DALLAS - Frustrated in their search for free-agent pitching help, the Orioles are considering assisting their pitchers by moving home plate at Camden Yards closer to the backstop, according to club sources.
No decision has been finalized, according to club officials, but one must be made in the next several days as renovation of the field approaches a critical stage.
Drainage tiles already have been installed beneath the outfield and are scheduled for installation beneath the infield this week. If home plate retreats, the foul poles also must move, significantly tightening foul territory. A club source said moving home plate five feet is under consideration, which would stretch the deepest part of the fence to 415 feet, while bringing the corners of the field into fair territory. The distance from the plate to the backstop would shrink from 57 to 52 feet.
"I've only heard something recently, and I don't [know] much about it," said Syd Thrift, team vice president of baseball operations.
This is not the first time club officials have pondered altering the park's dimensions; however, earlier suggestions of moving the fences back proved logistically and financially impractical.
Renovation of the playing surface because of problems with drainage pipes makes this a convenient time for reconsidering a shift. The field was plowed under last month, and any future decision to alter the dimensions would necessitate a major groundskeeping effort.
The timetable for reconstructing the field calls for sod to be laid between Christmas and New Year's Day. That, of course, is predicated on timely installation of drainage tile, meaning any decision to change dimensions must be made no later than this week.
Boras narrows field
Scott Boras, the agent for prize free agent Alex Rodriguez, confirms he has received offers from eight teams. He says he has narrowed the field to four finalists for the All-Star shortstop and plans to meet with officials from those four clubs today.
Saunders, Mercker honored
Former Glen Burnie High pitcher Tony Saunders and Kent Mercker have been voted co-winners of the 11th annual Tony Conigliaro Award, given to the major league player who has overcome adversity through determination and courage.
Saunders, a left-hander with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays until retiring this summer, received four first-place votes, one second and one third. Mercker, a left-hander with the Anaheim Angels, received two first-place votes, four seconds and two thirds.
Saunders, 26, broke a bone in his left arm May 26, 1999, while releasing a pitch against the Texas Rangers. Fifteen months later, Saunders suffered another break while making a rehab start at Single-A St. Petersburg. He recently was hired by the Devil Rays as an assistant in scouting and player development.
Mercker suffered a life-threatening cerebral hemorrhage May 11 while pitching against the Rangers. He returned to the mound Aug. 12 with a start against the New York Yankees.
Minority hirings up
A report released by Major League Baseball yesterday on its equal-opportunity efforts revealed minority hirings, including front office and on-field positions, have increased from 23 to 26 percent in the last two years.
In the front offices, baseball's minority hiring increased from 21 to 23 percent, while on-field jobs (excluding players) jumped from 26 to 30 percent.
Among the other findings, minorities and women comprise 41 percent of the executive and department head positions in the central offices and club front offices, compared to 37 percent in 1998. Of the 243 managerial positions throughout the majors and minors, minority group members occupy 33 percent. They also occupy 41 percent of the coaching positions.
Umpires, managers to meet
Umpires and managers will meet today to discuss topics such as expanding the strike zone, handling beanball incidents and grounds for ejections.
Sandy Alderson, the executive vice president for baseball operations, called the meeting of 17 crew-chief umpires and 27 managers. Frank Robinson and Ralph Nelson of the commissioner's office also will participate. It's the first time baseball has conducted this type of session.
Arizona manager Bob Brenly called it "a step in the right direction."
Alderson is pushing for a higher strike zone, and major league umpires worked games in the Arizona Fall League to prepare for it.
A's shop Grieve
Grieve, 24, is being shopped by the Oakland Athletics, who need to free up money for a possible contract extension for league Most Valuable Player Jason Giambi. He batted .279 last season, with 27 home runs and 104 RBIs. Most disturbing to the A's, his lack of speed contributed to him grounding into 32 double plays. Along with a weak throwing arm, it also makes him a liability in left field.
Rodriguez, Alex Gonzalez and Mike Bordick are the most attractive shortstops on the free-agent market, but Mike Caruso could be an intriguing candidate for some clubs. The Chicago White Sox designated Caruso for assignment Friday, two years after he made the jump from Single-A ball to the majors and batted .306 with 22 stolen bases. ... Terry Mulholland, 37, signed a two-year deal yesterday with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was 9-9 with a 5.11 ERA with the Atlanta Braves this summer. ... Todd Hundley is close to completing a four-year deal with the Chicago Cubs, sources told the Associated Press. The deal with Hundley is pending medical tests, according to someone close to the negotiations, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.