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Picking All-Star teams easier without the politics

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Sometime in the next week, Cleveland Indians manager Mike Hargrove will sit down and put together his All-Star lineup and list of reserves, having to consider the rule that requires him to have at least one player from each team, injuries, the fan balloting and possible ramifications of leaving certain players off the team.

Good thing we don't have to worry about all that. Our American League All-Star team:

First base: I voted for Mo Vaughn for AL Most Valuable Player last year, in large part because of what he meant to Boston's championship run. Vaughn is having an even better statistical season this year -- and the pick here is Frank Thomas of the White Sox. Chicago is winning, and he's the biggest reason.

Second base: Roberto Alomar. Hitting .400 is out of the question for this year, but he's still the best. Anywhere.

Shortstop: Alex Rodriguez, Seattle. He started the year in Triple-A and is well on his way to driving in 100 runs.

Third base: Tough call between the Yankees' Wade Boggs, hitting .340, and the Rangers' Dean Palmer. Let Boggs start, and Palmer can play the last six innings.

Left field: Albert Belle, Indians. He and Thomas are the best pure offensive players in the game.

Center field: Brady Anderson. Of all his incredible numbers, the most amazing is that he leads the majors in slugging average.

Right field: Jay Buhner, Seattle. Like Alomar, he's a winning player, and is among the best right fielders in the game. Anderson said it last week: Every time he hits, he looks like he's going to hit a homer.

Catcher: Ivan Rodriguez, Texas. His game has really matured, and he plays with more intensity now. Dan Wilson of Seattle deserves to be there, too.

Designated hitter: Greg Vaughn, Milwaukee. What a year to have when you're headed to free agency.

Starting pitcher: Charles Nagy, Indians. First in the AL in victories, third in ERA. Other candidates: Alex Fernandez of the White Sox, Andy Pettitte of the Yankees and Darren Oliver of the Rangers.

Closer: Roberto Hernandez of the White Sox, with John Wetteland of the Yankees second and Jose Mesa of the Indians third.

In the National League:

First base: Jeff Bagwell, Houston. The NL MVP as of today.

Second base: Craig Biggio, Houston. Eric Young's having a great year for Colorado, but who knows about those Rockies' offensive numbers.

Shortstop: Mark Grudzielanek, Montreal. One of the great up-and-coming players.

Third base: Matt Williams, San Francisco. The old standby.

Left field: Henry Rodriguez, Montreal. Oh, Henry.

Center field: Ellis Burks, Colorado. Rebuilding his career this season.

Right field: Sammy Sosa, Chicago. Great all-around player.

Catcher: Mike Piazza, Los Angeles, who would get a second-place vote for MVP.

Starting pitcher: John Smoltz, Atlanta. Of course.

Closer: Todd Worrell, Los Angeles.

Witt no Tiger Stadium fan

Many players consider Camden Yards to be the best ballpark in baseball. The worst? Detroit's Tiger Stadium, according to Texas right-hander Bobby Witt. "It's a tiny clubhouse," Witt said. "The dugout was built when guys were averaging about 5-foot-8, and it seats maybe 12. Just knowing that you've got to go to that park every day sits on your mind. You just want to get in, play the games and get out."

A number of teams are looking for an outfielder like Darryl Strawberry -- including the Orioles -- but they're scared off by his history of personal problems.

Picking All-Stars is like walking through a political minefield, and Montreal manager Felipe Alou took some emotional shrapnel last year when he chose Dodgers shortstop Jose Offerman over Larry Walker and Derek Bell. Alou is happy that he won't have to assume that responsibility this year. "I'm getting my [fishing] hooks together," Alou said. "I loved the atmosphere surrounding the game. But it wasn't fun." Alou says it would be a farce to expand the All-Star rosters. "You're going to spend the whole time saying, 'OK, you play one inning,' " said Alou. "That's not an all-star game. The big problem is that you have a guy with 70 RBIs resting at home and a guy hitting .235 starting the game because the fans vote the players in."

