- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

Q: Let's see, Cal's retired, Brady's gone, the team's staring at a fifth straight losing season. What's the best reason to care about the Orioles this year?
A:
Do you want the company line or the truth?
Q: Uh, let's start with the company line.
A:
OK, here goes. This figures to be the Orioles' most interesting season since their coast-to-coast run to the AL East title in 1997. The team has now fully committed to youth and is building its franchise around talented players like Jerry Hairston, Jay Gibbons, Jason Johnson and Jorge Julio. Baltimore started off last year playing good baseball and at one point had a 24-24 record before key players like Pat Hentgen, Mike Bordick and David Segui went down to injury. With healthy veterans in place now to complement the young guys, this could have the makings of a breakthrough season.
Q: And the truth?
A:
So the O's won't be any good again this year. It's still not a bad idea to follow the team passionately. After all, you're going to want to get yourself in full seamhead mode in time for the Washington Expos in 2003.
Q: Speaking of baseball in the District, is it going to happen next year?
A:
There's really no way to know for sure, but suffice it to say, Washington has its best chance for baseball since the Nixon administration.
Q: How will it happen?

A: Selig will make another run at contraction next fall, but the Montreal Expos may be the only franchise he can legitimately do away with. The Minnesota Twins avoided the guillotine this winter and are beginning to drum up support for a new stadium. The Florida Marlins were just sold to former Expos owner Jeffrey Loria, and MLB isn't about to bail him out after one year. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays have an unbreakable 30-year lease on Tropicana Field. And baseball's not likely to get away with killing the Kansas City Royals or Oakland Athletics.
Q: So what? Can't they just contract the Expos and no one else?
A:
No, in order for contraction to work, MLB would have to drop an even number of teams. Otherwise, scheduling would be a nightmare. That's why the most likely scenario would have the Expos moving to D.C. next year.
Q: It all seems to make so much sense.
A:
Yep, and that's why you know baseball will find a way to screw it up.
Q: OK, back to the team that's already playing in the area. Who's the most marketable guy on the Orioles' roster now that Cal Ripken has retired?
A:
Well, this year's marketing campaign (entitled "Give us an O!") features commercials with Jeff Conine using a tape measure to check the true distances of his home runs and Jay Gibbons breaking windows all over the B&O; Warehouse. But the real way to determine who a team's most marketable player is to see who's on the cover of the media guide.
Q: So who is it this year?
A:
A cartoon bird.
Q: Surely the Orioles have some talented players. Who's going to be their All-Star representative?

A: Wow, that's a tough one. Tony Batista (Ripken's heir at third base) hit 41 homers two seasons ago with the Blue Jays, but he fell to 25 homers and a .238 batting average last year.
Q: Are many guys with a .238 batting average named All-Stars?
A:
No.
Q: So who else is in the running?
A:
Hmm, Jerry Hairston is taking over leadoff duties this year. If he hits well and plays a good second base, he could get a chance to pinch-run in the eighth inning of the All-Star Game.
Q: What about this great young pitching staff I've heard so much about?
A:
They're leading the Oakland A's to another postseason appearance.
Q: No, I'm talking about the Orioles' pitching staff.
A:
Oh, why didn't you say so? Yes, the Orioles have a pitching staff.
Q: Who's the ace?
A:
Scott Erickson.
Q: When was the last time he pitched?
A:
July 2000.
Q: Do teams generally have opening day starters who haven't pitched in 20 months?
A:
Not the good ones.
Q: Who else is in the rotation?
A:
Jason Johnson is the No. 2 starter. He's coming off a career year.
Q: What qualified as a career year for Jason Johnson?
A:
10-12.
Q: Why didn't Baltimore go shopping for a bona fide ace this winter? Or a proven cleanup hitter? Or an experienced closer?
A:
The Orioles made a few token offers to players like Juan Gonzalez and Jason Isringhausen, but they were never seriously in the running for those guys. Besides, they really don't have loads of money to throw in the faces of high-priced free agents.
Q: Wait a minute, I thought Baltimore's payroll is down to about $41 million this year.
A:
Technically, yes. The combined salaries of the 25 men who will make up this season's active roster is about $41 million. But that figure doesn't include the money still going to players who are injured or are no longer with the team. Including those salaries, the total payroll is around $56 million.
Q: Who are the Orioles paying that is no longer playing for them?
A:
Baltimore will pay Brady Anderson, released in November, $4 million to play for the Cleveland Indians this year. Pat Hentgen ($5.1 million) is out until at least August after undergoing Tommy John surgery. And don't forget Albert Belle.
Q: Albert Belle? I thought he retired.
A:
He did. But he's still receiving his $13 million-a-year salary (70 percent of which is covered by insurance) through 2003. That means the Orioles are giving him about $4 million to play golf in Arizona all summer.
Q: Do teams generally pay guys $4 million to not play for them?
A:
Not the good ones.


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