MINNEAPOLIS -- Bobby Bonilla went shopping yesterday morning, and to a movie afterward. What he didn't do was wait by the phone for news of the deal he thought was sure to come, to Cincinnati or San Diego or some other National League destination, in the hours leading up to the midnight trade deadline.
"I'll be surprised if I don't get traded," Bonilla said at 4 p.m. "Pleasantly surprised."
While Orioles executives continued to discuss trading Bonilla last night -- unsuccessfully -- he led them to a 9-3 victory over Minnesota, driving in four runs with a double and a single, only the second time this year Bonilla drove in four runs. Mike Mussina broke a three-game losing streak, pitching a complete game and improving his record to 12-8.
In spite of all the talks, the Orioles had no deals to announce when the trade deadline passed.
Club sources say that on Monday owner Peter Angelos told general manager Pat Gillick he wanted to keep the Orioles competitive for the final two months of the 1996 season, for the sake of fans who had already bought tickets. He didn't want the Orioles torn apart.
That effectively killed any chance of the Orioles trading pitcher David Wells to Seattle for catcher Chris Widger and infielder Desi Relaford, both minor-leaguers, because Wells has been the Orioles' best pitcher over the past month. Trading Bonilla, however, was still a possibility, as long as the Orioles received players who could help them immediately. So for the past two days, Gillick and assistant GM Kevin Malone worked the phones in search of a deal involving Bonilla, eligible for free agency after this season.
Neither Gillick nor Malone was available for comment yesterday, but according to sources in both leagues, the Orioles' best chance for a Bonilla deal was with the Cincinnati Reds. Jim Bowden, general manager of the Reds, offered outfield prospect Steve Gibralter for Bonilla.
The Orioles wanted more, and Bowden proposed adding another minor-leaguer to the deal -- as long as the Orioles picked up $700,000 of the approximately $1.5 million that remains on Bonilla's contract. At some point, the name of pitcher John Smiley was raised by either Bowden or the Orioles, and they even talked about expanding the deal to as many as six players.
The Orioles and San Diego discussed Bonilla for the better part of a month (the Orioles going so far as to send a scout to watch San Diego prospects at Double-A Memphis), but about a week ago the Padres began to focus on Milwaukee's Greg Vaughn and Pittsburgh's Orlando Merced. And last night, San Diego traded three players for Vaughn, killing the slim chance of a deal for Bonilla.
Bonilla heard all the rumors, and when reporters arrived in the clubhouse yesterday, he wanted to know whether they knew anything concrete. No, he was told, nothing yet.
"Well, we've got a few more hours yet," Bonilla said.
Orioles manager Davey Johnson met with reporters an hour before the game and told them "nothing is happening." Somebody joked that everybody would know during the game whether Bonilla was being traded, because Johnson would have to pull him out of the game. The manager smiled.
But Bonilla started, stayed in the game and had a big hit.
The Orioles loaded the bases with nobody out in the eighth -- the Twins intentionally walking Rafael Palmeiro to face Bonilla -- and Bonilla slashed a two-run single through the drawn-in infield, breaking the tie. The Orioles went on to score four more runs in the inning.
Johnson removed Bonilla after the top of the eighth. Not because he was being traded, but because the manager wanted to give Bonilla the rest of the night off.
The Orioles' clubhouse was thick with trade talk after the game, the Yankees' acquisition of Cecil Fielder, Milwaukee's trade of Vaughn.
Bonilla was still convinced, with the deadline (midnight EDT) less than an hour away, that he was going to be traded. "Thirty-seven minutes to go," he said. "I know something is going to happen."
According to an NL source, the Reds and Orioles broke off talks at 11: 38 EDT, and the Orioles made no deals. "It doesn't look like we're doing anything," said Malone, his voice hoarse from hours of talk. "It's not because we didn't try."
Orioles bench coach Andy Etchebarren walked by Bonilla and looked at his watch. "Seven minutes to go, Bo," Etchebarren said, "and you're still an Oriole."
Opponent: Minnesota Twins
Site: Metrodome, Minneapolis
Time: 1: 15 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' David Wells (7-10, 4.75) vs. Twins' Rich Robertson (4-9, 4.91)
Pub Date: 8/01/96