Hidalgo likely won't return


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Orioles spoke yesterday with the agent for Richard Hidalgo, and according to sources the outfielder is unlikely to return to the team and ever play for the organization.

Hidalgo, who signed a minor league deal with the Orioles last week, left the team Saturday morning, just a couple of days after passing his physical. While the Orioles were in Jupiter, Fla., to face the Florida Marlins, he approached manager Sam Perlozzo and told him that he needed to leave the team to be with his wife, who was hospitalized with an illness.

"Nothing has changed," said Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan. "He is just taking some time, that's all. ... We'll see what tomorrow brings."

Flanagan wouldn't offer any more comments, but the club could have an announcement as early as today. The Orioles might release Hidalgo, 30, or sell him to another organization. It's also possible he may retire.

Hidalgo's representatives didn't return calls seeking comment.

Though unsure when and if Hidalgo will return, Perlozzo acknowledged that it would likely have to be soon to have a shot at making the team.

"If he is going to come back, we need to find out what his program is pretty soon," the manager said. "He came in a little late anyway. We need to get a read on him pretty quickly."

The veteran outfielder had been seeking a guaranteed deal, but agreed to a minor league contract with the Orioles and was expected to compete for the starting left-field job. However, according to team and industry sources, he remained unhappy that his roster spot was not guaranteed.

"Believe me, I was surprised," said third baseman Melvin Mora, a fellow Venezuelan who said he hadn't spoken to Hidalgo since he left. "I think he's having family problems. It's kind of sad. ... We can say anything we want, but I don't know what happened."

La Russa and Perlozzo

For about 30 minutes before yesterday's game at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, Perlozzo and St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa stood and talked while the Orioles took batting and fielding practice. The two first met in 1990 when Perlozzo was a coach on Lou Piniella's Cincinnati Reds team, which defeated La Russa's Oakland Athletics in the World Series.

"After we won our last game to clinch it, he came over and wanted to meet me," said Perlozzo. "Little did he know that I wanted to meet him. He told me ... that he liked a lot of the things that I did out there as a coach. I was on cloud nine to have somebody like that say something to me."

Perlozzo said that the two discussed a variety of baseball topics yesterday, and that he got some "real good" ideas from La Russa.

"I've always had tremendous respect and admiration for him," La Russa said of Perlozzo. "If he is getting a legitimate shot here, he will do outstanding. He's got all the baseball knowledge. He's got a good sense of what is right and wrong."

Crowley lauds Puckett

Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley picked up the paper yesterday morning and admitted to being in shock when reading about former Minnesota Twins star Kirby Puckett, who died yesterday afternoon after suffering a stroke on Sunday.

Crowley was the Twins' hitting coach from 1991 to '98, and considers Puckett one of his favorite students.

"When I think back to Kirby, there was never a more energetic ballplayer," said Crowley. "He was the life of the party on the bench. He'd back it up with line drives and home runs at the plate, make diving catches and great throws in the outfield. He was a true, true ballplayer who loved the game and moved everybody up that had the pleasure to be on the same team as him."

Crowley said that he talked to Puckett within the past two years.

"He was still in a good mood and happy and [had] a smile on his face," he said. "He was telling funny stories. That's the way I am always going to remember Kirby."


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