It is the best rotisserie team in the AL East, an amalgam of
statistics, resumes and trophies so impressive that it could
only have been imagined by a fantasy-league junkie. "On paper,
we're an All-Star team," says catcher Chris Hoiles. Indeed, of
the 10 Orioles that first-year manager Davey Johnson will likely
pencil into his Opening Day lineup, six have played in an
All-Star Game during the 1990s.

A surefire recipe for greatness, no? Well, no. A year ago team
owner Peter Angelos (page 180) spent more than $45 million on a
similarly stellar collection of parts, only to watch overwhelmed
manager Phil Regan fail to assemble those pieces with any hint
of deftness. Obscured by the joy and excitement generated by Cal
Ripken Jr.'s pursuit of Lou Gehrig's consecutive-game record was
a pall that hung over the clubhouse for much of the year. By
midseason the team had given up on Regan, and at season's end
Baltimore was 71-73. "The last couple of months we didn't need a
manager," says one Oriole. "We needed a coroner." Says pitcher
Mike Mussina, "There was no chemistry."

Enter Johnson and G.M. Pat Gillick. Before the start of the '95
season, Reds owner Marge Schott told Johnson he would not be
rehired when his contract ran out at the end of the year. The
lame-duck manager nonetheless led Cincinnati to a startlingly
easy NL Central crown, his third NL division title in a decade.
Less than a month after the season ended, Johnson eagerly
accepted Angelos's offer to manage the Orioles, lame birds of a
different feather. With his .576 career winning percentage and
his reputation as a player's coach, Johnson has instant
credibility with his team.

Gillick, regarded as the consummate baseball man, built a
minidynasty in Toronto during the late '80s and early '90s
around high-priced stars and talent farmed from one of the
deepest minor league systems in the game. This winter Gillick,
who joined Baltimore in late November, orchestrated eight trades
and free-agent signings, the most dramatic of which was the
signing of second baseman Roberto Alomar. After an uninspired
second half of '95 with the Blue Jays, the six-time All-Star
should regain his status as one of the top five players in the
game. Equally vital to Baltimore's success will be the clubhouse
leadership provided by newly acquired veterans Roger McDowell,
Randy Myers and B.J. Surhoff, spackling compound that should
fill the many cracks that existed in the Orioles' locker room
last season.

Talent? The Orioles are loaded. The infield might be the best in
the league. With Ripken playing alongside Alomar, no team is
better equipped up the middle. First baseman Rafael Palmeiro had
an MVP-quality year in '95. Hitting between Alomar and
rightfielder Bobby Bonilla this year, Palmeiro could put up even
more frightening numbers. But there is some concern at third
base, where the otherwise productive Surhoff has not played
since 1994. Joining Bonilla in the outfield are Brady Anderson
and phenom-in-waiting Jeffrey Hammonds, who hopes to avoid the
injuries that have hampered him the last four years.

The starting pitching is solid. Mussina gives Baltimore a clear
No. 1 starter molded from the same clay as Greg Maddux and David
Cone. David Wells was a combined 16-8 with a 3.24 ERA despite
pitching in hitter-friendly Tiger and Riverfront stadiums last
year. Filling out the rotation are righthander Scott Erickson
(9-4 after being traded to the O's last July); lefty Kent
Mercker, who was a trusty fifth starter with the Braves; and
rookie righthander Jimmy Haynes (12-8 at Triple A Rochester,
N.Y., in '95).

The bullpen, by far the team's biggest question mark, should be
bolstered by the signing of Myers, whose 150 saves over the last
four years rank second-best in the majors. There is some
concern, though, about his falloff (5.61 ERA) after the All-Star
break last season.

Should the bullpen--or any area of his team--falter, the new
general manager will not hesitate to scour the trade market.
Yes, building a first-rate farm system will always be a priority
for any Gillick-run team. But Baltimore is a team built for now,
not the millennium. Should the Orioles again fail to make the
playoffs, a dismantling is not only likely but also inevitable.
"I feel the same way now as I felt at this time last year," says
Mussina. "I think we have a very good-looking team on paper. But
then again, look what happened last year when we got on the
field. That's why we play the games."

