- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2000

Who would have thought the Baltimore Orioles' Eli Jacobs era would be the good old days?

Remember 1992, when the Orioles were 56-45 at the trading deadline at the end of July and in second place, just four games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East?

The high-spending Blue Jays got David Cone in a trading deadline deal for their pennant drive. Baltimore obtained Craig Lefferts, and everyone bemoaned that the Orioles settled for less because Jacobs was so cheap.

Remember 1993, when the Orioles were 54-48 and just four games behind the Blue Jays again at the July trading deadline? Toronto got Rickey Henderson, and Baltimore got Mike Pagliarulo, and everyone again bemoaned that the Orioles settled for less because Jacobs was so cheap.

But at least the Orioles were in the game. At least people hung on to the possibility the club could get a David Cone or a Rickey Henderson to help win a pennant.

Hope was still in the air at Camden Yards, at least until the club's September fade.

Under the regime of free-spending owner Peter Angelos, however, this is the progress the franchise has made: It has fallen from the hunter to the hunted.

With a record of 30-36, the Orioles are no longer talking about who to acquire. The talk is who they will trade away maybe Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson, B.J. Surhoff, Charles Johnson or Mike Bordick.

You've come a long way, baby.

The Orioles' fall from hopeful to hopeless can be illustrated in the trade talk involving Sammy Sosa, most of which involves two of Baltimore's division rivals, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.

Sosa is an exciting player worth the price of admission. The Chicago Cubs are fools to consider trading him, but this is an organization whose philosophy is to strive for mediocrity. A baseball executive who once interviewed for a job there told me he was convinced the organization has no desire to win, for fear the drunk and devoted fan base that fills Wrigley Field every game will demand victory every time.

So the Cubs are flying the flag known as rebuilding trading a talented player for prospects. This is the general manager's version of a drug to extend life expectancy. By trading for prospects, your job is safe until those prospects have enough time to develop or flop. Trading for prospects is admitting you're not trying to win, and how can they fire you when you're not trying to win?

Your team not meeting expectations? Fans getting restless? Job on the line? Trade for prospects.

Need money? Buy a lottery ticket.

It's the same pitch.

If the Cubs trade Sosa for prospects, then they can tell their fans to be patient until those prospects become great players like the guy they traded away who hit 129 home runs over the past two seasons. After all, Cubs fans, you've waited 55 years for a World Series appearance. What's a few more years, right?

Meanwhile, Red Sox fans should be salivating at the idea of Sosa becoming part of the baseball festival this summer at Fenway Park. Imagine Pedro and Sammy on the same team. It will be hot and sassy in Boston.

But no one is imagining Sammy Sosa in a Baltimore Orioles uniform. There is no reason for any such hope.

No, in Baltimore the temperature is chilly because paranoia and despair hovers over everything, from the ballpark to the organization to the players on the field. Players and fans are left to wonder whether these are the last days for Mussina and Surhoff in black and orange.

The Orioles will be left with Albert Belle, who's now on a tear with six home runs and 17 RBI in his last six games and, in manager Mike Hargrove's words, "is doing what Albert should do."

That should make everyone feel warm and fuzzy.

Where have you gone, Craig Lefferts and Mike Pagliarulo?

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