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  Richard Justice: Expos May Move Elsewhere

Orioles Logo Richard Justice, The Post's national baseball writer, was on Sports Online to discuss the continuing woes of the Orioles and the All-Star Game on July 13. Justice also discussed the chances of the Expos leaving Montreal and said that while the Washington area has a good chance at getting a major league team, Charlotte, Portland, Ore., and Las Vegas appear to be the front-runners. The transcript of the discussion follows.

Vienna, Va.: Do you think it would help interleague play if they shortened series to 2 games or so? I mean, I like that the [NHL's Washington] Capitals play West coast teams every year, but only twice, and not in a row.

Richard Justice: I don't have any strong feelings about interleague play. It definitely has been an attendance boost where there are natural rivalries involved, especially in New York. But there have also been some series that have no interest whatsoever.

Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.: Is B.J. Surhoff playing way over his head this season or do you think he has simply moved to the level where we can expect this level of production from him from now on?

Richard Justice: B.J. may be having a career year, but he has always been a real good professional hitter and a terrific outfielder. More than that, he's everything you want in a player. His work ethic is great, and he cares. I don't know if you can expect this kind of production every year, but I do think you can pencil him in for a .300 batting average, 20-plus home runs and 80-plus RBI every season.

Baltimore, Md.: In light of the dilution of pitching talent in the majors, is there any chance that the Orioles can construct a credible bullpen strategy this year?

Richard Justice: Things change so quickly. A month ago, the starting rotation was in shambles, but now it looks pretty decent with Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson, Juan Guzman and the two kids, Sidney Ponson and Jason Johnson. Middle relief is a tricky business and maybe the hardest thing to figure out. Cleveland reconstructed its bullpen last winter and has gotten great results. The O's made a mistake in letting Alan Mills leave and a mistake in believing Mike Timlin could be a closer. Now, they're going to give the ball to Rocky Coppinger, Scott Kamieniecki, Gabe Molina and Arthur Rhodes. Let's say Coppinger and Molina pitch well as relievers. At that point everything would look different. Maybe they go into the winter needing just one or two middle guys. The team would have a dramatically different look at that point. What we know is that last winter's plan didn't work.

Brookeville, Md.: Who do you think the O's will trade? Lenny Webster, Rhodes, Guzman, and Jesse Orosco come to mind.

Richard Justice: I think the Orioles ought to be careful. It's easy to get caught up in everything that's wrong and start thinking that trading Mussina for a host of players is the answer. Personally, I don't think they're far from being good. If they hadn't already blown 18 saves, they'd at least be around .500. But to answer your question, I think their trade possibilities are limited. Brady is a 10-5 guy and can't be traded without his permission. His salary makes his value questionable, and if he goes, who plays center? Erickson and Albert Belle have no-trade clauses, Delino DeShields probably is signed for a year too long, etc. Rhodes and Guzman have high value on the market, and if the O's are looking to tear it apart, those are the guys that would bring the most--barring a Mussina trade.

Charlotte, N.C.: Do you think the Expos will move? If so, to D.C., Northern Virginia or to Charlotte?

Richard Justice: I go back and forth on the Expos. The Montreal group is working hard to keep them and apparently believe they will keep them. At the same time, almost no one in baseball believes it'll work there and is ready to give the owners permission to sell. As to where, they'd go, Northern Virginia is the best market, but owners favor Charlotte because it doesn't infringe on Oriole territory. You can argue whether it really would hurt the Orioles to have the Expos in Northern Virginia, but it doesn't matter what we think. Baseball owners, including Commissioner Bud Selig, believe it would hurt.

Alexandria, Va.: Does Albert Belle actually enjoy playing baseball? If the fans and the media make him so miserable maybe he should just hang up his spikes.

Richard Justice: I think Albert enjoys doing well at the game and enjoys being known as one of the best and highest-paid players. How he goes about it is another matter. I think he's one of those guys who has to play with a certain fury. He has to be mad at someone. Some of his former teammates have said the same thing. Should the O's have signed him? I don't know. I wouldn't have, but they were looking at 50 home runs and 150 RBIs and believed putting him behind Rafael Palmeiro would make for a devastating middle of the order.

Laurel, Md.: Who should get credit for bringing along Sidney Ponson and Jason Johnson? Do Bruce Kison, Ray Miller deserve any credit for their performance? They and Matt Riley seem like they'll give the Orioles a brighter future.

