3 Baltimore Orioles As the payroll swells and the roster ages, the O's can only hope it all adds up

March 29, 1999

Let's say you're Peter Angelos. You're a successful lawyer. Your
ego is, let's just say, healthy. You own a baseball team, the
Baltimore Orioles. You despise the division-rival New York
Yankees, winners of last year's World Series, winners in the AL
East by 22 games. Your own club finished fourth, 35 games behind
the Yankees, four games under .500, despite a $74 million
payroll. You're selling out every home game because you have a
great ballpark and because Baltimoreans love baseball. But you
know that a lot of baseball people are laughing at you for
spending all that money on a 79-83 team. You have a choice. You
could go back to the old, core Orioles values: farm system and
fundamentals. Or you could import some high-priced talent.

Welcome, Will Clark! How're you doing, Delino DeShields! Glad to
know you, Charles Johnson! A merry good morning to you, Albert
Belle! If spending $74 million last year wasn't enough to get
the Orioles in the chase, Angelos is guessing that $82 million,
this year's expected tab, will be.

He had other options. The Orioles have significant prospects on
their farm teams. Whether these guys will ever play for
Baltimore or whether they'll be dealt to bring in more name
players is unknown. What is known is that the Orioles are doing
again what they did last year, spending and praying. Winning the
division, with the Yankees still in business, seems out of the
question. But the Orioles could contend for the wild card. They
could also go nowhere.

The second-year manager, Ray Miller, will have his hands full.
Any manager would, trying to keep a grip on so much expensive,
veteran talent. Miller used 132 different lineups last year, but
he'll take a different tack this season. He hopes to figure out,
early, a batting order that works, and stick with it.

The every-day guys are a formidable lot, with known strengths
and known weaknesses. For good or for bad, there's not a kid
among them. The catcher is Johnson, 28, a defensive master (four
consecutive Gold Gloves) who hit a meager .218 for the Dodgers
last year. Clark, the first baseman, most recently with the
Rangers, is 35 and still a sweet swinger. Defense is another
matter. The throw to second, let alone third, is a battle for
him now. The speedy DeShields, 30, who came on board after a
two-year stint with the Cardinals, will be the second
baseman--when he returns to the lineup in mid-April from a
fractured left hand suffered during spring training. The
shortstop, Mike Bordick, 33, is a solid fielder who fares poorly
against hard-throwing righties. Third baseman Cal Ripken Jr., at
38, is an icon. Even though the Streak is over, his fan base
remains huge, and because of it he is the most powerful
personality in the organization, a fact that has caused
clubhouse tensions in the past.

In rightfield, Belle, 32, who had a monster year with the White
Sox, will require his new team to adjust to him, and not vice
versa. (He wants to bat cleanup, and he will bat cleanup.)
Centerfielder Brady Anderson, the 35-year-old leadoff hitter, is
coming off a poor season in which he batted .236 and hit only 18
home runs. (He had smacked 50 in 1996.) Leftfielder B.J.
Surhoff, 34, was probably the most dependable Oriole last year,
considering defense and offense together, but does he have the
arm to play right if Belle struggles there?

Last year the Baltimore defense, which featured second baseman
Roberto Alomar and first baseman Rafael Palmeiro (both
departed), was spectacular. The Orioles committed only 81
errors, a major league record, and still could not win half
their games. This year their defense is suspect. But if all the
skillful bats on the team--especially those of Belle, Clark,
DeShields, Anderson and Surhoff--can produce numbers in the
vicinity of their career averages, the team's offensive
production could be massive enough to overwhelm an irksome
problem like shoddy defense. At least that's what Baltimore is
counting on.

The starting pitching should keep the Orioles in games, although
starting five righties makes them susceptible to certain teams,
the Yankees among them. Mike Mussina, the staff ace, is due to
have his first 20-win season. Scott Erickson provides
innings--he led the league with 251 last year--which the Orioles
will need, since their bullpen is not exactly bulletproof. It's
no secret that the Orioles wish Erickson was their third, and
not their second, starter. General manager Frank Wren is looking
for someone to follow Mussina in the rotation, but so far
nothing has come together. For now, Juan Guzman is the No. 3
starter. He's a strikeout pitcher on a club where any out by
strikes will be particularly welcome. Following Guzman will be
Scott Kamieniecki, who had two disks in his neck fused in
September but by spring training was pitching well. The fifth
starter is Sidney Ponson, a kid full of promise. If that quintet
pitches to its ability, Baltimore will be in the wild-card race.

