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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
A's 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

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.




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

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


The Orioles have not finished first in their division in 13
years, the second-longest ongoing drought in the majors (the
Brewers, who last won a division title in 1982, have gone
longer). Not counting the Rockies and the Marlins, expansion
teams that joined the National League in 1993, only five clubs
have failed to finish in first place in the last 10 seasons:
Milwaukee, Baltimore, Kansas City, Anaheim and Houston.