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Surhoff plays to the beat of team player

BOSTON — BOSTON -- He began last night batting .350 -- sixth in the American League -- but he's not going to make the All-Star team.

He began last night batting .422 with runners in scoring position -- best in the league -- and he barely stands a chance.

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The B. J. Surhoffs of the world never get elected, never get selected, never get noticed at all, even when they're helping their teams win.

Heck, after two rounds of fan balloting, Surhoff ranked 14th among AL outfielders -- behind even Darryl Strawberry, who is 0-for-14 on the season.

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The only way Surhoff will make the team is if he is picked by AL manager Joe Torre, but the Orioles probably are too loaded for that to happen.

Third baseman Cal Ripken and second baseman Roberto Alomar lead the balloting at their positions by wide margins.

Center fielder Brady Anderson ranks a comfortable third among outfielders, so, he too, figures to be a starter.

And those are just the position players.

The Orioles' pitching staff entered last night leading the league in ERA, shutouts, saves and opponents' batting average.

Jimmy Key (10-1) has removed himself from All-Star consideration -- he's getting married on July 8, the day of the game in Cleveland.

But Mike Mussina (9-1), Scott Erickson (9-2) and Randy Myers (20 saves) all deserve to be on Torre's staff.

Six All-Stars?

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It would match the second-highest total in Orioles history -- the 1969 and '71 clubs also had six, the '70 club seven.

Yet, the group wouldn't include first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, the club leader in home runs and RBIs.

And it wouldn't include Surhoff.

All he did last night was deliver a two-run single in the first game and a two-run homer in the second as the Orioles swept a doubleheader from Boston.

Entering last night, he had batted .384 since opening the season 6-for-32. He has performed ably in left field. He has even started at first base.

As Mussina put it, "He should definitely be going."

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But in 10 major-league seasons, only once has Surhoff gotten close.

"I had one chance, and that was a semi-chance," the former Milwaukee Brewer said before last night's doubleheader. "It was the year it was at Wrigley [1990].

"I was hitting about .295 at the break, and I was still catching. But Sandy Alomar got voted in. Lance Parrish was having a huge year. And they took two catchers."

Surhoff, a career .279 hitter, is a solid but unspectacular player. And now that he's an outfielder, he gets lost among the big-name sluggers.

Ken Griffey, David Justice, Juan Gonzalez -- those are the players the fans want to see. Surhoff's popularity is with his peers and superiors.

Orioles manager Davey Johnson calls him the most underrated player in the game. Assistant GM Kevin Malone calls him "the unheralded hero of this club."

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Malone, sitting next to the Orioles' dugout, punched Surhoff's name on an All-Star ballot last night. Another 3,000 votes, and Surhoff will catch Texas' Rusty Greer.

He's a grinder, a worker, "a foxhole guy," to borrow Johnson's favorite description. Few recall that he also was the first player chosen in the 1985 draft.

Surhoff was a two-time All-American at North Carolina, a member of the '84 U.S. Olympic team, a left-handed hitting catcher who could hit and run.

"He was in the top 10 on everyone's list, and probably in the top five," said Orioles GM Pat Gillick, who was then with Toronto.

But the first round in '85 also included Will Clark (No. 2), Barry Larkin (No. 4), Barry Bonds (No. 6) and Palmeiro (No. 22).

Surhoff never reached that superstar level.

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"Steady career, but Milwaukee misfired in best draft pool ever," Baseball America wrote recently, ranking Surhoff 16th among the 31 No. 1 picks in draft history.

The Brewers probably expected Surhoff to make several All-Star teams, but it didn't turn out that way -- at least in the nine seasons Surhoff spent in Milwaukee.

Gillick signed him to a three-year, $3.7 million contract before last season, and Surhoff responded with career highs in average (.292), homers (21) and RBIs (82).

He was an incredible bargain.

And now he's a worthy All-Star.

"If it comes about, that would be great. If it doesn't, I'll take my three days off," Surhoff said.

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"Don't get me wrong -- it would be extremely nice. But I can't worry about it. If I started thinking about that, I'd just go in the tank.

"It would be a lot more pleasing for me to end up with a ring at the end of the year than it would be to get one in the middle of it."

Spoken like a classic team player.

Spoken like B. J. Surhoff.

Pub Date: 6/11/97


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