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4 Baltimore Orioles Ill-spent dough and chemistry woes spell another bleak year for the aging O's

March 27, 2000
March 27, 2000

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March 27, 2000

Baseball Preview 2000

4 Baltimore Orioles Ill-spent dough and chemistry woes spell another bleak year for the aging O's

Last season the Baltimore Orioles were a bad team that spent a
lot of money ($84 million, second most in the American League).
This season the Baltimore Orioles will be a bad team that spends
a lot of money--just not quite as much ($75 million). Generally,
bad teams with deep pockets make big changes. The Orioles? Well,
they fired in-over-his-head manager Ray Miller and replaced him
with former Cleveland skipper Mike Hargrove, who led the Indians
to five straight AL Central titles, if not a World Series title.
They brought in three new coaches and a handful of graying
veterans. Last spring training the players' locker room buffet
included Oreos. This spring it was Chips Ahoy.

This is an article from the March 27, 2000 issue Original Layout

That's it?

That's it.

That's all?

That's all.

Baltimore has problems, not the least of which is a thoroughly
unlikable, dysfunctional clubhouse. Albert Belle snarls, rants
and occasionally threatens to maim spindly reporters. Will
Clark--who fell only 119 RBIs short of Rafael Palmeiro, the man
he replaced at first base last year--never shuts up. Delino
DeShields sulks. Scott Erickson bitches. The one guy who could
make everyone (even Belle) giggle like schoolgirls from time to
time, lefthanded reliever Jesse Orosco, was traded to the Mets
in the off-season.

At best Baltimore is an old, ornery team that has an outside
(very outside) shot at the wild card if everyone stays healthy.
Cal Ripken Jr.'s bad back sidelined him for 76 games last
season, but he did bat a career-high .340 and enters the season
only nine hits shy of 3,000. Belle did not hit his 11th homer
until June 15, but he did blast 26 from that point on. Clark,
leftfielder B.J. Surhoff, DH Harold Baines and centerfielder
Brady Anderson are all 35 or older, but each can still be a
capable run producer. The righthanded quartet of Mike Mussina,
Erickson (who will miss the season's first month while he
recovers from elbow surgery), Sidney Ponson and Jason Johnson
combined for 53 wins and gives the Orioles a solid group of
starters.

"Our lineup isn't the problem," says DeShields. "And our
rotation is good. Last year, if we had been able to close games,
we would've won games. Joe Torre doesn't lose sleep with Mariano
Rivera. The Padres don't lose sleep with Trevor Hoffman. I'm not
pointing fingers, but...."

DeShields is referring, of course, to the Baltimore bullpen,
which was gangrenous throughout most of 1999. After signing a
lucrative free-agent contract, closer Mike Timlin had 27 saves
and a 3.57 ERA, decent numbers that don't reveal the true horror
of his season. In the first half of '99 Timlin was heinous,
blowing eight of 19 save opportunities. The 34-year-old righty
says several factors--among them the pressure of his new
four-year, $16 million deal and poor concentration--doomed him.
"I was terrible, terrible, terrible," says Timlin, who did
rebound to save 18 of his last 19 chances. "My mental game
wasn't correct. I didn't focus. I couldn't get anyone out."

That goes for the entire relief corps, most of whom were gagged,
cuffed, stuffed in a trunk and dumped into Inner Harbor after
blowing 25 saves and 27 games. Timlin is back, but no other
reliever was with the team at the start of last year. The new
bullpen--which features new setup man Mike Trombley (24 saves in
30 chances with the Twins in '99) and former A's middleman Buddy
Groom (four straight seasons of at least 70 appearances)--might
not boast a Rivera or a Hoffman, but it is much more solid. It
is also well-balanced, with three lefthanders and four righties.

The bullpen shake-up represented the bulk of the team's
off-season player moves, which is odd when you consider
Baltimore's poor record, funereal clubhouse and the fact that
the front office's top personnel man, vice president of baseball
operations Syd Thrift, is a legendary lover of the open market.
(Free-agent pitcher Aaron Sele and the Orioles reached a oral
agreement on a four-year contract in January, but that offer was
rescinded after Sele failed a physical and refused to agree to a
lesser deal.) That absence of big moves reflects the front
office's belief that Miller, not a lack of talent, was the
problem in 1999.

Hargrove, who was greeted even by Belle with gold coins and rose
petals, should get more out of the team, though he has had
spotty relationships with his bullpens in the past, and he
sometimes forgets to rest his starters. "His way of going about
things is much...different," says Mussina, tiptoeing around the
team's latest favorite endeavor, Miller bashing. "It's already
more comfortable here than it was last year. We all know what
Hargrove has done. He's a winner, and he's done it more than
once. We know we have the talent to win. We just have to put it
all together."

