Baseball teams often have a typical player who fits the mold of their organization. A composite Baltimore Oriole might be a mild-mannered student of the game, a slightly boring overachiever with a small ego.
So, what in the world is (Disco) Dan Ford--convicted bat-corker, nude centerfold of Playgirl magazine and stylin' showboat supreme--doing in Baltimore?
The Orioles, frustrated last week in their attempt to sign Reggie Jackson, today accomplished the next best thing, trading Doug DeCinces to the California Angels for Ford.
Bizarre as the sight of the hot-dogging Ford in Birdland may seem, the trade, which also sent long-reliever Jeff Schneider to California, is actually a classic baseball natural.
The Orioles had two big offseason priorities: First, get a proven outfielder, still in his prime, who could drive in runs and add speed and throwing power to the Orioles' outfield. Second, open up a starting position for Cal Ripken Jr., the 22-year-old who is by far the organization's best prospect.
This trade for the 29-year-old Ford, who drove in 101 runs in '79, and who had 15 homers and 48 RBI in 375 at bats in '81, accomplishes both goals.
By dealing the 31-year-old DeCinces, who has a long history of back problems, the Orioles have now handed the third base job to Ripken. They believe he can surpass DeCinces' power stats--an average of 19 homers and 66 RBI over the past five years. Ripken and DeCinces are comparable defensively.
In Ford, who will probably play right field, they have a career .276 hitter who has averaged 80 RBI per every 550 at bats during his career. "Dan will help the outfield defense immediately," said DeCinces, who now returns to his California home. "His arm is similar to (Ken) Singleton's, but his speed will let him get to balls more quickly. Less runners will go first-to-third."
Whether Singleton spends more time in left field or as a designated hitter will probably depend on Gary Roenicke, the star of '79 but the flop of '80-'81. The Orioles are officially sick of waiting for Roenicke " to return to form. If he does, then Singleton can be a designated hitter. If he doesn't, they'll bench him, put Singleton in left and let Terry Crowley and Co. fill the DH role.
"Everybody knows we have to find a way to get more punch out of our outfield and DH spots," Singleton said.
Ford, who had major knee surgery in '80 but appears recovered, could accomplish this.
The Ford-DeCinces trade is an example of how someone else's problems, 3,000 miles away, seem much smaller and easier to handle than ones close to home. Actually, the Orioles' difficulties with DeCinces and the Angels' problems with Ford were dramatically similar.
DeCinces has a bad back, but Ford has that worrisome knee. The Orioles wanted to put Ripken at third, but the Angels also have a phenom--huge Tom Brunansky, 21--to whom they may present Ford's old outfield job.
Both Ford and DeCinces had one superb year, followed by a major injury before finally returning to almost-as-good-as-new form in the partial year of '81. Ford had a career-high 21 homers and hit .290 in '79, then homered in his first at bats during both American League playoff games against the Orioles. Both players also have two years remaining on their current contracts.
DeCinces, after 28 homers in '78, was also a hero of the '79 playoffs, his diving-over-the-foul-line play in the fourth and final game giving the Angels a lasting impression of all the skills he could offer them as a replacement for Butch Hobson. DeCinces' 55 RBI in just 345 at bats last year was the best ratio of his career.
Ford had lost favor with Anaheim fans because he was suspended for three days last season for using a corked bat. DeCinces heard boos in Memorial Stadium for his prominent role as American League representative during the Strike of '81.
Ford had his critics within his own locker room because of his love of partying (hence his nickname). Last year, he led all AL outfielders in errors and always has had a penchant for the spectacularly hideous play.
DeCinces also led his position in errors last season, too many of them coming when he pulled his face out of the way of bad hops that seemed headed for his oft-broken nose. That ploy did not endear him to his pitching staff.
Oriole General Manager Hank Peters, asked whether Ford would still use his famous corked bat (about which the Orioles frequently complained to umpires) replied, "Only when necessary."
And what about posing for centerfolds?
"We consider that 'off the field activity,' " Peters said, grinning. "We hope that Dan will fit in here. We pat ourselves on the back here that when we have acquired players who, shall we say, have a few quirks in their makeups, we end up converting them. They don't convert us. We don't see Ford's arrival as a risk, but as a challenge . . . We think, that with proper application, he can become a complete player."
What might Peters mean by "with proper application"?
"That's one of those quotes that you just have to make what you want out of," he laughed. "Read into it what you will."
"I've been impressed with the Orioles since I've been in the league . . . and I'm looking forward to playing in Baltimore," Ford said today. "I like Memorial Stadium . . .it's short down the line if you pull the ball, like I do.
"I wasn't surprised by the trade. It's been expected," added Ford, who is already a friend of the cleanup man he will probably bat behind--Eddie Murray. "I grew up playing against Eddie and all his brothers in L.A."
The Orioles' next big trade project--getting shortstop Garry Templeton from St. Louis for Sammy Stewart, plus a shortstop and an outfielder--can't be completed until the interleague trading period resumes on Feb. 15. Still, they see small, encouraging signs.
"The Ivan DeJesus for Larry Bowa trade (between the Cubs and Phillies) might well take two teams out of the running for Templeton," said Peters. "That could only help us. The Cards now say that they may just keep Templeton . . . but, after some of the things that have been said on both sides, that's hardly what you'd expect . . . I would not say we have the 'upper hand' in that deal. If you are the pursuer, you never have the upper hand."
That, however, is not always the case, is it?
"Well," said Peters, "it's true that we've been after Ford for nearly five years."