The Orioles had expressed interest in trading for Murray during the off-season, and Murray was eager to return to the team for which he had hit 333 home runs. But the negotiations ended when Gillick and Johnson joined the Orioles last fall, because they wanted to rotate different players in the DH spot and they knew Murray could no longer play first base. Now Murray is expected to be Baltimore's primary DH, and that may make a happier camper of Bobby Bonilla, who earlier in the season made no secret of his unhappiness over not getting to play the field. "This is best for Eddie," says Hart. "He'll hit his nine homers. He's not finished. And he'll be a positive influence in the clubhouse."
Mercker, 28, was a bust for the Orioles, who traded two minor league pitchers to the Braves in the off-season to get him and then signed him to a contract that would pay him $2.8 million this year. Mercker lost his spot in the starting rotation in mid-June and thereafter went nearly a month without pitching. He finished his stay in Baltimore with a 7.76 ERA, and the Orioles had to agree to pick up $300,000 of his remaining 1996 salary to clinch the deal with the Indians. "His mechanics are a disaster," Hart says. "His confidence is down. But two years ago he was one of the most promising lefthanders in the National League." Mercker is expected to go to the minor leagues to find his lost delivery and his old velocity. Murray is going to the Hall of Fame. And now there's no doubt that he'll go in wearing an Orioles uniform.
A New Straw Stirs
The team that had the best record in the American League at week's end, the Yankees, has also been the most solid, fundamentally sound team in the league. The Yanks look unstoppable in the American League East, and in the middle of that smart, crisp play has been none other than Darryl Strawberry.
In the final game of a recent four-game sweep in Baltimore, Strawberry singled, stole second, then scored the first run of a 4-1 win. The next day, in the first inning of the series opener in Boston, Strawberry scored from second base on a force-out at second. Surprised? "I'm not," Strawberry says. "I've always played that way. I like playing all phases of the game. But I appreciate it more after all I've been through." He's been through substance-abuse rehab three times in five years, and he's been cut loose three times in the last three years, most recently by the Yankees themselves after Strawberry had a lackluster stint with the team during the last two months of the '95 season.
But he showed a willingness to return to the minors, where he hit .435 with 18 homers in 29 games for the St. Paul Saints of the independent Northern League before the Yankees signed him in early July, and he's back in the big leagues. He still has a quick bat, which he displayed in Baltimore when he blasted two homers in a 7-5 victory. One was a signature Strawberry homer—he went down and golfed a low fastball over the wall in rightfield. Those were his first two hits after going hitless in his first 10 at bats. Since then he has gone 10 for 34 through Sunday, with eight RBIs and 10 runs scored.
"Sometimes I do stand in the middle of the diamond and think, Thank you Lord, thank you George, thank you Yankees for giving me another chance," Strawberry says. "I didn't think I'd ever be back in the big leagues."
Kudos to National League president Leonard Coleman for clamping down on suspended owner Marge Schott of the Reds. After hearing reports that she was meddling in the day-to-day operations of the team—prohibited by the suspension agreement she signed with Major League Baseball in June—Coleman told her to send a memo to Reds employees saying she would not be around the offices very much. Instead Schott sent out a memo that she would not be disappearing. So Coleman banned her from Riverfront Stadium indefinitely, perhaps for the rest of the season. For the Reds organization, the further she is from Riverfront, the better. Since her suspension was imposed, attendance is up in Cincinnati. On July 29 there will be a Celebration of Diversity night at Riverfront in which people of different ages, cultures and ethnic backgrounds will be treated to a night of multicultural entertainment.... Any contender looking for a big boost to its lineup might pick up the Brewers' Greg Vaughn for the right package of prospects. Vaughn led the majors in RBIs with 92 through Sunday, and he will be a free agent at the end of the season, so he will be in line for a hefty raise. His $5.8 million salary already represents more than 25% of the parsimonious Brewers' payroll.