Don't swim in denial anymore, O's


Look at the standings. The Orioles entered September in last place, stumbling toward 90 losses. That is who they are, and no amount of executive finger-pointing or clubhouse grumbling can change that fact.

Deal with it, gentlemen.

If you're the owner, remember that it is you who hired the general manager and manager that you might fire at the end of the season.

If you're the manager, go out with some dignity, without blaming others for your failings.

And if you're the displaced center fielder, understand that your team is out of contention and that the organization must make decisions on young players -- yes, even one who plays your position.

How far have the Orioles fallen?

Cal Ripken returned from the disabled list last night one home run short of 400, and the left-field seats were half-empty even though the paid crowd was 37,009.

Home Team Sports is running ads encouraging fans to tune in and watch the Orioles play "spoilers" against Cleveland, Oakland, Boston and New York.

And the month of September is again devoted to the pursuit of Ripken milestones rather than a pennant.

The Orioles are forever in denial, but they no longer can deny the mess they've created -- a mess for which all are responsible and all must help resolve.

GM Frank Wren seems to be the most in touch with reality as he tries to push a smug, stubborn, factionalized organization into the 21st century. But how is Wren viewed? As a dangerous threat to everyone's comfy existence.

Owner Peter Angelos ignored Wren's suggestion that manager Ray Miller be fired earlier this season. And Brady

Anderson bristled last night when Wren ordered him moved out of center field to make room for Eugene Kingsale.

"I'm not happy about it, but I've been told it's what's best for the team," Anderson told The Sun's Joe Strauss before the Orioles' 3-1 victory over Tampa Bay.

Afterward, he said all the right things.

"I'm happy for Eugene that he's getting a chance. He has made a lot of improvement the last couple of years," Anderson said, adding jokingly, "I've given him shoes, gloves, so it's only logical I give him my position next."

Anderson is enjoying one of his best offensive seasons, and Miller acknowledged the September challenge of rewarding veterans for outstanding performance while meeting front-office desires to assess young players.

Still, which is more important, improving individual stats or the Orioles' future?

Anderson isn't being benched; he's merely being asked to change positions. Kingsale has about as much a chance of replacing him in center as Manny Alexander did of replacing Ripken at shortstop. Luis Matos and Darnell McDonald are more realistic long-term possibilities.

The party line is that the Orioles want to determine whether Kingsale can play before he is out of options, and avoid being stuck with him the way they were with Willis Otanez. But the best reason to play Kingsale is to showcase him for a trade.

If Anderson is upset, he can waive his no-trade clause. As it stands, Wren wouldn't mind moving him out of center. But that will be easier said than done.

The point is, you lose control of your fiefdom when your team is 59-73, no matter how impressive your stats, no matter who you are. Frankly, the Orioles shouldn't stop with Anderson. Why not put Albert Belle at DH for the rest of the season and tell him that will be his position in 2000?

Granted, you want more than one dimension from a player earning $13 million a year. But what's the worst thing that could happen? Belle would grow disenchanted and -- eureka! -- again waive his no-trade clause.

Some might argue that the outfield is the least of the Orioles' problems, that it would be counterproductive to trade two players from a trio that has combined for 74 homers and 249 RBIs. But that is precisely the kind of stat-based logic that has led this franchise to its present state.

Anderson and Belle should be addressed. Delino DeShields should be traded to make way for Jerry Hairston. Ripken should be projected as a part-time player, and if he is capable of offering more, great.

The party is over.

If you're on pace to lose 90 games with an $84 million payroll, it isn't just the fault of a general manager or manager, a "dysfunctional" roster or erratic bullpen. It's everyone's fault, starting with an owner who put the principal pieces in place, including Anderson and Belle.

There's no reason to launch into another discussion of why Miller should be fired, but remember how Davey Johnson irritated Angelos by criticizing players? Miller criticizes everyone, and his bickering with Wren this week represented another embarrassing low for this once-proud franchise.

The solution now is to allow Wren to implement the long-term vision that he alone seems to possess and to hire a manager strong enough to restore credibility to the organization.

The Orioles no longer possess the payroll flexibility to go on their annual off-season spending spree and give the illusion of contention. But they again can sell 3 million tickets if they take positive steps. Heck, the hiring of Brian Billick alone helped legitimize the Ravens in the community.

Look at the standings.

They tell the entire story.

They tell you who the Orioles are.

Pub Date: 9/02/99

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