Russell's audition

Bill Russell, once seen as the heir apparent to Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda, has taken over while Lasorda is recovering from heart trouble, and Russell views this as something of an audition. "No question about it," Russell said. "I know people are looking at me. It's been said, been written about, I want to be a manager and I've got an opportunity now to manage. . . . I can't get this opportunity and be somebody I'm not. This is my team and I have to run it the way I see fit." Conventional wisdom around baseball has former Orioles manager Phil Regan, now managing Triple-A Albuquerque, as the next Dodgers manager whenever Lasorda leaves, holding the seat warm for long-term managerial prospect Mike Scioscia.

The Texas Rangers are a gutsy, gritty team this year, a departure from past Texas teams. Catcher Rodriguez is playing with a purpose this year, and it makes a huge difference. "The word you hear most [about the Rangers] is resiliency," said manager Johnny Oates.

Seattle shortstop Rodriguez, a combination of speed, power and grace, may be the game's best player in three or four years. He hit a line drive off the strip of cement below the SkyDome restaurant in Toronto last week. Only two players have ever hit the windows in games -- Jose Canseco and Cecil Fielder.

No insurance on Hoiles

If Len Dykstra is finished by lower back trouble and Darren Daulton retires, the Philadelphia Phillies will get between $8 million and $10 million in insurance rebates next year alone. If Chris Hoiles' shoulder troubles, which have clearly affected his play, sideline him for any length of time, the Orioles will get nothing in return from insurance. According to a club source, they don't have any insurance on the catcher.

The Tigers say former Orioles farmhand Kimera Bartee, twice removed, has a chance to fill their need for a leadoff hitter because of his tremendous speed, aptitude and work ethic. "There's no question that Bartee is going to be a key player for us," Tigers general manager Randy Smith said. "Originally, we thought he'd play all next season in Triple-A to give him some experience. But now, we just don't know what's going to happen with him next year. He'll play some this winter and we'll see how much he progresses."

Chicago White Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen is no romantic. He heartily disapproved of the kissing contest held at Comiskey Park last week, and the fact that the participants were displayed constantly on the huge video screen in center field. "You've got kids in the park, and every two minutes on the scoreboard there's a couple of 13-year-olds kissing," Guillen said. "Sure, you want to bring people to the ballpark, but you have to think about it. It's a family game, and here you're teaching kids how to make out. Only in this country!"

Aguilera starts to adjust

The conversion of Rick Aguilera from closer to starting pitcher has clicked, of late. He carried a shutout into the eighth inning last week. "I'm making the mental adjustment to starting," Aguilera said. "I'm keeping my concentration better during the game."

The Texas clubhouse has a big-screen television, perfect for watching movies. Four hours before the game Tuesday, as the rain fell outside and prevented the normal pre-game workout, some Orioles watched "The Hunt For Red October." One member of the organization cracked, "What about the hunt for October?"

The Florida Marlins have the pitching to win the NL wild card, but they're starved for offense and looking around. They talked about going after Oakland's Mark McGwire, and reportedly asked the Indians about the availability of second baseman Carlos Baerga (and were rebuffed). If the Orioles' front office gets to the point where it thinks the general malaise that has overwhelmed this team will never go away, then Florida is the most logical place for Bobby Bonilla to land.

Arm trouble for Mesa?

Cleveland closer Mesa has blown three of his eight save chances, and some scouts say his velocity is down by 8-10 mph. His command also has suffered, leaving the scouts to wonder if he might have a tired or hurt arm.

The Royals are in a serious rebuilding mode, a team dominated by youngsters and fringe players. "How many of our guys would play for Baltimore?" Royals general manager Herk Robinson asked, rhetorically. "The answer is probably zero, excluding pitchers. How many of our guys could move somebody out of a job? Not many." Royals manager Bob Boone is pushing longtime minor-leaguer Keith Lockhart, hitting over .300 as a platoon player against right-handers, as his All-Star candidate.

San Diego GM Kevin Towers on the NL West race: "I still think that [the Dodgers] and us are the two teams. The only reason I say that is our pitching. Their pitching and our pitching stand out against the Giants and Rockies. Deep in the season, pitching is going to play a part. Our bench is better than Colorado's. I think our bullpen is better than Colorado's."

A West Coast writer offered this nickname for the 1996 Orioles, drawing from another drama/comedy set in Baltimore: Tin Men.

Pub Date: 6/30/96

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