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Money walks

Orioles purge is admission that a winner can't be bought

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Latest: Monday July 31, 2000 08:39 PM

  Baltimore Orioles VP of baseball operations Syd Thrift, center, announces the trades of Will Clark, left, and B.J. Surhoff. AP

BALTIMORE (AP) -- As he prepared for his first season as manager of the Baltimore Orioles this spring, Mike Hargrove talked about making a run for the playoffs with a team comprised of the best players that owner Peter Angelos' deep pockets could afford.

Inheriting a club that made few changes after a second straight losing season, Hargrove also realized that the Orioles might once again serve as living proof that a lofty payroll doesn't necessarily guarantee success.

"I don't think there needed to be a big changeover in personnel here," Hargrove said in March. "Obviously, if this trend continues, then that will change."

Hargrove was thinking in terms of the winter of 2000. But it became apparent by the All-Star break that the Orioles were going nowhere this season, so team officials decided the time was right to tear apart the club and start over again.

Instead of letting the non-waiver trade deadline come and go -- as is usually their custom -- the Orioles made five trades in four days that dramatically changed the makeup of the clubhouse.

Goodbye, Mike Bordick, Charles Johnson, Mike Timlin, Harold Baines, Will Clark and B.J. Surhoff.

Hello, uh, what's your name?

Orioles reliever Alan Mills walked up to first baseman Chris Richard, acquired from St. Louis in the Timlin trade, stuck out his hand and said, "Who are you?"

The Orioles, who cut about $23.5 million from an active payroll that was $84.4 million on opening day, might consider passing out name tags to ease the confusion in a clubhouse that, at long last, is overrun with youth.

"The same people that you came to play with are gone. Now you got a lot of younger players around here," said Clark, some 48 hours before he, too, was shipped out of Baltimore.

The Orioles ended their flurry of trades Monday, sending Clark to St. Louis for third baseman Jose Leon and dealing Surhoff to Atlanta for outfielder Trenidad Hubbard and two minor leaguers.

Syd Thrift, who orchestrated the deals, said the objective was to shore up a serious deficiency in pitching at all levels of the organization. Half the 14 players acquired in the trades are pitchers.

"That's the theme, we're gathering more good arms," Thrift said. "We've had a plan to improve the pitching from the major leagues down. We've had the development of pitchers in our system, and the addition of these new pitchers in recent days puts us in an even stronger position."

The Orioles have gone from a team that carried the credo "The Future Is Now" to a club that probably won't be a contender for at least a couple of seasons. Such is the price of rebuilding.

"This didn't have anything to do with a fire sale," Thrift said. "We had specific players and specific people that we had targeted, that we thought were real prime people we wanted to obtain."

Angelos hoped to avoid the process. His goal was to provide the fans with a winner by building through free agency while the organization waited for its minor league system to prosper. But it just wasn't happening, so Thrift got busy over the weekend with Angelos' blessing.

"You know I had to get his permission, so I think that speaks for itself," Thrift said. "It was a tough decision for us all."

The fans helped push the Orioles in that direction, making it clear that they were tired of watching the old, slow and mediocre Orioles. So, in the span of four hectic days, the organization made clear its commitment to youth.

"That's what we've tried to do, that's what the people said they want," Hargrove said. "You can see where we have a chance to get better as the years come."

Given a choice, Hargrove would have loved for the old guys to make a run at the AL East title. He was in no rush to start from scratch, as he did with the Cleveland Indians in the 1990s, but he concedes that there was no alternative.

"It's difficult to say goodbye but it's also exciting that we're bringing in younger players. I think that is probably what we need to do here," Hargrove said. "We're taking big steps down that road. It really should be exciting for all of us. It is for me."

There are still two months left in the season, but the Orioles are already looking ahead to 2001 and beyond.

"I don't look at it as losing a season," reliever Mike Trombley said. "I look at it as a first step to trying to build something. We'll see what happens, see who can play."

Related information
Cards acquire Timlin from Orioles
Braves pick up Surhoff in five-player deal
Cardinals get Clark as insurance for Big Mac
White Sox obtain Baines, Johnson from Orioles
Mets acquire needed shortstop, bullpen help; add outfield depth
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