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BALTIMORE Orioles
Michael Farber
March 31, 1997
Cal Ripken Jr. was going to be asked to take about 30 baby steps to his right, but in this mother-may-I game of egos and diplomacy, the Orioles had to frame the request the right way. A Ripken-to-third-base move in the middle of last season was a disaster—Ripken rarely talked to Manny Alexander on the field during the week Alexander bumbled away the shortstop job—and Ripken was in no rush to change positions this year either. But the Baltimore front office was determined to make the shift for two reasons: 1) the 36-year-old Ripken doesn't have the range he once had; and 2) the Orioles needed someone to play third who could hit and field.
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March 31, 1997

Baltimore Orioles

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The Lineup

CF

Brady Anderson

Batted only .207 with runners in scoring position in 1996

RF

Eric Davis

If healthy, could have 35 home runs in this hitter-friendly league

2B

Roberto Alomar

Set club record by scoring 132 runs last season

1B

Rafael Palmeiro

322 RBIs last three seasons, eighth-most in majors

3B

Cal Ripken Jr.

With less ground to cover, he could win Gold Glove at third

LF

B.J. Surhoff

Better at the plate (.292, 21 home runs, 82 RBIs) than in the field

DH

Pete Incaviglia

201 homers, most by active player who hasn't been an All-Star

C

Chris Hoiles

Threw out only 19% of runners attempting to steal in '96

SS

Mike Bordick

Had career-high 54 RBIs for Oakland last season

Ace

Mike Mussina

.687 winning percentage is highest among active pitchers

Closer

Randy Myers

9.22 K's per nine innings second behind Randy Johnson

Cal Ripken Jr. was going to be asked to take about 30 baby steps to his right, but in this mother-may-I game of egos and diplomacy, the Orioles had to frame the request the right way. A Ripken-to-third-base move in the middle of last season was a disaster—Ripken rarely talked to Manny Alexander on the field during the week Alexander bumbled away the shortstop job—and Ripken was in no rush to change positions this year either. But the Baltimore front office was determined to make the shift for two reasons: 1) the 36-year-old Ripken doesn't have the range he once had; and 2) the Orioles needed someone to play third who could hit and field.

"For this thing to work, we needed the right guy," Baltimore assistant general manager Kevin Malone says of finding a replacement shortstop. "We needed a guy who was the package, who was widely respected, who was a hard worker, who respected the position as much as Cal does. We had options, but the only guy who was perfect for the job was Mike Bordick."

Bordick is a no-frills shortstop who looks better on the field than he does on a stat sheet. The all-or-nothing Orioles, who set a major league record with 257 home runs last year, gave the As free agent a three-year, $9 million contract in December because he does what shortstops were expected to do before power hitters like Robin Yount—and then Ripken—altered the prototype.

In an early exhibition game this spring Baltimore's Brady Anderson led off the game with a double, and Bordick promptly hit a ground ball to the right side to move Anderson to third. "Everyone remain calm," Orioles public relations director John Maroon joked in the press box. "What you have just witnessed is a player moving a runner over. Stay in your seats and breathe normally."

The 31-year-old Bordick isn't holding his breath or unduly worried about tiptoeing on what Ripken has turned into hallowed ground at Camden Yards. He merely arrives first in the clubhouse every day and takes his daily bucket of grounders from coach Sam Perlozzo. Bordick grew up in Maine, where, he says, "if you play baseball, you do it indoors in the winter. All you do are fundamentals. You do it right, over and over again. A person learns to persevere."

A .240-hitting replacement for Ripken might have been a tougher sell if Baltimore were not such a savvy baseball town, one clued in enough to have celebrated the fabulous-fielding but banjo-hitting Mark Belanger of the pre-Ripken era. They already know Bordick plays the game so correctly that former Oakland manager Tony La Russa once called Bordick his alltime favorite player. But Ripken's imprimatur matters most. "I've always been impressed with the way he plays," Ripken says. "Some people have skills, but they'll have mental lapses or make mistakes on routine plays. What I admire most is that if a ball is hit to him, it's usually an out. Oakland's pitching staff would probably tell you that when the game was on the line, he's the player they wanted the ball hit to."

Ripken likes him. Baltimore, you may now breathe normally.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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