Richard Justice: Sure, they deserve credit. Ray and Mike Flanagan have done great work with Sidney Ponson, and obviously Kison has helped Jason Johnson along. Along with Matt Riley, the Orioles can feel good that there's something on the horizon.

Newport News, Va.: Regarding the All Star Game, is it possible that Joe Torre will take Alex Rodriguez as a back up DH so that he can have Garciaparra and Jeter as short stops? Also, will Surhoff make the team?

Richard Justice: I think Surhoff and Alex Rodriguez will both make the team. I don't know how he'll use them.

Laytonsville, Md.: On the never ending "stick with the status quo vs. youth movement" debate in Baltimore, why shouldn't they simply bring up the kids and let them learn and play. After 81 games, the Birds are out of any playoff contention. What's to lose?

Richard Justice: Here's a good reason: there ain't no kids. Ryan Minor is not hitting at Rochester. Calvin Pickering is a long way from being ready. Matt Riley is into his second month at AA and Jayson Werth just got moved to AA. If the kids were playing great, I'd agree with you, but every kid who has played well this season at Rochester has been called up. Also, there are financial considerations. Guys like Erickson and Brady and DeShields have longterm contracts and may not be easy to trade.

Hackensack, N.J.: Which players have been the biggest suprises this season? Jose Canseco? Sean Casey? Jay Bell? Russ Ortiz?

Richard Justice: I'd say all of the above. Luis Gonzales of the Diamondbacks is my personal favorite, but I'm partial to players who are also great people. Sean Casey and the Reds are a wonderful story. And Canseco could give us some thrills in September.

San Francisco, Calif.: Having seen the All Star starters for the American League, do you agree with all the selections? I would think Rafael Palmiero is having a bigger year than Jim Thome, for one.

Richard Justice: For the most part, I agree. I would have selected Derek Jeter, but when Manager Joe Torre is finished, there probably won't be many complaints about the roster. I don't believe every team should be represented because it squeezes some good players off the roster. But I also remember growing up rooting for the Astros and the thrill of seeing our one little Astro playing beside the big boys in the all-star game.

Oakton, Va.: If the Orioles do make a move for the future and trade most of the team and then bring up Hairston, Pickering, Riley, Minor, and company; whom do you keep? I would say to hold on to Mussina, Ponson, B.J., Ripken, Belle, Bordick, Brady, Charles Johnson, and a few others. Which veterans do you retain to build the Orioles of the 21st century?

Richard Justice: The Orioles have to focus on what is right about their team, instead of the negative. They've got some terrific guys: Surhoff, Bordick, Ripken, Charles Johnson, Mussina, Jason Johnson, Ponson. That's the core you start with. Then be realistic. Belle, Anderson and Clark probably can't be traded for a variety of reasons. So what do you do? You shop Guzman and Rhodes to see if you could get a young player or two. You should trade DeShields just to dump his salary and clear room for Hairston. But as for bringing the kids up, there's no one in the minors ready for the big leagues at the moment.

McLean, Va.: You say "baseball owners" and Selig believe it would hurt, yet Selig when interviewed by [Post columnist] Thomas Boswell did not say definitively one way or the other on the subject except to say the issue required more study? And can you quote us any specific owners besides Peter Angelos on record with that sentiment, if it's so clear?

Richard Justice: People who have spoken with Selig say he's dead set against a team in Northern Virginia because of the impact it would have on the O's. I'm not saying he couldn't be persuaded otherwise, but that's his feelings at the moment. Angelos probably is the only owner who is adamantly opposed to baseball in Washington, but since he's got the team in the closest market, his opinion is important. Can it be overcome? If William Collins or a D.C. group is aggressive in making a bid, it might be difficult for baseball to say no. But they'd like to avoid that confrontation by either keeping the Expos in Montreal or sending them to a virgin market.

Silver Spring, Md.: Would Tony LaRussa, if and when he's available, be a good fit for the Orioles?

Richard Justice: Tony La Russa may be the best manager in the game. He'd be great in the O's clubhouse because he commands respect, and when the roster is filled with veteran guys, that's important. I can't imagine anyone better than Tony.

Rockville, Md.: Do you think MLB will consider removing the DH to help the balance between hitting and pitching? The hitters currently are at an ENORMOUS advantage.

Richard Justice: I don't think the DH rule is going to change in either league. Feelings on both sides are very strong.

Gaithersburg, Md.: Are you surprised that Ray Miller has been able to hold onto his job?

