Orioles teammates Brian Roberts and Jerry Hairston Jr. are
friends and off-season workout partners. As their names cropped
up in trade rumors last winter--both play second base--they
swapped the latest gossip every day, laughing at their
predicament. "There was no animosity, no resentment," says
Roberts. "We both understand it's part of the game."
When Hairston broke his right ring finger on a headfirst slide in
Baltimore's first spring training game, the second base gridlock
was temporarily avoided, and Roberts has excelled in Hairston's
absence. Through Sunday he was batting .283 with a .344 on-base
percentage, had stolen 16 bases in 18 attempts and was fifth in
the AL with 29 runs scored. Hairston was activated from the
disabled list on May 11, but getting him regular at bats will
require some creativity. "Brian has done a hell of a job for us
at second base, and I can't take him out of the lineup because
he's earned it," says Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli. "It's going
to be a juggling act."
Hairston, who had three hits in 18 at bats through Sunday, has
mostly batted ninth and has been the designated hitter, though
last Saturday he volunteered to play leftfield. "He caught the
balls he needed to catch," Mazzilli says. "I'm not looking for
him to be Willie Mays."
When Roberts and Hairston are both in the lineup, Baltimore has
base stealing threats at both ends of the order. At week's end
the Orioles led the majors in stolen bases (35) and stolen-base
percentage (.814). "[Roberts and Hairston] can be disruptive,"
Mazzilli says, pointing out that third baseman Melvin Mora, who
bats second, is enjoying the best power run of his career (.594
slugging percentage and a team-high seven home runs) partially
because he's seeing more fastballs. Though Hairston is not a
prototypical DH, Mazzilli believes there's enough power in the
middle of the order to compensate.
There's a strong probability that either Roberts or Hairston will
be traded because several contending teams (the Yankees, the
Phillies and the A's, among others) have underperforming second
basemen and there aren't many other good candidates on the
market. (Montreal's Jose Vidro, assumed to be available at the
trade deadline, last week signed a four-year, $30 million
extension with the Expos.) But the uncertainty isn't fazing
Roberts or Hairston. "Everybody wants to play his natural
position and play every day," Roberts says, "but in the world of
professional sports that's not always possible."
--Daniel G. Habib
COLOR PHOTO: NICKWASS/AP (ROBERTS) Roberts has sparked the Orioles with 16 stolen bases and 29 runsscored.