MONTREAL - Jeff Newman took over for manager Mike Hargrove last night for the first of two games as Hargrove returned to Cleveland to attend his son Andy's high school graduation. The changeover was so seamless that several players were unaware of Hargrove's absence until just before batting practice.
There was little reason for detection. After meeting over the past several days, Hargrove and Newman decided to stay with the same lineup for last night's second game against the Montreal Expos.
"We talked about [today]'s game and certain scenarios, such as if Cal [Ripken] needs a day off," said Newman. "But again, we would do the same thing as if Grover were here."
It's difficult to imagine anyone being as familiar with Hargrove's thinking as Newman. As Hargrove's third base coach during eight full seasons in Cleveland, Newman can usually anticipate Hargrove's moves. It is not uncommon for Hargrove to ask for input from his coaches during innings, whether it be Newman, third base coach Sam Perlozzo or pitching coach Sammy Ellis. Perlozzo and first base coach Eddie Murray are responsible for aligning the defense while hitting coach Terry Crowley is sometimes sought out for advice on the batting order.
"If he asks me for my opinion, I'm going to tell him what I really think, not what I think he wants to hear," said Newman. "Most of the time he might like it, sometimes he might not. But he's going to do what he thinks is right regardless."
Newman, who with the Indians was acting manager of the pivotal Game 2 of the 1997 Division Series following Hargrove's ejection by plate umpire Joe Brinkman, takes over in the more closely watched setting of a National League town, where double switches, pinch hitting and bunts are commonplace.
Friday night's 5-3 loss to the Expos included a sixth-inning double switch that necessitated removing left fielder B. J. Surhoff in mid-inning.
"Our players aren't that used to it," said Newman. "It's something that might happen twice a year. If the situation happens again tonight, I will manage the game like Grover would manage the game. If it was like that, I would do the same thing."
Newman covered his mouth to stifle a laugh when he heard the description of National League baseball as a "second guesser's game."
"You never know until the game is over," said Newman. "You wonder: Did I make a move too early or not? Did I use everyone properly? Hopefully, when the game's over tonight, I'll say the same thing. It worked or it didn't work. Last night, I think it was the right thing to do."
Questions regarding the Expos' future in Montreal continue to mount given a widening split among team ownership. A mix of Canadian and American investors has splintered largely according to nationality with majority owner Jeffrey Loria.
Sentiment exists that Loria and fellow American David Samson hope to move the franchise south, perhaps to the long-suffering Washington, D.C., market. However, the situation is clouded by possible litigation and resistance by Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos may also remain a factor, though the recent consolidation of both leagues under the umbrella of the commissioner's office diminishes Angelos' ability to block such a move.
The Expos, meanwhile, don't have a radio deal with an English-speaking rights holder, leaving longtime broadcaster Dave Van Horne to broadcast over the Internet.
There is no Francophone marketing. The Expos rank last in attendance and plans to erect a stadium to replace Olympic Stadium have stalled.
According to a series of articles published in yesterday's Gazette, a common belief is that the American investors have become so unpopular within this French-speaking city that the franchise is doomed locally unless they are forced out. A news conference reportedly will be held by the Canadian investors this week, when the issue may be clarified or, more likely, further confused.
C. Johnson feeling fine
Catcher Charles Johnson says any ill effects from him being struck in the groin by a foul tip May 26 have dissipated. Johnson, initially limited in stretching and lateral moves after sitting out for two games, has resumed his normal activities and last night started for the fifth straight game.
"I can do it all," Johnson said half-jokingly. "That's behind me."
Johnson's performance hasn't been hurt. He entered last night against the Expos having hit in eight of his last nine games for a .393 average (11-for-28) and homered in his first game back from the injury. He hit his ninth home run last night.
Johnson's success against base stealers also has improved, though it lags behind his career percentage. Rondell White's successful first-inning steal left Johnson with three assists against the last nine runners attempting to steal. It has raised his success rate to 6-for-29 (20.7). Last year he threw out 39.8 percent of would-be base stealers, short of his career 41.6 rate.
Around the horn
Actor and Columbia native Edward Norton paid the Orioles a visit while making a film in Montreal. Norton, who has appeared in such flicks as "American History" and "The People Vs. Larry Flynt," spoke with Cal Ripken and Brady Anderson. ... The Orioles have played in 21 one-run games, losing a league-high 12. Their 12 one-run losses are second-most in the majors to the Houston Astros. They have been involved in 16 games decided by the last at-bat, going 1-9 in such games on the road. ... The Orioles have outscored opponents 228-217 before the eighth inning and been outscored 79-37 from the eighth inning on.