Baker: O's should stay open to idea of Hawkins as closer


MESA, Ariz.-- --The Chicago Cubs may have decided that LaTroy Hawkins wasn't cut out to be their full-time closer after the shaky start last year that cost him the job and eventually prompted a trade to the San Francisco Giants, but Cubs manager Dusty Baker won't discount the possibility that he could successfully fill that role if the Orioles need him in the ninth inning.

"He has the stuff," Baker said after Friday's workout at the Cubs' spring training facility. "Sometimes, it takes guys time to do that. Mike Jackson was a setup guy for a long time and had some success [as a closer] after not having much success in the beginning."

Hawkins has had some success. He recorded 14 saves in 14 attempts for the Minnesota Twins in 2000 after struggling in the starting rotation for three seasons, then came back in 2001 to save 28 games ... but the devil is in the details.

He blew nine saves that year and had a 5.96 ERA. The Cubs tried him in the closer's role and he saved 25 games in 2004, but he blew nine saves and was ineffective in the ninth inning for the Cubs and Giants in 2005.

"Sometimes, he has trouble finishing guys off," Baker said. "That last out can be hard to get."

No one, however, questions the quality of Hawkins' arm or his value as a teammate. The Orioles intend to use him as a setup man, but they may have to give him another chance to close if 24-year-old Chris Ray is not ready for primetime.

"He's another guy who might benefit from a change in scenery," Baker said. "I'm pulling for him."

Shifting Orioles prospect Val Majewski to first base is a smooth move, though it might appear to make little sense in the short term. The Orioles, by Sam Perlozzo's admission, have "about eight first basemen," but this isn't just about the 2006 season.

Most of those potential first basemen are signed only through this season, so you've got to give director of minor league operations Dave Stockstill and the rest of the player development department credit for looking past the obvious to improve the club's position depth.

The Orioles have been criticized, quite legitimately, for their inability to develop strong position players over the past two decades. I don't know if Majewski is going to change that, but it's worth a try.

Figure skater Kimmie Meissner won't be coming home with an Olympic medal, but that was almost beside the point after she made the Baltimore area - and the nation - proud with her upbeat attitude and a classy bearing far beyond her 16 years.

Perhaps before she flies home, she could hold a seminar on the Olympic spirit for some of the so-called adult members of the U.S. team, particularly a couple of petulant speed skaters.

This would be a shameless plug if Schmuck Fest 2006 was going to take place within driving distance of Baltimore, but since the charity baseball roast already took place last night in Phoenix, I'm only mentioning it to explain why I'm in Arizona instead of Fort Lauderdale with the Orioles.

I guess I should also explain why anyone would name a charity banquet Schmuck Fest. The original idea belonged to Frank Schmuck, a Southwest Airlines pilot who is - believe it or not - no relation to yours truly. He quickly recruited former Arizona State baseball great Roger Schmuck (also no relation, to Frank or myself) and me to create a sports comedy roast befitting our name and benefiting American Legion Baseball and the Arizona Major League Alumni Association.

This year's roast featured Baker, Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller and Arizona Diamondbacks star Luis Gonzalez, who were roasted by professional comedians and given awards for their charitable and community activities.

While I'm here, I'll also be investigating whether it would be feasible to have our own Schmuck Fest in Baltimore.

Favorite Winter Olympics headline from, the sports satire and humor site on the Web: "Hungover Bode Miller asks friends if he's done anything he should regret the past two weeks"

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