When the Baltimore Orioles were in the World Series in 1979 and Doug DeCinces still was their third baseman, the organist at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh did a very mean thing (baseball humor being what it is). Every time DeCinces came to the plate, the organist played, "Me and My Shadow."
There was no escape. Not until last January, anyway, when DeCinces was traded to the California Angels for outfielder Dan Ford. Only then did he shake the shadow of Brooks Robinson. "I never felt third base was my home," he said last weekend, when he returned to Baltimore with an angelic halo over his head. "It was always Brooks' title to his book."
In California, he says, there is plenty of sun "but there is no shadow."
Gene Mauch, the Angel's manager, goes further: "Now, he's casting shadows. He's no less than the co-inventor of third. I'm not exaggerating one bit. I never dreamed he could play like this . . . I can't begin to count the number of runs he's shut down with his glove."
In Baltimore, DeCinces says he "never felt appreciated defensively. I'm being appreciated for my defensive play out here."
Oriole pitchers were known to wonder about certain evasive maneuvers on hot smashes aimed at his septum (he tied for the league in errors last year at third). Angel pitcher Don Aase, says, "He's been a great help defensively. The whole team seems to be jelling. The infield has already turned 30 double plays."
It is a lot different playing in the shadow of Butch Hobson (now a designated hitter with the Yankees). "I think psychologically, yeah, now, I don't have to worry about it," DeCinces said. "If I made an error here, everyone said, 'Brooks never would have made it.' "
"Do I feel relieved? A little bit, yes. Face it, I carried it with me the whole time . . . I've really played well all spring. I'd been doing it here, as well. I'd make a diving play down the line and it was, oh well, you know, we expect you to do that. That's not expected. You don't just make 'expected' plays like that."
His reception at Memorial Stadium reminded him of all that. There was one banner saying, "We Miss You, Doug," and more than a smattering of applause when he deprived Ken Singleton of a hit on Sunday. But then again, Eddie Murray was up next. "It was the same old thing," DeCinces said. "It made me realize I'm glad to be where I am."
DeCinces, who is batting .244 with three home runs, didn't do much at the plate against the Orioles (two for 13 with one RBI), though as Singleton says, "The pressure's not on him to hit."
Reggie Jackson, the other new Angel, says, "He's a player, a gamer."
DeCinces hardly was surprised at the trade.
"I was a little upset when they started throwing my name around last winter," he said. "I was still in an Oriole uniform and Jim Russo, the Orioles' scout, is going around saying Cal Ripken is the starting third baseman. As far as I'm concerned he has to eat his words. (Oriole Manager) Earl (Weaver) didn't say it and (General Manager) Hank Peters didn't say it . . .I got really angry with it, especially after the year I had. You can guess when I see him I'm going to tell him what I think."
The trade was delayed a few days, while Ford pondered the fine print in his contract. "That was the last straw," DeCinces said.
DeCinces, who was the American League player representative and a vocal negotiator in last year's strike, said, "I was not traded because of my actions. I have too much trust in Hank Peters as an individual and a businessman. The other guys (traded player representatives Bob Boone, Phil Garner) aren't a coincidence."
As he spoke, he watched Ripken, so far a less-than-phenomenal phenom at bat, taking ground balls at third. There were no shadows. "I thought they might try him at shortstop," DeCinces said. "It surprised me that they wouldn't sign Mark (Belanger, now with the Dodgers) and trade me, too. That leaves some inexperience out there."
Ripken said, "If there was no Brooks, they probably would have loved him to death. I'm glad I didn't have to replace him."
"I had to fill shoes," DeCinces said. "Somebody else has got to do the same."