Richard Justice: I'm very surprised Ray has held onto his job. There have been five or six times this season when almost any owner would have fired the manager. O's GM Frank Wren has recommended that Miller be fired. But Peter Angelos picked Ray Miller and is not yet ready to make a move. One reason is he's not convinced there's anyone better. Wren recommended farm director Tom Trebelhorn for the job. Angelos may find Eddie Murray more intriguing.

Cypress, Calif.: What is Jerry Hairston's status with the team once DeShields comes off the DL? He's appeared to impress Ray Miller as well. Will the team send Hairston back to Rochester, try to trade DeShields, or consider releasing Jeff Reboulet to clear a roster spot?

Richard Justice: That's the toughest decision the O's are going to have. Hairston should have the job, but DeShields has a big contract for two more seasons. He'll be offered around in a trade, but it's unlikely there will be takers unless the O's pick up a chunk of the contract. I don't know how they'll work it out on the roster, but Hairston has earned the job.

Charlottesville, Va.: Do you think the O's would be better this year had they kept Davey Johnson as manager, or is Ray Miller a good manager with a bad team mix?

Richard Justice: Yes to both. Davey is one of the best, so you keep him. At the same time, everything that has gone wrong is not Ray's fault. He has been stuck with terrible starting pitching for the first six weeks and one of the worst bullpens in history. He's a pretty good manager with Mussina or Ponson pitching.

Chicago, Il.: The state of all star baseball game is sad when you see all Cleaveland players-especially Jim Thome- get preferential treatment over the more deserving players like Rafael Palmeiro at first base and Juan Gonzalez. There is something fishy about all star voting in Cleveland. The commissioner should look in to it and prevent such scenario for future all star games. Please comment.

Richard Justice: There certainly is something fishy about the All-Star voting. It ought to be changed, perhaps to give managers and coaches votes that count equal to fan voting. If it's strictly a fan deal, the only solution will be to have every team stuff the ballot boxes. And that doesn't mean the best players will be selected.

Rockville, Md.: Who do you think is the "classiest" player in the majors now, and during your lifetime?

Richard Justice: I haven't seen one more classy than Cal Ripken. Ken Griffey is close behind him, along with Tony Gwynn, Barry Larkin, Derek Jeter. Among the players I've seen, three of the classiest are going into the Hall of Fame in a couple of weeks: Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount.

Orange, Va.: Were you surprised by how well Ripken has played since coming off the DL? Any theories as to why his performance has improved? He was practically written off in April.

Richard Justice: I'm shocked at how well he has played. I thought he wouldn't finish the season, and those thoughts probably crept into his mind as well. It shows he's one guy you should never underestimate. A huge amount of credit goes to hitting coach Terry Crowley, who simplified his batting stance and appears to have quickened his swing. They've developed a closer relationship than Cal has ever had with a hitting coach, and he had Terry about 10 years ago, too.

Portland, Ore.:
The Portland Baseball Group has worked aggressively to put the city on the radar screen with MLB. What are your thoughts on their chances?

Richard Justice: If you ask baseball owners, they acknowledge Northern Virginia is the best market. But they also say Northern Virginia is Oriole territory and are against a team there. The next three cities out of their mouths: Charlotte, Las Vegas and Portland. One owner told me recently: ``Why don't you guys mention Portland? That city has a lot going for it.'' Portland definitely is in the mix for the Expos.

Newport News, Va.: I agree with your suggestion about Eddie Murray. Another good choice might be Terry Crowley. If there's not a good proven manager available, hire a Baltimore name with the talent to motivate this team. Your thoughts?

Richard Justice: Eddie Murray is a good choice because he commands respect, which is important in a clubhouse of grizzled veterans. I also can't imagine Eddie looking the other way when someone doesn't run out a ground ball or shows up late to the ballpark. Those are small things that go a long way toward getting control of the team back where it belongs.

Rockville, Md.: Bottom of the 9th, trailing by 3, and bases loaded. Who do you want up?

Richard Justice: Mark McGwire, with Ken Griffey in the on-deck circle and Sammy Sosa in the hole.

Fairfax, Va.: Are there any good trade rumors floating around out there?

Richard Justice: This is the time of year it heats up. One wild one has San Diego closer Trevor Hoffman going to the Diamondbacks for a package of prospects. That's unlikely to happen, especially with San Diego seemingly back in the race.

Chevy Chase, Md.: What's up with Juan Gonzalez? Why is he being such a baby about the All-Star Game anyway?

Richard Justice: Juan many times has reacted to slumps by pouting, which he seems to be doing now. Yes, he's being a baby.

