in the game. It's nonsensical that he never plays. If he's not playing because of Ripken's record-setting consecutive-games streak -- which will eventually end, anyway -- that's even more ridiculous, this being a team sport.

On a given day, the Orioles have a better chance of winning with Cal Ripken at shortstop. But in the big picture, the team will need something from Alexander, whether as an eventual replacement for Ripken or as trade bait. And, if he's going to stay here, he needs a chance to practice his craft, at shortstop.

Wanted: a commissioner

Yet again, a rash of incidents have magnified baseball's need for an independent commissioner, and demonstrated that Bud Selig's dual standing as owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and acting commissioner is unacceptable.

On May 31, the Brewers and Cleveland Indians engaged in a brawl that compelled AL president Gene Budig to suspend the (( Indians' Albert Belle and Julian Tavarez and Milwaukee catcher Matt Matheny for five games. The Indians were furious with Budig's decision, manager Mike Hargrove saying -- to much concurrence around baseball -- that Belle's football block to Brewers second baseman Fernando Vina was a clean, tough play (and remember, the umpires monitoring the game didn't even eject Belle for his actions).

The game's ultimate authority Selig is in the hands of Selig, who stands behind Budig in the chain of command. How does that look, in any decision that involves the Brewers -- especially when the Indians, a division rival of Milwaukee, took the brunt of the punishment? (Milwaukee's Terry Burrows, the pitcher who obviously threw at Belle late in the game, was not suspended.)

There have been a number of incidents over the last couple of years involving fans at Milwaukee's County Stadium, with Chicago outfielder Tony Phillips, Orioles advance scout Deacon Jones and others. When Phillips feels compelled to go into the stands after a fan allegedly yelling racist remarks and is fined, how does that look when the man ultimately responsible for running the park and its security, Selig, is the same man who is charged with operating Major League Baseball?

Cincinnati owner Marge Schott is being forced out of the game by baseball officials, supposedly for her terrible methods of operation and for her embarrassing remarks. Should Selig, theoretically one of Schott's peers, be the one responsible for pursuing this matter? Might Schott not be able to question Selig about his operation of the Brewers, who also have floundered? In particular, should Selig be in a position of authority when the same owners who have charged him with responsibility of being acting commissioner have extended him a line of credit to help fund his new stadium?

Conflicts of interest, all over the place. Those who know Selig say he is a sensitive, moral person who loves the game and understands the potential implications of an owner holding authority in the sport. That being the case, he should understand that he should resign as acting commissioner and help find somebody else -- somebody who doesn't own a team -- for the job.

The Orioles have been dangling left-hander Kent Mercker around, specifically to the Seattle Mariners. The Orioles tried to deal Mercker for Seattle catching prospect Chris Widger.

Pittsburgh has found a closer in Francisco Cordova, who was with the Mexico City Reds a year ago. Cordova converted seven of his first eight save chances, and Pirates manager Jim Leyland says "the ninth inning is" Cordova's.

Hideo Nomo's fastball is down about 5 mph, to 83-86 mph. The Dodgers say it's because of a problem with his mechanics.

Tough-luck Brown

More on Kevin Brown's perpetual bad luck: On Monday, the former Orioles right-hander sliced open his ankle getting off a boat. Brown lost his balance while jumping from the boat and banged his foot against a trailer. The wound required three stitches. Brown leads the NL in ERA at 2.04 but, because of terrible run support, is 4-4.

The Florida Marlins have demoted Cuban defector Livan Hernandez from Triple-A Charlotte to Double-A Portland, where they hope he'll benefit from working with Spanish-speaking pitching coach Carlos Tosca.

The Mets have concluded that Alex Ochoa, the key to the Orioles' trade for Bobby Bonilla last summer, is not going to be an impact player. "Alex will be a good everyday outfielder," said Mets assistant GM David Howard, "but we do not believe he will be the type of player who can carry the team."

Piniella: East Coast bias

Mariners manager Lou Piniella is upset that the appeals process usually leads to players serving their suspensions while teams are on the East Coast. For instance, Belle has appealed his five-game suspension and his hearing likely won't occur until the Indians are somewhere close to New York, where Budig can oversee the appeal. Said Piniella: "In my four years in Seattle, there's never been a player suspended and missed games in Seattle. . . . If the appeal is denied, the East Coast teams -- New York, Boston and Baltimore -- always get the break of not facing them."

No jobs have less security in baseball than playing second base for the Red Sox (Luis Alicea, Wil Cordero, Jeff Manto, Bill Selby, Esteban Beltre and now Jeff Frye) and being the closer for Boston manager Kevin Kennedy (Heathcliff Slocumb has won and lost this job four or five times already).

Anyone driving south on I-95 into Philadelphia can see three billboards: First, shortstop Kevin Stocker pitching hot dogs. Second, Gregg Jefferies endorsing All-Star Game apparel. Third, Hooters restaurant ad featuring Lynne Austin. What a combo. Stocker recently was sent to the minors, Jefferies is on the disabled list and Austin is the ex-wife of the Phillies' Darren Daulton, out perhaps for good with knee problems.

Talks distract DiSarcina

Angels shortstop Gary DiSarcina suggested last week that contract talks during this season may have contributed to his dismal offensive showing. That was Gillick's point when he said he wouldn't talk with Mike Mussina about a long-term deal once pTC spring training began.

Wade Boggs says he's having a hard time getting his bat orders filled.

Frank Viola's release by Toronto was all but assured when he criticized manager Cito Gaston as being "too laid-back."

By the numbers

* Colorado outfielder Larry Walker is the poster child for the team's Jekyll and Hyde home and road performances. At home, he's batting .394, and on the road, .114.

* Over the last four years, Philadelphia's closers are batting .600 -- Ricky Bottalico is 1-for-2 this year, Healthcliff Slocumb went 0-for-1 last year, Doug Jones went 1-for 1 in '94, and Mitch Williams was 1-for1 in '93.

* In 23 starts at leadoff, California's Rex Hudler is 35-for-92 (.380, nine HRS, 18 RBIs).

* When the season started, Jaime Navarro, Frank Castillo and Jim Bullinger were penciled in as the Cubs' top three starters. Combined, they are 7-18, with four fewer wins than John Smoltz.

* Harold Baines has six hits that have either tied the score or put the White Sox ahead from the eighth inning onward.

* Scott Aldred allowed just three runs in his first 10 2/3 innings after the Twins claimed him on waivers from Detroit. Aldred left the Tigers with a 9.53 ERA.

* Greg Swindell signed a four-year, $17 million deal before the 1993 season and went 30-34 for Houston until his release last week. That means the Astros paid him $566,667 per victory.

* With 45, the Yankees are poised to surpass their stolen base total of last year, when they had 50.

* The Tigers have been outscored 136-48 after the sixth this season.

Pub Date: 6/09/96

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