THE SPORTS SCENE:

Injury Bug Bites Birds

by Darrell Carter

Someone once said, if man could fly, he would become an Oriole.

Well, last month, man could fly—and he was a Baltimore Oriole. Actually, there was more than one.

The injury bug visited the Baltimore Orioles Baseball Club: Outfielders B.J. Surhoff and rookie Larry Bigbie were stricken with injuries. Already, outfielder Marty Cordova was on the 60-day disabled list, dating back to April.

If that was not enough, opening day center fielder Gary Matthews, Jr. was designated for AAA Ottawa, but he did not clear waivers and was claimed by San Diego.

The injury bug extended beyond the outfield to claim second baseman Jerry Hairston. He was leading the American League in stolen bases at the time of his injury. And if that was not enough, ace pitcher Rodrigo Lopez was still on the injury list, while David Segui happily came off the disabled list in May.

In baseball, sometimes bad news is not necessarily bad news. During the quick flurry of injuries and one wavered player, the Orioles transformed themselves in a matter of days from a ho hum team to one that’s faster, younger and more exciting.

Hairston replacement Brian Roberts continued the speedy pace by stealing a couple of bases and hitting a grand slam homerun, while maintaining a batting average of over .300 in his first week of joining the ball club. Luis Matos, a victim of the injury bug throughout his career, was recalled from the minors and reestablished himself in the outfield when Matthews did not clear waivers. Matos, in his first week, hit two homeruns, stole a couple of bases, and made outstanding plays in centerfield, while maintaining a .400-plus average.

There were two additional recalls from the minors, including 30-year-old catcher/first baseman Carlos Mendez. This was Mendez’s first time in the majors, after spending nine-season in the minors. In his first week in the majors, Mendez hit a sizzling RBI double, helping the Orioles to a win. Also, first baseman/outfielder Jack Cust, from Ottawa, was added to the team. His promotion was somewhat surprising, because he was hitting an anemic .247 when recalled, though he had had a recent hitting streak that was prominent in his promotion.

The team could make a case that injuries were a key factor in its poor performance on the field, and that may be a factor in a few wins and losses. Still, the team’s talent level was never comparable to that of the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox.

The Orioles promised us competitive baseball this season, and they aren’t delivering. The fans have shown their displeasure by not buying tickets. The positive results we’ve seen from the after-effects of the injury bug have renewed an interest in the team. Will the fans’ rally continue? We’ll know soon enough. The disabled list is only in effect for 30 to 60 days.

In other O’s news...
The rumor milling around Baltimore is that Orioles manager Mike Hargrove’s contract will not be renewed at the end of the season. Many Orioles hopefuls are ready to petition the team to sign soon-to-be Hall-of-Famer and former Oriole Eddie Murray as the future O’s manager.

The First Year Player Draft is upon us. Last season one number-one pick—pitcher Adam Loewen—is still fighting over a $3.9 million signing bonus that the ball club has rejected, countering with a $2.5 million offer. If Loewen does not sign, the Orioles would lose the rights to him, thereby allowing him to re-enter the draft. The Orioles’ previous three number-one picks (Chris Smith, Beau Hale, and Mike Paradis), all pitchers, have suffered arm injuries and have remained on the disabled list for a considerable time.


Darrell Carter, a businessman, lives in Southwest Baltimore


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This story was published on June 4, 2003.