On offense, it's a new ball game in Baltimore. Sluggers Bonilla, Eddie Murray and Todd Zeile, who combined for 43 homers last season, are gone, but the more balanced Orioles were still fifth in the league in runs scored at week's end despite nagging injuries that have sidelined Alomar (sprained ankle) and outfielder Eric Davis (strained hamstring) and a 2-for-28 slump by Palmeiro. On Sunday, Baltimore rapped 11 hits, including three by scrappy leftfielder B.J. Surhoff, who as much as any player personifies this year's Orioles. "If everything isn't perfect, I know he's going to be bitching," Johnson says with a smile. "He's a perfectionist who does everything to make himself a better player and help his team win." Surhoff became the fourth Baltimore player to drive in six runs in a game this season, with three coming on a bases-loaded triple that blew open a 3-2 game in the fifth. Seattle answered with four home runs—all solo shots—but the Orioles were content to let their guests play maul ball. Baltimore had a game to win.
It's not easy to find a weakness on the Orioles, unless you're docking points for the lack of a sense of humor. After last Friday's 8-2 loss to the Mariners, Surhoff stormed into the clubhouse and approached public relations director John Maroon. Surhoff was angry about an official scorer's call on a line drive he had misplayed into a double and demanded a change. Finally, a spoiled, surly ballplayer looking out for himself. "Tell the official scorer I f——up," said Surhoff. "That was an error." These guys still point fingers. They just point them at themselves now.
"This is the best team I've been on, and I won a world championship [with the Cincinnati Reds in 1990]," says Davis, who also signed as a free agent over the winter. "This is the most talented team, the most well-rounded team, the team with the best chance to win. No doubt about it."
The overhaul began in earnest when the Orioles didn't re-sign free agents Bonilla and lefthander David Wells—two players who exemplified what management felt was wrong with last year's club. Bonilla feuded with Johnson after Johnson attempted to make Bonilla a full-time DH. Wells represented everything that Gillick doesn't like in a player: a free-spirited, earring-wearing guy who did things his way. What's more, Gillick wasn't about to give Wells the three-year contract he was seeking, although the Yankees eventually did. Bonilla and Wells were ostensibly replaced by Davis and Key, respectively, and the new guys wasted no time making Gillick look smart. At week's end Davis was hitting .395 while Key had won six of his first seven starts. And the two of them fit into the Orioles' clubhouse like DeNiro and Pesci in a mob movie. "Personally, I like both Bobby and David, but they didn't respect authority," says Gillick. "Bobby didn't get along with the manager, and it got to the point where he was always upset. It got to be a distraction."
The Bonilla-Johnson clash carried into the off-season when Bonilla, after signing a four-year, $24 million free-agent deal with the Florida Marlins, said he wouldn't let Johnson "manage my Rotisserie league team." Last week Johnson said he wasn't sure why Bonilla remains bitter. "He ought to be thanking someone for what he did here last year instead of still complaining," says Johnson. "But that's Bobby being Bobby."
Bonilla still has his defenders in the Baltimore clubhouse, which can't be comforting to Johnson. One of Bonilla's strongest supporters is the resident icon, Ripken. In his new book, The Only Way I Know, Ripken sides with Bonilla in the dispute with Johnson and empathizes with Bonilla's reluctance to accept a full-time DH role. Ripken writes, "I think Bobby Bo's a great team player." Ripken also addresses his own reluctant shift to third base, which in Baltimore was the most publicized move since Robert Irsay packed the Colts into a Mayflower van and moved them to Indianapolis in March 1984.
Last year a disgruntled Ripken went to third for six games in midseason but returned to short after his replacement, young Manny Alexander, struggled mightily. In his book Ripken makes it clear that he was not happy with the way the move was handled and knocks Johnson for "a violation of trust" because, he says, Johnson leaked the story of the impending change to the media at a time when Ripken thought the manager was posing the move to him hypothetically. By all accounts Ripken was much more agreeable to the way the shift was carried out this time and was especially glad to spend the spring re-acquainting himself with the position he played when the Orioles brought him up in 1981. At week's end he had mixed in seven errors with occasionally spectacular play at third. "I was concerned early because it's kind of scary over there," Ripken said last Saturday. "I'm going to make mistakes, but it's exciting to get a chance to be a part of one of the best infields in the game."
This time it wasn't just anyone shoving Ripken out of the position he had held for 14 years. It was a rock-solid, unassuming guy—a pocket Cal, you might call him. Bordick, who signed a three-year, $9 million free-agent contract with Baltimore after spending six years with the Oakland Athletics, was struggling with the bat (.184) at week's end but playing superbly in the field, with five errors in 160 chances. For the first six weeks of the season, he had perhaps the toughest job in baseball and performed admirably. "He's an accomplished shortstop who will do anything to win," says Surhoff. "He'll dive for a ball, turn a double play, move a runner over. Just a solid player."
Just an Oriole. That's how they make them in 1997. Even the soon-to-be 35-year-old Davis, once considered one of the most gifted players in the game, views himself as just another road-tested veteran looking for a chance to win. "Look around you," he says. "Is there a better place to play? No one in here gets fazed by what we're doing. No one gets too high or too low. And no one feels like he has to carry the team. This is a clubhouse full of All-Stars."
Davis's page in the Baltimore media guide reads like a script from Chicago Hope. A career full of injuries forced him to retire after the 1994 season. Soon after he had surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck, his eighth operation in nine years, and then made a successful comeback with the Reds in '96. He hit 26 homers and drove in 83 runs in 129 games, but when he became a free agent after last season, he says, Cincinnati wasn't interested in bringing him back. He saw nothing around the majors that compared with the situation in Baltimore, so he signed a one-year, $2.2 million deal with an option for '98. "I like to have a player who can do more than just hit," says Gillick. "There are guys like Bonilla, Greg Vaughn. Jose Canseco who can hit. but once they drop the bat, they can't do much for you. A guy like Eric can help you in many ways as long as you don't expect him to play 160 games. For 130 games he can be as valuable as any player in the game."