In this House of Horrors, that's easier said than done.

--J.P.

COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE RARE BIRD In a clubhouse full of geezers in decline, the gifted Ponson is one of the few Orioles whose best years are ahead of them.COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON

Around The Horn

OFFENSE
[3 stars]
DEFENSE
[3 1/2 stars]
STARTING PITCHING
[3 1/2 stars]
BULLPEN
[2 stars]
MANAGER
[3 1/2 stars]

by the numbers

1999 Team Statistics 1999 record: 78-84 (fourth in AL East)
(AL rank)

Batting average .279 (6) Opponents' batting average .269 (4)
Runs scored 851 (8) ERA 4.77 (4)
Home runs 203 (7) Fielding percentage .986 (1)

next up...

Just how young is Jerry Hairston Jr.? The Orioles second baseman
fondly recalls scavenging through the White Sox clubhouse as a
grade-schooler in the early 1980s, when his dad was a Chicago
outfielder and his favorite player was...Harold Baines? "Yeah,
I liked Harold even more than my dad," says Hairston of Baines,
who's now his 41-year-old teammate. "But Dad was second." Dad
might also wind up second in the Hairston family athletic
scrapbook. While Jerry Sr. hit .258 in 14 big league seasons,
23-year-old Jerry Jr. is Baltimore's top prospect, a scrappy,
dirt-loving hustler with very good hands and speed, though he
still tends to swing for the fences too much. With the return of
veteran Delino DeShields from injury, Hairston will serve as a
utility infielder until the second base position opens up. "I
wanna have a long career," says Hairston. "Even better than my
father's."

the lineup
projected roster with 1999 statistics

Manager: Mike Hargrove (first season with Baltimore)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

CF Brady Anderson L 70 .282 24 81 36
SS Mike Bordick R 184 .277 10 77 14
LF B.J. Surhoff L-R 50 .308 28 107 5
RF Albert Belle R 14 .297 37 117 17
DH Harold Baines[1] L 105 .312 25 103 1
3B Cal Ripken R 98 .340 18 57 0
1B Will Clark L 164 .303 10 29 2
C Charles Johnson R 193 .251 16 54 0
2B Delino DeShields L-R 220 .264 6 34 11

BENCH

OF Jeff Conine R 233 .291 13 75 0
IF Jerry Hairston Jr. R 275 .269 4 17 9
C Greg Myers[1] L-R 324 .265 5 24 0
IF Jesse Garcia (R)* R 373 .255 2 23 9

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Mike Mussina 9 18 7 6.6 1.27 3.50
RH Scott Erickson[2] 89 15 12 6.8 1.49 4.81
RH Sidney Ponson 72 12 12 6.6 1.46 4.71
RH Jason Johnson 162 8 7 5.5 1.52 5.46
RH Pat Rapp[1] 193 6 7 4.8 1.48 4.12

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Mike Timlin 77 3 9 27 1.17 3.57
RH Mike Trombley[1] 94 2 8 24 1.39 4.33
LH B.J. Ryan (R) 219 1 0 0 1.28 3.10
LH Buddy Groom[1] 291 3 2 0 1.43 5.09
LH Chuck McElroy[1] 298 3 1 0 1.78 5.50
RH Calvin Maduro* 215 11 11 0 1.41 3.99

[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 162)
*Triple A stats
[2]Will begin season on DL

the book
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Orioles

"The Orioles may be good enough for the wild card, but a lot of
things have to go right. More likely, they're .500. Their
bullpen depth isn't strong. Chuck McElroy is an important
lefthander, but he's definitely on the downswing. Buddy Groom is
serviceable, nothing more. Mike Timlin has top closer stuff, but
Ray Miller really got into his head last year, and he looked
like he had no confidence.... Will Clark's bat has slowed down
to a slider bat, and he can't hit lefties. I like Jeff Conine
more. He can play first and the outfield, and you know he'll go
.280, 20 homers and 75 RBIs.... Brady Anderson doesn't play with
his old intensity, and he's lost serious bat speed. If he's your
every-day centerfielder, you're in trouble.... Cal still plays
third pretty well--soft hands, good instincts. Ryan Minor looks
like he'll never be ready to take over. He has more holes at the
plate than a wheel of Swiss cheese. I question how much he wants
to play. If he was offered an NBA contract, he'd take it. I
wouldn't be surprised if the Orioles offer him to an NBA team."