--Christian Stone

[BOX]

BY THE NUMBERS

1995 Team Statistics (AL rank in parentheses)

Batting Average .262 (11)
Home Runs 173 (5)
ERA 4.31 (2)
Fielding Pct. .986 (1)

Hitters Around the Horn

Three quarters of Baltimore's starting infield lead the major
leagues in hits at their respective positions in the '90s. And
Bobby Bonilla, who may see some time at third base, has 890 hits
in this decade (at all positions combined), just two shy of Wade
Boggs's major-league-leading total for third basemen. The chart
below is based solely on hits accumulated while playing the
designated position.

Most Hits in the 1990s by Position

First basemen

Rafael Palmeiro, 1,037
Mark Grace, 1,025
Fred McGriff, 907
Will Clark, 901
Wally Joyner, 791

Second basemen

Roberto Alomar, 990
Chuck Knoblauch, 813
Carlos Baerga, 807
Jody Reed, 775
Delino DeShields, 755

Shortstops

Cal Ripken Jr., 969
Jay Bell, 916
Barry Larkin, 884
Tony Fernandez, 747
Ozzie Smith, 728

Third basemen

Wade Boggs, 892
Terry Pendleton, 883
Ken Caminiti, 839
Robin Ventura, 830
Matt Williams, 829

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS COVER PHOTO [Varies by region] Let 'er Rip Cal Ripken and the new-look Orioles streak into '96 COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA INSET [Varies by region] Roberto Alomar: A Rare Bird Lands in Baltimore COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO With an all-world lineup, Anderson and the Orioles won't slide from the top of the standings. [Brady Anderson]

PLAYER TO WATCH

Traded from the Twins to the Orioles last July, righthander
Scott Erickson finished the 1995 season with a stellar
September, going 4-0 with a 1.47 ERA over his last five starts.
That late-season performance recalled the pitcher's first two
years in the majors, when he went 28-12 with a 3.07 ERA for
Minnesota in 1990 and '91. From the end of the '91 season until
his rejuvenation last fall, however, Erickson was in a 38-52
tailspin. The 28-year-old ground-ball pitcher should benefit
from a full season of action on Camden Yards' natural grass
surface (the Twins play on AstroTurf) and from the gemlike
defensive play of new Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar, who
gets to more ground balls than any other infielder in the
league. Apparently Baltimore's front-office brass sees
Erickson's potential. In January the 6'4", 222-pound pitcher
signed a two-year, $6 million contract, making him one of only
seven Orioles signed to guaranteed deals beyond the 1996 season.

Projected Lineup With 1995 Stats

BATTING ORDER BA, HRs, RBIs, SBs

CF Brady Anderson .262, 16, 64, 26
2B Roberto Alomar[**] .300, 13, 66, 30
1B Rafael Palmeiro .310, 39, 104, 3
RF Bobby Bonilla .333, 10, 46, 0*
3B B.J. Surhoff .320, 13, 73, 7
SS Cal Ripken Jr. .262, 17, 88, 0
C Chris Hoiles .250, 19, 58, 1
DH Mike Devereaux[**] .306, 10, 55, 6*
LF Jeffrey Hammonds .242, 4, 23, 4

BENCH

IF Jeff Huson .248, 1, 19, 5
IF Bill Ripken[**] .292 BA in AAA

STARTERS W-L, ERA

RH Mike Mussina 19-9, 3.29
LH David Wells[**] 10-3, 3.04*
LH Kent Mercker 7-8, 4.15
RH Scott Erickson 13-10, 4.81
RH Jimmy Haynes 12-8 in AAA

RELIEVERS SAVES, ERA

LH Randy Myers[**] 38, 3.88
RH Roger McDowell[**] 4, 4.02
LH Jesse Orosco 3, 3.26
RH Alan Mills 0, 7.43

*American League statistics
[**]New acquisition
(R) Rookie

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)