Since there is no obvious successor waiting to replace Cal Ripken at third base, the Orioles ought to be paying close attention to the feud between Philadelphia Phillies manager Larry Bowa and slumping third baseman Scott Rolen.
There have been whispers for weeks that Rolen dislikes Bowa and wants out of the Phillies' organization. He can become a free agent after next season, and negotiations on a new long-term contract have not gotten off the ground.
Maybe it's just a pipe dream, but the 26-year-old potential superstar would look pretty good in the middle of the Orioles' youth movement. And it looks like he'll be available in a trade this winter if there isn't some serious fence-mending in Philadelphia between now and then.
The situation blew up Wednesday when the Philadelphia Daily News quoted Bowa as saying that the Phillies' cleanup hitter is "killing us" and burdened him with much of the responsibility for the offensive anemia that has helped shave an eight-game division lead to nearly nothing.
The Phillies entered the weekend interleague series against the Orioles with nine losses in their previous 11 games. The tension really started to build after the club dropped a tight series to the Boston Red Sox last weekend. Things only got worse when the Phillies were swept in a three-game series by the lowly Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
"Three and four [in the batting order], we've got to be dead last [in production]," Bowa was quoted as saying. "I can't believe the papers aren't running some kind of comparison chart. ... If the No. 4 guy even makes contact in either Boston loss, we sweep the series. He's killing us."
Bowa said he was quoted inaccurately and denied that he singled out Rolen as the chief reason for the team's recent offensive struggles. He said he was speaking about the middle of the lineup in general, but the damage was done.
The incident - and a heated meeting between Bowa and Rolen before Wednesday night's game at Tampa Bay - confirmed that there is little love lost between Bowa and the Phillies' franchise player.
Rolen clearly was wounded by the public criticism - accurately reported or not. He has struggled this year, managing only six home runs and 36 RBIs in the team's first 64 games, but deserves to enjoy the club's newfound success after spending the past four years as the cornerstone of a difficult organizational rebuilding process.
"I was brought up to take the high road, and I think this is a good time to take the high road," he said. "We're a first-place team, and I'm not going to disrupt that. This is the first time I've been on a first-place team, and I'm not going to be negative and brew controversy."
Maybe not, but it's pretty obvious where this is all going. Rolen figures to tell the Phillies after the season that he is not interested in a long-term deal, which will force the club to entertain offers this winter. The Orioles figure to be interested, though they would have to part with at least one of their top young pitchers - Sidney Ponson, perhaps - and sign Rolen to a deal worth close to $10 million a year.
Sounds like the thing to do.
M's not standing pat
The Seattle Mariners might be in the midst of one of the best first-half performances in the history of baseball, but general manager Pat Gillick said recently that he remains open to a deal that would improve the club's already solid starting rotation.
"You can't stand still. If we can improve, we will," Gillick said.
Gillick isn't satisfied that there is enough leadership on the pitching staff to carry the club through the three-tiered postseason. He apparently hopes to pick up a front-line starter before the July 31 trading deadline.
"If you want to go to the end, you have to have a No. 1 starter," Gillick said. "What we'd really like is someone with more than one year on their contract remaining."
Of course, the first name on everybody's lips these days is Chicago White Sox pitcher David Wells, but Gillick tried to trade Wells when the portly left-hander was in Baltimore and doesn't seem any more enamored of him now.
"I have no interest in David Wells," Gillick said. "He's not a No. 1 starter in my opinion - he's probably a No. 3 starter."
Arizona Diamondbacks rookie Nick Bierbrodt just might have pitched the most strenuous hitless inning in baseball history Wednesday night, throwing 49 pitches in the first inning against the Chicago Cubs on the way to his first major-league victory.
That's right, in an era when most starting pitchers aim to throw about 100 pitches an outing, Bierbrodt used half his allotment to get the first three outs of the game. He pitched to six batters, striking out three, walking two and allowing a runner to reach base on an error.
The Cubs hit 25 foul balls in the inning, 20 of them on two-strike pitches. It was all Bierbrodt could do to get through five innings and take advantage of a seven-run second-inning rally by the Diamondbacks, who went on to score a 13-3 victory.
"It was a stretch whether we could get to five innings before he got 200 pitches," Arizona manager Bob Brenly said.
Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch apparently has forgotten that he pressed his front office to cut payroll last winter, when the club failed to pick up the option on pitcher Hideo Nomo and made no free-agent acquisitions of any great note.
Ilitch now is saying that money wasn't an issue over the off-season and recently second-guessed general manager Randy Smith for his reluctance to make a play for veteran pitcher Pat Hentgen - now on the Orioles' disabled list.
"I guess Randy thought he had enough pitching," Ilitch said.
Clearly, Smith cannot be long for the Tigers' front office. Club president John McHale recently jumped ship to take over the struggling Devil Rays franchise, leaving Smith to take the fall for a long-term development plan that still hasn't fielded a competitive team.
Turn back the clock
Former Toronto Blue Jays reliever Duane Ward - who holds the club record of 45 saves in a season - stopped by SkyDome to greet fans as part of the club's 25th anniversary celebration. Then he told manager Buck Martinez that he wants to attempt a comeback.
The Jays apparently are open-minded. Ward, who retired after only eight seasons because of arm problems, hasn't pitched since 1995. He's relatively young (37) for a guy who's been out of the game for six years, so the club probably will take a look at him.
"Sure, I think we'd be interested," Martinez said. "It's a long-shot thing, but it may be a matter of him working back into shape and going [to the minors]. We'll see."
Jays fans have good memories of Ward. His last win came in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series, courtesy of that dramatic, series-winning home run by Joe Carter.
Henderson to A's again?
San Diego has given aging superstar Rickey Henderson the chance to chase his remaining career milestones, but the future Hall of Famer said recently that he would like to end his career where it began - in Oakland.
"I might have a chance to finish in the Bay area," Henderson said. "I honestly still feel I should have a shot with Oakland. It's just a matter of whether they give me a chance to compete out there."
Henderson still makes his home in the Oakland area and identifies with the A's, even if he has taken advantage of free agency to bounce back and forth between the A's and several other teams during his 23-year major-league career. He has played there four different times and hopes to make it five before hanging up his spikes.
He just hopes that the team is still there when he gets back. Speculation persists that the A's will move out of Oakland and settle in San Jose or Sacramento.
"It would make me sad if baseball left Oakland. It'd be a blow for the baseball fans there," Henderson said. "But I don't see that happening too soon. I don't think the A's will end up in San Jose, because the Giants won't let them. Sacramento would have a better shot."
Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.