The Orioles could have tried something radical, such as slashing
the budget and making a commitment to fledgling players like
first baseman Calvin Pickering, second baseman Jerry Hairston
Jr., third baseman Ryan Minor and third baseman-outfielder
Willis Otanez. But Angelos believes that the local citizenry
won't come to watch those guys play .500 ball this year with the
hope that they might play .600 ball next year. He knows people
will pay to watch Belle and Clark and Ripken whether they're
playing .500 ball or .600 ball. The Orioles' owner is playing
for now. If this season is another expensive mistake, he'll just
go back to the drawing board again.

--Michael Bamberger

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO Belle, the biggest of Angelos's latest acquisitions, heads a high-priced lineup that will likely have an easier time hitting the ball than catching it. COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA

By the Numbers

1998 Team Statistics (AL rank)
1998 record: 79-83 (fourth in AL East)

BATTING AVERAGE .273 (5)
RUNS SCORED 817 (7)
HOME RUNS 214 (3)
OPP. BATTING AVG. .272 (6)
ERA 4.74 (7)
FIELDING PCT. .987 (1)

As Good as Gold?

Baltimore pitchers were charged with only 31 unearned runs in
1998, the fewest of any team in a full season in history
(below). Rafael Palmeiro and Roberto Alomar, both of whom left
the Orioles over the winter, became the fourth pair of teammates
to win Gold Glove Awards on the right side of the infield in the
same year. (Gold Gloves were first awarded in 1957.) New Orioles
Will Clark and Delino DeShields trail the Palmeiro-Alomar tandem
9-1 in career Gold Gloves.

Unearned
Team Runs Gold Glove Winners

1998 Orioles 31 2B Roberto Alomar, P Mike Mussina,
1B Rafael Palmeiro
1998 Mets 36 SS Rey Ordonez
1998 Yankees 37 OF Bernie Williams
1982 Orioles 39 1B Eddie Murray

Unearned
Team Runs Gold GloveWinners

1992 Orioles 40 SS Cal Ripken Jr.
1993 Pirates 40 SS Jay Bell
1975 Reds 40 C Johnny Bench, SS Dave Concepcion,
OF Cesar Geronimo, 2B Joe Morgan
1990 Blue Jays 41 3B Kelly Gruber
1955 White Sox 41 No awards given

Next Up...

Fifth starter Sidney Ponson is big--6'1", 220--and slightly
roly-poly. He was born in Aruba, where he learned to throw a
killer sinker and a curveball that falls off a shelf. The
22-year-old has a veteran's confidence, which is odd, because as
a rookie last year he was less than stellar. He did, however,
win seven of his last 10 decisions. In the off-season he got in
better shape and got stronger, and he goes into the '99 season
with the expectations of a realist: to win 12 to 15 games, pitch
180 to 200 innings and keep his ERA under 4.00. "The thing about
Sidney is that he's smart," says manager Ray Miller. "A smart
pitcher with a 97-mile-an-hour sinker is gonna get a lot of
people out."

Projected Roster With 1998 Statistics

Manager: Ray Miller (second season with Baltimore)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

CF Brady Anderson L 145 .236 18 51 21
2B Delino DeShields[1] L-R 163 .290 7 44 26
1B Will Clark[1] L 55 .305 23 102 1
RF Albert Belle[1] R 6 .328 49 152 6
DH Harold Baines L 195 .300 9 57 0
3B Cal Ripken Jr. R 137 .271 14 61 0
LF B.J. Surhoff L-R 101 .279 22 92 9
C Charles Johnson[1] R 190 .218 19 58 0
SS Mike Bordick R 236 .260 13 51 6

BENCH

DH Chris Hoiles R 213 .262 15 56 0
C Lenny Webster R 286 .285 10 46 0
OF Rich Amaral[1] R 303 .276 1 4 11
IF Jeff Reboulet R 355 .246 1 8 0

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Mike Mussina 19 13 10 7.1 1.11 3.49
RH Scott Erickson 52 16 13 7.0 1.40 4.01
RH Juan Guzman 85 10 16 6.4 1.38 4.35
RH Scott Kamieniecki 121 2 6 4.6 1.70 6.75
RH Sidney Ponson 109 8 9 5.7 1.47 5.27

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Mike Timlin[1] 31 3 3 19 1.18 2.95
LH Arthur Rhodes 206 4 4 4 1.29 3.51
RH Mike Fetters[1] 260 2 8 5 1.48 4.30
LH Jesse Orosco 273 4 1 7 1.31 3.18
RH Heathcliff Slocumb[1] 328 2 5 3 1.71 5.32
LH Doug Johns 278 3 3 1 1.62 4.57

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws IPS: Innings
pitched per start WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 154)

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)