Angelos remains on Bonilla's side in DH debate AL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Bobby Bonilla got his way with the Orioles this season.

He might get it next season, too.

Owner Peter Angelos said yesterday that he would be willing to guarantee Bonilla that he would not be traded or used as a designated hitter if the Orioles retained him in 1997.

Will all that happen?

Probably.

Angelos said the decision on Bonilla would be made by the Orioles' front office, yet indicated that the final say might again be his.

"It's not my decision, but when that decision comes around, I'm sure I will have something to say about it," Angelos said.

Bonilla figured to have the ultimate say, but he will lack the service time to be a free agent if no labor agreement is reached.

He'd be at the Orioles' mercy.

But, on a team in which the star players frequently attempt to determine their roles, he'd still have leverage.

As the Orioles discovered this season, an unhappy Bonilla is practically useless.

Thus, it's not enough that they could keep him for one year simply by offering him salary arbitration within five business days after the World Series.

Just this week, Bonilla said he would seek assurances from Angelos "before making a decision" on next season, even though the decision technically isn't his.

Angelos' response?

He'd be willing to take the necessary steps to ensure Bonilla was content if the Orioles wanted him back -- even if it meant giving him a no-trade clause.

"Oh yes, definitely," Angelos said. "I believe all of this [trade] discussion didn't help his performance, and as a consequence, didn't help the team. If he stays in '97, I'd be very much inclined to agree to that requirement."

Bonilla, naturally, was delighted to learn of Angelos' remarks, saying it was "very refreshing to hear him say something like that, and it means a great deal."

General manager Pat Gillick, slightly less refreshed, said, "it's probably something we'd have to discuss."

It might sound crazy for a club to yield such control to a player, but the Orioles basically did it for Bonilla this season, so it stands to reason they'd be willing to make the arrangement formal in 1997.

Think about it:

Bonilla effectively has a no-DH guarantee -- he sulked and slumped when used in that role earlier this season, leaving manager Davey Johnson no choice but to play him in right field.

And he effectively has a no-trade clause, because Angelos vetoed several attempts by Gillick to deal him in July.

Angelos even said he'd be willing to allow Bonilla to become a free agent if the Orioles planned to return him to the DH role.

"I would be supportive of Bonilla's wishes to go elsewhere. I don't think that's something he wants to play," Angelos said. "We tried to make him play it initially, and it was a mistake.

"It was not good for the team. It prevented him from making an even greater contribution to the team's success."

Bonilla batted .221 with two home runs in 163 at-bats as a DH during the regular season. But when used in the field, he batted .318 with 26 home runs in 424 at-bats.

He played a major role in helping Orioles rally for the wild card, but after going 0-for-5 last night, he is 0-for-16 in the American League Championship Series and 3-for-31 in the playoffs, dropping his lifetime postseason batting average to .184.

Part of his problem right now might be physical -- he suffered a bruised left shoulder after crashing into the right-field wall in Game 1 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium, and couldn't lift his arm above his shoulder the next day.

Still, Bonilla has remained in the lineup.

bTC "It's all right," Bonilla said when asked about the shoulder last night. "It's not the story."

What is the story?

L "[Jimmy] Key pitched his butt off last night," Bonilla said.

The Orioles would have a difficult time replacing Bonilla's 28 homers and 116 RBIs next season, even if he is a below-average defensive player.

Switch-hitting sluggers are difficult to acquire, and the Orioles would be foolish to part with Bonilla if they could sign him for $5 million to $5.5 million in arbitration -- plus the no-trade and no-DH guarantees.

Angelos' preference has been clear since he ordered former general manager Roland Hemond to acquire Bonilla from the New York Mets for outfielders Alex Ochoa and Damon Buford on July 28, 1995.

Bonilla got his way this season.

Don't be surprised if he gets it again.

Pub Date: 10/13/96

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