That team had talent but played without fire. "They didn't seem to be having any fun," says Johnson, who was an All-Star second baseman for the Oriole teams that dominated the American League in the late 1960s and early '70s. Said outfielder Andy Van Slyke, who played briefly for Baltimore last year, "That team needs a Ping-Pong table more than any team I've ever seen."
Creating healthy clubhouse chemistry is another one of Gillick's specialties, and the addition of free spirits such as McDowell, Myers and Wells, and a classy pro such as Surhoff, should improve the atmosphere immensely. "If we have problems on this club," Johnson says, "hang me or shoot me between the eyes. I might get a rocking chair for the dugout."
The signing of Alomar alone makes the Orioles a better team on the field. At 27 he is the best second baseman in the American League since World War II. He has hit at least .300 in each of the last four years, with his best season in 1993, when he hit .326, drove in 93 runs and stole 55 bases. The only second baseman in history to reach those numbers was Alomar's idol, the Reds' Joe Morgan, in 1975.
Another of his idols is Ripken, who is Alomar's new double-play partner. As impressive as Ripken and Alomar have been offensively, they are even more highly regarded defensively. Over the last two years they have combined for only 22 errors, and Alomar is perhaps the most spectacular fielder at his position ever. "Some plays just come out of me, just on instincts," Alomar says. "I'll make a play and wonder, How did I do that?"
Yet sometimes lost in the dazzle of Alomar's acrobatic play is the fact that he is equally strong in the fundamentals and is an avid student of the game—like Ripken. "I watch Cal all the time, the way he adjusts to hitters, because that's what I do," Alomar says. "I don't keep a book on hitters or pitchers, it's all up here [he points to his head]. Once against the Orioles, I stole second base twice—almost standing up—against one pitcher. When I got to second, Cal said to me, 'You've got his move, don't you?' I said, 'You better believe it.' I'm paying attention all the time out there."
Alomar was a catalyst for the Blue Jays during their championship seasons (1992 and '93), but he's a terrible loser, and some of his teammates, as well as others in the Toronto organization, wondered if he was giving his all in some games after the Jays had fallen out of contention the past two years. "He will do anything to win," says Alomar's father, former major leaguer Sandy Alomar Sr. "But he has some growing up to do. Playing with Cal will help."
Still, the Orioles' biggest pickup this off-season was Gillick, 58, as sharp and energetic a general manager as there is in the game. He has a photographic memory, and friends nicknamed him Segap Wolley—Yellow Pages spelled backward—because, they say, he could memorize the book forward and backward.
Even though Gillick's heart has been in Toronto the last 20 years—he became the Blue Jays' first general manager, in 1976—his roots run back to the Orioles. He was a lefthanded pitcher in the Baltimore organization for five years, and in 1960 his catcher in Class B Fox Cities was Cal Ripken Sr. "That was the year Cal Jr. was born," Gillick says. "That makes it special for me coming here."
Gillick is a sensitive man who believes that an organization is like a family. When he arrived in Baltimore, he found a front office that was excessively rigid and running scared, with too many employees afraid to even make suggestions. Assistant general manager Frank Robinson, who was canned on Dec. 4, lashed out at the organization during his going-away party, saying the team would not win again until there was a return to the old Oriole way, when people smiled at each other in the halls and cared for each other. Gillick knows that feeling. "It came from winning," he says. "It has been lost along the way. We have to recapture that."
The Orioles are off to a great start.