The first-place Baltimore Orioles are quickly teaching other American League teams that you don't have to load up your roster with high-paid free agents and swap players as if they were bubble gum trading cards to be the best team in baseball.
Of the world champion New York Yankee regulars, only Bobby Murcer, Roy White and new catcher Jerry Narron were brought up through their minor league farm club system.
The other eight who see action regularly were acquired through the re-entry free agent draft or trades, including Murcer, who twice has worn Yankee pinstripes.
The Yanks, however, are now 14 games behind Baltimore.
Of the eight starters on Gene Autry's California Angels, the West Division leaders, only 21-year-old third baseman Carney Lansford is a California farm club product.
If the Angels were in the AL East, they would trail the Birds by 11 games.
The key to molding the Orioles into pennant contenders lies in the organization's ability to develop its minor league talent, according to Oriole General Manager Hank Peters.
His philosophy differs significantly from those of the high-rolling wheeler dealers like George Steinbrenner, Brad Corbett, Ted Turner, Ruly Carpenter and Autry.
"If you're going to build a contending team you have to start with the farm club," Peters said. "When you have quality players on the minor league level, it also improves your trading position."
Therein lies Peters' philosophy of how he and player personnel assistants have pieced together the hottest team in the major leagues.
The bulk of the Oriole roster is made up of club-developed talent from minor league affiliates in Rochester, N.Y. (AAA), Charlotte, N.C. (AA), Miami (A) and Bluefield, W. Va. (rookie club). This system has produced 12 current Orioles, including six regulars.
After tapping the farm system for all available talent, Peters resorts to trades and re-entry draft selections to fill in the roster's missing pieces as if it were a giant jigsaw puzzle.
Thus, Oriole owner-to-be Edward Bennett Williams finds himself in an unfamiliar situation. He will take over an organization which prides itself on building from within and concentrating on youth.
That is in contrast to the Washington Redskins, where under his presidency then-coach George Allen formed the nucleus of the squad through blockbuster trades and acquisitions, usually giving up draft choices for veterans.
Eight of the Orioles were obtained through trades, including Ken Singleton, who leads the team in batting average, runs batted in and homers.
Former General Manager J. Frank Cashen plucked Singleton and pitcher Mike Torrez, now with Boston, from Montreal for Dave McNally and a couple of fringe players in 1974.
"All the trades were very important in forming the present team," Peters said as he sat back in his decision-making chair, contemplating his most important trade since taking over from Cashen in 1976.
"But the one that sticks out in my mind, perhaps more than any other, is the deal we made with the Yankees to get Scott McGregor, Rick Dempsey, Tippy Martinez and Rudy May. That deal was extremely important in building this team."
In that last-minute deal on June 15, 1976, the trading deadline, Peters traded pitchers Ken Holtzman, Doyle Alexander and Grant Jackson and catcher Elrod Hendricks (now back with the O's as a coach) to the Yanks.
The trade was greeted initially with skepticism by fans, players and the media. The Yankees won the American League pennant that year, but it has taken the Orioles three years to reap the rewards of that deal.
McGregor has become a formidable starting pitcher, Martinez perhaps the team's best reliever and Dempsey the No. 1 catcher.
May, who won 30 games in his 1 1/2 years in an Oriole uniform, was peddled to Montreal in 1977 for All-Star reliever Don Stanhouse and outfielder Gary Roenicke, who already has 17 home runs as a part-time starter.
Thus, Peters and the Birds got five players now averaging 26.4 years of age for four veterans, all more than 33, who have made limited contributions since departing.
"I wouldn't say we made out like bandits in those trades but we did very well," Peters said. "The Orioles have not made a lot of trades but do so to fill specific needs of the club."
Peters said trades and the signing of free agents have played a much smaller role in building the Orioles than the development of the farm system. He gives much of the credit for the system's success to Tom Giordano, the team's director of scouting.
The Orioles already have signed 20 of their 37 June draft picks. Most of them have been assigned to Bluefield.
Giordano said there are several players in the Orioles' Rochester club who are ready to make the jump to the "big club."
"There's a guy, Mark Corey, an outfielder, who will be highly considered for a starting outfield position next season with the Orioles," he said.
Improving the outfield was a task that gave manager Earl Weaver and Peters fits after the 1978 season.
Al Bumbry and Ken Singleton were injured or not at full strength much of the year, and routine fly balls became nightmares for Baltimore pitchers.
At one point before the season opened, Peters considered trading three or four players for Chet Lemon, coveted 24-year-old White Sox center fielder.
"I'm glad now we didn't make that trade," said Peters. "We acquired (John) Lowenstein from Texas through waivers and Frank Robinson (Oriole coach) worked with the outfielders extensively through spring training."
Lowenstein has already hit 11 home runs - one short of his season high at Cleveland - and has been a pleasant surprise.
His lifetime average as a journeyman outfielder with Cleveland and Texas for nine seasons was .238 and he played in only 723 games over that time.
"Both Earl and I have always liked John's attitude, his desire and versatility. We tried to make deals for him before, but other clubs were always asking too much. He's been a key addition to our ball club this year."
The acquisition of Lowenstein, along with Robinson's spring tutoring of the outfield, allowed Peters to avoid dipping into the re-entry draft pool for a free agent outfielder.
"We have participated sparingly in the free agent negotiations and we don't get into bidding contests like many other clubs. We make fair offers according to the player's ability and guidelines of our salary structure," he said.
Peters added that many teams over-emphasize the relative importance of signing or losing one free agent. "Just because you sign one of these fellows doesn't mean your troubles are over," he commented.
The Orioles have acquired Billy Smith and Steve Stone and retained Bumbry through the reentry draft. However, the free agent sword cuts with a double edge, and the Orioles have lost a lot of blood in the past four years.
"I don't know how good we would be now with Reggie Jackson, Bobby Grich, Don Baylor, Wayne Garland, Ross Grimsely and Mike Torrez," Peters said matter-of-factly. Those six players were lost to other teams through the re-entry draft.
Having already won 76 games and with the possibility of breaking the all-time record for wins in a season (112) even without those fellows, chances are other teams in the American League East don't want to think about it. CAPTION: Chart, How They Became the Orioles; Picture, no caption, By Alice Kresse - The Washington Post