- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2000

BALTIMORE Will Clark tried not to smile when it was announced he was traded from the Baltimore Orioles to the St. Louis Cardinals. B.J. Surhoff fought back the tears a battle he clearly lost when he talked about being moved from his adopted hometown to Atlanta.

The trades were the latest in a wild weekend that saw the Orioles dump older players with large salaries for younger prospects with substantially lower price tags. The dismantling of a team that reached the American League Championship Series in 1997 and has underachieved since is nearly complete.

Veterans Mike Bordick, Harold Baines, Charles Johnson and Mike Timlin set the stage for the exits of Surhoff and Clark. The non-waiver trade deadline came at 4 p.m. yesterday, and Surhoff, Clark and 23-year-old rookie reliever Gabe Molina were dealt in the final hour.

"This doesn't fit the description of a fire sale," Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift said when asked about the nature of the trades. "We had specific [players] we were targeting."

Surhoff was traded to the Braves for reserve outfielder Trenidad Hubbard and two minor leaguers, right-handed pitcher Luis Rivera and catcher Fernando Lunar. Thrift said the deal was dead until the Braves called yesterday morning and sweetened the deal with Rivera, a 22-year-old Class AAA pitcher from Mexico.

Clark, 36, was sent to St. Louis for 23-year-old Class AA third baseman Jose Leon. Baltimore reportedly will pick up half of the remaining $2 million owed Clark this season (Clark has a $6 million a year contract, which expires after the season). Thrift said the Surhoff deal did not include money.

"There is nothing better than a pennant race," said Clark, who will fill in for the injured Mark McGwire for the National League Central-leading Cardinals. "I'm looking forward to getting right back in the middle of one."

Clark hit .301 with nine homers and 28 RBI in 79 games. But the veteran has battled injuries in the latter stages of his career and spent 15 days on the disabled list this season with a strained hamstring.

All the changes may affect the thinking of pitcher Mike Mussina, who becomes a free agent after the season. The ace, who turns 32 in the offseason, has suggested he may not want to stay around for a major rebuilding project.

Surhoff, who is under contract for $4.3 million a year through 2002, took the news more emotionally than Clark. At a news conference, he shed tears and regularly had to stop to compose himself. Surhoff, who turns 36 on Friday, admitted he was not prepared to be traded after rumors he would be sent to the New York Yankees had quieted.

The left fielder was hitting .293 with 13 home runs and 57 RBI in 103 games with Baltimore. He was nostalgic about his time with the Orioles and made a point of thanking former managers Davey Johnson and Ray Miller for putting him in the lineup every day. The left-handed hitter also talked about how special it is to play in front of an appreciative sellout crowd on a regular basis and even mentioned how he would miss Boog's Barbecue.

"I played my first nine years in one place [Milwaukee]," said Surhoff, trembling at the shock of the moment. "It was tough to leave there. I played my next four and almost four months here. I had my best years here."

The deal with the Braves came together after a morning phone call from Braves general manager John Schuerholz. The GM said he would add Rivera to the deal, according to Thrift.

Rivera is 0-2 with an 8.06 ERA in eight games seven starts with Richmond. The Mexican, who missed the first two months of the season with a strain in his right shoulder, was sent to Baltimore's Class AAA affiliate in Rochester, N.Y.

"He was regarded as an untouchable," Thrift said. "They refused to give him up in a trade for Denny Neagle. That's why [Neagle] ended up [with the Yankees]."

Hubbard is the only player picked up yesterday who will join the major league club immediately. The 34-year-old batted .185 with a homer and six RBI in 60 games for the Braves. Hubbard becomes a free agent after the season and is unlikely to be with the Orioles beyond this season.

Lunar, 23, was sent to Class AA Bowie. The catcher from Venezuela was hitting .167 for the Braves' Class AA affiliate in Greenville, S.C. He also batted .185 with five RBI in a 22-game stint with Atlanta this season.

The youth movement is well underway for the Orioles, who traded five everyday players and their closer in the last four days.

"Obviously, the way the club was built, it wasn't working," Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove said. "We're not going out there to get our butts kicked, but that's going to happen. We're going out there to win."

Hargrove said there was epiphany when management realized the $84 million, veteran-laden group wasn't going to be competitive but said somewhere around the All-Star break the new strategy of breaking up the team was given a more serious look.

"The glimmer [of problems] started in spring training," he said. "It just grew."

It finally matured to the point of no return, and Thrift pulled the trigger in the middle of a third consecutive embarrassing season. Baltimore management is selling the "younger, faster" Orioles instead of a potential playoff team.

"Somebody is going to be up here [at the podium] three years from now and look at how smart we are," Thrift said.

Still, yesterday presented a dose of reality for a disappointing club.

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