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Orioles 1996: team that tries the fans' souls Season: Controversy, turmoil or illness ran throughout almost the entire O's roster.

They are baseball's most dysfunctional family and won in spite of their problems, and if the Orioles weren't trying to get into the World Series, they could do a weeklong stint on Ricki Lake or Jerry Springer, complete with subtitles, to rehash their differences.

"My Manager Wants Me To Be A Designated Hitter And I Want Out Of This Relationship" (Bobby Bonilla and Davey Johnson, in April, May and June).

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"We're Trying To Win A Pennant, And The Ace Is Being Selfish" (closer Randy Myers, speaking of Mike Mussina in August).

"I'm Moving Out, But I Expect To Be Back" (Cal Ripken, switched to third for exactly six games in July).

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"There's No Leadership Here, But I Know The Right Man For The Job" (Orioles owner Peter Angelos, nudging Ripken at the end of June).

"We've been through a lot of stuff," said Bonilla. "A lot of stuff."

No kidding. You could go around the diamond and run down the Orioles' roster and recall a controversy or strange episode for every position, just about every player.

First base: In June, Rafael Palmeiro said he wasn't getting enough All-Star votes, and suggested that Baltimore fans needed to do more to support him.

Second base: Roberto Alomar. Need we say more?

Shortstop: On the night of May 1, Johnson replaced Ripken with pinch runner Manny Alexander, the first time during the streak Ripken was removed with the outcome of the game still in doubt. Alexander was picked off, Ripken sat on the bench with his arms crossed -- obviously perturbed -- and the game lasted 15 innings. Johnson hasn't repeated the move, despite repeated opportunities. Before the All-Star Game, White Sox reliever Roberto Hernandez accidentally busted Ripken's nose while the had its team picture taken.

Third base: In mid-May, Johnson told the media he was thinking about moving Ripken to third. But he never told Ripken he was going to tell the media; the Iron Man was blindsided. Orioles players have never quite forgiven Johnson for this supposed transgression.

Left field: After being released by the Orioles, Luis Polonia criticized his former teammates for being selfish and his former coaching staff for being too negative.

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Center field: Brady Anderson was sidelined in July with what was originally described as appendicitis. Johnson thought that surgery was inevitable and that Anderson would be out for more than a month. Anderson sat out a few days and has remained a fixture in the lineup ever since.

Right field: Bonilla, the designated hitter. Until Eddie Murray was acquired, Bonilla and Johnson had a very frosty relationship.

Catcher: In June, the Orioles placed Chris Hoiles on waivers, with more than three years and $10 million remaining on his contract, hoping that another team would claim him.

No. 1 starter: Mussina, criticized by Myers.

No. 2 starter: David Wells suffered from a rapid heart rate in spring training. Two months later, he pitched so poorly and with so little emotion that his former manager, Sparky Anderson, verbally thrashed him and accused him of quitting on the mound. Wells agreed publicly, and has battled ever since.

No. 3 starter: Scott Erickson said in April that his defense had cost him victories, a statement that didn't exactly endear him to his teammates.

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No. 4 starter: After allowing five runs on eight hits and three walks in 2 2/3 innings, Kent Mercker ripped Johnson for taking him out too soon. Mercker was traded a month later.

Closer: Myers criticized Johnson for taking him out too soon after Myers walked the first two hitters in the bottom of the ninth inning in a Sept. 18 game the Orioles eventually lost in 10 innings.

Bullpen: The Orioles banished Armando Benitez to Florida in June. Assistant general manager Kevin Malone said Benitez had gotten fat.

Bench: The day he was traded to Florida, former backup catcher Gregg Zaun said that many of his former veteran teammates mentally beat down young players and that the coaching staff often second-guessed players. Alexander suggested in June that he wasn't playing because he is from the Dominican Republic (Alexander apologized a week later).

Manager: Johnson missed a game because, like Wells in spring training, he suffered from a rapid heart rate.

And finally, the biggest controversy this summer -- pre-spit, that is -- the decision of owner Peter Angelos to overrule the trade proposals of GM Pat Gillick. Or, as the subtitles would read on Ricki Lake, "My Owner Won't Trade Bobby Bonilla And I Can't Believe It."

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About the only everyday player who is untouched and unscathed is B. J. Surhoff, who had it right the day he moved to left field to make room for the temporary move of Ripken to third: "I'm just a subplot around here."

Pub Date: 10/08/96


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