Thrift: No Eastern block for O's deals


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Should the Orioles follow through on a tentative plan to become younger, faster and more financially flexible, they will not exclude their primary American League East rivals, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, as potential matches, said vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift.

"Of course you talk about it," said Thrift, who last Thursday advocated embracing such a movement. "But that's not the most important thing in the world. If that team has the player or players or pitcher or pitchers we need, the answer [to whether the club would reject a deal] is no."

Such a policy would represent a significant change in direction. The Orioles have dealt with neither the Yankees nor Red Sox since Peter Angelos purchased the club to preserve local ownership in August 1993. The Orioles last traded with the Yankees in February 1992, sending pitchers Francisco de la Rosa and Mark Carper to New York for reliever Alan Mills.

They haven't traded with the Red Sox since July 30, 1988, when pitcher Mike Boddicker was dealt on the eve of the waiver deadline for outfielder Brady Anderson and pitcher Curt Schilling.

The Yankees have expressed interest in B.J. Surhoff and Anderson to help address their faltering offense, but talks haven't progressed past a preliminary stage, according to a club source.

Angelos briefly contemplated a trade of Anderson for Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams in 1997 when both players were pending free agents. With the Orioles in the midst of a wire-to-wire American League East title run, the front office reconsidered a move.

The Yankees expressed interest in another pending free agent, left-handed reliever Arthur Rhodes, last season, but could never achieve a match as both teams were poised for a waiver deadline move.

Rhodes then defected to the Seattle Mariners last winter as a free agent.

Thrift draws a comparison between the current situation and his term as Pittsburgh general manager from 1985-88, when he reconfigured the Pirates' aging roster.

"St. Louis was in our division [NL East] and they were always competitive. But the first trade I made of any consequence was with the Cardinals. I traded the best player we had, [catcher] Tony Pena, to them" in exchange for outfielder Andy Van Slyke, Thrift said. "Do you think I got some grief for that ... not from ownership, but from fans? But it was a move that helped both teams."

Renovating this team poses a far more difficult task for Thrift than the project he undertook in Pittsburgh. "I didn't have the salaries you have problems trading. Our whole payroll isn't equal to what one player makes here."

Retro look

The teams were "fitted" with baggy retro uniforms for yesterday's game. Rather than wear the uniforms from their inaugural 1998 season - which happen to be identical to their current look - the Devil Rays donned replica uniforms from the 1965 St. Petersburg Saints of the Florida State League.

The Orioles were said to be wearing replica uniforms from their 1970 world championship season; however, Major League Baseball's way-back machine might have malfunctioned as the look bore a closer resemblance to the late 1950s.

"This doesn't look anything like what I remember," said bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks, catcher for the '70 Orioles.

Hendricks, hitting coach Terry Crowley, the leading pinch hitter on the '70 team, and reliever Moe Drabowsky threw out ceremonial first pitches.

The look was completed by ushers wearing tie-dyed shirts, beads and wigs. Of course, no one took the theme to the absurd level of rolling back ticket prices to their level of 30 years ago.

Conine the right fielder

Jeff Conine made his fifth start of the season in right field as Albert Belle served as designated hitter for the sixth time. The combination put left-handed-hitting Harold Baines on the bench against right-handed Devil Rays starter Steve Trachsel.

Conine had enjoyed a career .393 average against Trachsel with a double and two home runs. Conine extended his hitting streak to six games with a second-inning RBI single. He also has hit in 13 of his last 14 games.

Manager Mike Hargrove reiterated that his decision to move Belle from designated hitter to right field before Friday's game was prompted by Rich Amaral's back condition rather than Belle's insistence to play in the field.

Around the horn

Hargrove will miss Saturday and Sunday's games against the Montreal Expos to attend the high school graduation of his son, Andy. Bench coach Mark Newman will manage in his place while offensive/defensive coordinator Brian Graham may be allowed in uniform. ... Catcher Charles Johnson was cleared to play yesterday, three days after a foul ball to the groin sent him to University Medical Center for an examination. Johnson was able to move with minimal discomfort but was given the additional day off by Hargrove as a precaution. Greg Myers made his eighth start of the season, batting ninth and getting his first hit since May 18.

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