- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2001

BALTIMORE In perhaps the least surprising development of the season, Jeff Conine was named the Most Valuable Oriole for 2001 yesterday, falling one vote shy of unanimous selection.

The choice of Conine by a panel of 26 writers and broadcasters who regularly cover the team had been a slam-dunk for months, though few could have anticipated it this spring.

The 35-year-old veteran entered his third season with the Orioles as a utility player, one with no natural position and little hope of playing every day. He'll wrap up the season tomorrow as Baltimore's most reliable, versatile and productive offensive player, entering last night's game with 14 home runs, 91 RBI and a .313 batting average (eighth best in the American League).

Conine played the outfield much of the first half of the season, then switched to first base when David Segui began battling injuries. The Orioles' most coveted player at the trading deadline, he wasn't dealt to a contender and wound up anchoring Baltimore's lineup as its No. 3 or No. 4 hitter most of the season.

The club is expected to pick up the option on Conine's contract for next year (he made $3 million in 2001), though recent history shows Most Valuable Orioles don't remain with the team very long. The four previous winners Randy Myers, Rafael Palmeiro, B.J. Surhoff and Delino DeShields didn't make it through the following season with Baltimore.

A total of seven players received votes for first, second or third place this year. Pitcher Jason Johnson finished second and retiring third baseman Cal Ripken third.

The lone first-place vote not given to Conine went to injured outfielder Albert Belle. Baltimore Sun beat writer Joe Strauss said he voted for Belle (on the 60-day disabled list all season with a degenerative hip that has effectively ended his career) because "the biggest contribution to this team this season was made by [Belles] lack of presence within a team dedicated to a new direction, the ultimate addition by subtraction. Jeff Conine is a truly deserving recipient."

Hey, Dad, wanna play catch?

One night after becoming the first father-son teammates in the majors since the Griffeys in Seattle, Tim Raines Sr. and Jr. started alongside each other in the outfield for the Orioles. Raines Jr., who was called up for his big league debut Monday, started for the third straight night in center field. Raines Sr., acquired from the Montreal Expos on Wednesday, got the start in left field.

The elder Raines, 42, was expecting his son, 22, to cover a lot of ground in the outfield.

"He's got everything unless it's hit directly to me," Raines Sr. said. "I'll take left field and the line."

Nice start, rough finish

Jason Johnson's season came to an end Wednesday night with a five-inning start and no decision in the Orioles' 7-6 loss to Toronto, giving the right-hander nine straight starts without a win.

There was still no debating that Johnson was the Orioles' unofficial comeback player of the year, posting a 10-12 record after a 1-10 mark in 2000.

"He's light years ahead of last year," manager Mike Hargrove said.

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