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Orioles' owner causes woes

December 01, 2000

Orioles' owner causes woes



Is it too early to hand the New York Yankees the 2001 World Series trophy? Probably.

But they can go ahead and start stitching the Yankees' name onto the American League East pennant. The Yankees' signing of Mike Mussina on Thursday puts the Bronx Bombers into a league of their own. The Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays will surely make some moves to bolster their lineups, but there has to be a sense among them now that they'll have to settle for second.

Do you think Bob Costas would feel differently about the wild card if he were the general manager of one of those teams?

In the meantime, the Baltimore Orioles and owner Peter Angelos, who finally cleaned house at the end of last season - two years after he should have - are left without a No. 1 pitcher.

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More than that, the Orioles lose their best pitcher since Jim Palmer and one of the most popular players in Baltimore.

Mussina's departure leaves the Orioles with a rotation of Sidney Ponson, Jose Mercedes, John Parrish, Jason Johnson and Chuck McElroy. Can't you see the AL hitters shivering at the thought of having to face that staff? Neither can I.

Angelos put his foot down after negotiations with Mussina's agent, Arn Tellem, reached an impasse. Angelos was offering a fair deal, but wanted to defer a portion of the money, a practice which is becoming increasingly popular in baseball these days (see Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Larkin, Jason Kendall, et al.).

In a way, you almost want to admire Angelos for taking a stand and saying he wouldn't pay these exorbitant salaries.

Brings to mind those Meineke commercials with George Foreman: "I'm not gonna pay a lot for this muffler."

In the end, Angelos only has himself to blame for losing Mussina. He jacked up Mussina's price by signing Albert Belle for $13 million a year and gave long-term contracts to Scott Erickson and Mike Timlin when no other teams were interested in them.

Now a team that should have contended for the playoffs the last two years has lost its most consistent performer. Even in the 2000 season, when he went 11-15 - his first losing season since going 4-5 as a rookie - Mussina was third in the American League with a 3.79 earned run average.

And who can blame Mussina for bolting? It became clear that the Orioles were not going to budge on the money. George Steinbrenner made it clear that he wanted Mussina. And Mussina clearly has a better shot at a World Series ring in New York than he would have any time soon in Baltimore.

Then there's the money - $88.5 million over six years. That's a small detail.

Baltimore will now almost certainly set its sights on likes of Darren Dreifort or Rick Reed.

The Orioles always made sure that Cal Ripken Jr., the man who has defined Baltimore for nearly 20 years, never went anywhere else to play. The Reds have Larkin, the Padres have Tony Gwynn. Mussina should have been that kind of guy for the Orioles, too. Instead, he'll play in Yankee Stadium, win some rings, and probably get that elusive Cy Young on his way to Cooperstown.

The Orioles, after Ripken retires next year, will be a club without direction, without definition, without a heart or a soul.

That's not a place that a Major League Baseball team wants to be.

Mark Keller is sports editor of The Morning Herald.

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