Falls Church, Va.: Any chance that MLB will expand to South of the Border to Mexico or a post-Castro Cuba? How about Puerto Rico?

Richard Justice: Cuba is the dazzling star on the distant horizon, only after the Castro regime falls and Havana, which is in severe state of disrepair, is rebuilt. Mexico City won't be a candidate until the Mexican economy stabilizes. Right now, I don't think baseball is even thinking of expansion until the shaky franchises in Oakland, Minnesota, Montreal and Kansas City are shored up.

Rochester, N.Y.: The NL All Stars haven't been named yet but if you were choosing, who makes your All Star roster?

Richard Justice: You've caught me off guard with that one. I haven't studied it enough to have an opinion that would amount to anything.

Potomac, Md.: What is your feeling about Harold Baines being put on the All-Star team with Cal, B.J., and Mussina. How can the Orioles have at least 3 All-Stars and be in last place. And which players are going to be traded for prospects.

Richard Justice: My feelings about Harold are strong. He's one of the best players and finest people I've ever known in the game. But I would not put him on the all-star team. Cal and B.J. are going to make it, and Mussina deserve to make it. That's enough representation for a team so far out of the race. Guzman and Rhodes have the highest trade value--other than guys like Mussina and Surhoff. They're the most likely to go by July 31.

Chantilly, Va.: Are there any other managers out there in danger of getting the hook? Bobby Valentine and the Mets always seem one step from parting way. Any rocky relationships?

Richard Justice: Unless Ray Miller gets fired, I don't think any firings are imminent. You constantly hear Phil Garner is in trouble, and Bobby Valentine has done an amazing job of surviving.

Washington D.C.: How do you explain Jose Jimenez's two great performances against the Diamondbacks while at the same time having an average season so far?

Richard Justice: Jose Jimenez is going to have a great career. He was as coveted prospect last winter as there was. He's had an uneven start, but most people believe he's headed for stardom.

New York, N.Y.: A recent column in The Post proposed that teams should be required to play more games against their division rivals rather than play a few interleague series. This would allow teams to rekindle the rivalries that have faded in recent years. Do you have an opinion on this?

Richard Justice: I like the National League schedule of doing exactly that. That's easy to say when you live in an American League East city because you want to see more of the Yankees and Red Sox. It's not as attractive in Kansas City, where you'd ask the Royals to sacrifice a visit by the Yankees or Red Sox to get another series with the A's or some team like that. I think it'll probably stay the way it is. I don't know that rivarlies have faded. The best ones--Giants-Dodgers, Yankees-Red Sox, Cubs-Cardinals--are as good as ever. The other have always come and gone depending on the won-loss records.

Birmingham, Ala.: Based on what you have heard from baseball people on the Expos possible sale and move, rate the chances of potential cities-areas in order -if MLB gave permission to the Montreal owners to sell today-

Richard Justice: I think Charlotte is the front-runner, Portland second and Las Vegas third. Washington/Northern Virginia is the wild card. It's easily the most attractive market, but there's opposition to moving a team close to the O's.

Silver Spring, Md.: Has Rhodes' value diminished with his request to be put back into the role of middle relief? How much will Timlin's salary force them to use him in a closer role over the next two years?

Richard Justice: His value has diminished only because health problems make it hard to warm up on short notice and he can't always be counted on for back-to-back days. But because he's left-handed, his value is still very high. Perhaps with better management as to when he's warmed up, those other problems could be overcome. Timlin would already be gone if he weren't signed for three more years at $4 million per season. So he'll probably be around for awhile as a setup man/partime closer.

Queens, New York: Are the Reds for real this year? I don't think anyone would have thought they'd be challenging your Astros.

Richard Justice: I hope the Reds are real. They give every small market team reason to hope. I love their starting pitching and their bullpen. Sean Casey is a batting champ. Pokey Reese is one of the underrated players in the league. And it's fun when a team with a great heritage gets it going again. Go Reds.

Washington, D.C.: Of all the goofups that Peter Angelos has made, how in the world can he let Rafael Palmeiro go, who has shown that he's no one time fluke like Brady Anderson, but instead has produced consistently throughout his career?

Richard Justice: Palmeiro was a huge mistake on every level. One is that he could have been had for a lower price in spring training or during the season. Second, they tried to play hard ball when they had no leverage. In the end, their negotiating tactics blew up in their face. He's a huge loss. We're about out of time. We'd like to thank Richard Justice for coming on to discuss the Orioles and baseball. Join us again next week for another edition of Sports Online.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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