Wayne Gross will get the ultimate final insult Thursday morning: release by a team that doesn't even know if its third baseman will be ready to play on opening day.
Thirty minutes before the Baltimore Orioles' 12-6 victory over the Texas Rangers this afternoon, Gross got the word in a brief meeting with General Manager Hank Peters and not even Gross was surprised, sources said.
The decision to release him came as the Orioles cut their roster to 26 players by sending reliever Nate Snell and infielders Rex Hudler and Ricky Jones to their minor league camp. Gross' release will leave the club needing one more move to get down to the regular season roster of 24.
Further, the club appears to be leaning toward placing third baseman Floyd Rayford (bone chips in left thumb) on the disabled list Thursday, which would force him to miss the first four games of the regular season. Rayford took batting practice today, but did not look comfortable and appeared even more uncomfortable trying to take ground balls at third.
The Orioles have decided to keep pitcher Dennis Martinez on the roster, at least at the beginning of the season. Martinez is the 10th man on what the Orioles hoped would be a nine-man pitching staff, but because he has a $500,000 guaranteed contract for this season, he will remain with the team as an insurance policy.
Keeping Martinez means that catcher John Stefero would make the team only until Rayford is placed on the 24-man roster, a move that could come as early as April 12.
Meanwhile, Gross' release comes as no surprise, not since Rayford became the regular third baseman last July 25. At the time, Manager Earl Weaver had seen only six weeks of Gross, but didn't believe he had either the skills or speed to be an adequate defensive third baseman.
This spring, the Orioles are keeping only two utility infielders and Jackie Gutierrez and Juan Bonilla appear to have won the jobs. With Rayford out, Gutierrez would open the season at third.
Gross will be paid his $460,000 guaranteed salary, but because he is about 100 days short of being fully vested in the major league pension plan, he would desperately like to catch on with another team this season. He did not take the news quietly, having met with Peters twice and Weaver once the last week to ask why he wasn't playing.
"They should have done it this winter if they weren't going to give me a shot this spring," said Gross, who got only 21 at bats. "That's baseball, and it has happened to a lot of other people. I know that if I were given a chance to play every day I'd hit 22 homers and drive in 60 runs. I've done it before."
Peters told Gross he was welcome to accompany the Orioles to Orlando and Tampa this weekend and fly back with the club Saturday night, but Gross said he would return to Baltimore today and hope the phone rings.
"What bothers me is that with the rosters going to 24 players, there are 25 other guys in the same shape as me," he said.
Gross was acquired for reliever Tim Stoddard two winters ago and hit 22 homers with 64 RBI in 1984. Last season, he batted .216 and sealed his fate with his defense and 18 RBI. Meanwhile, Rayford was hitting a team-high .306.
The Orioles got 21 hits off four Texas pitchers today, Fred Lynn getting two home runs and five RBI and Cal Ripken a two-run homer . . . Second baseman Alan Wiggins had four hits . . . Orioles starter Mike Flanagan went five innings and allowed seven hits and three runs. "I said before the game I expected him to be flat," Weaver said, "and he even popped a couple of fast balls better than I thought he could."
The game ended a 25-year string of springs in Pompano Beach for the Rangers/Washington Senators franchise. Its base shifts to Port Charlotte, Fla., next year.
At Winter Haven, Fla., the Boston Red Sox got down to 24 players, sending to the minors right-handed pitchers Mike Brown, Calvin Schiraldi, Jeff Sellers and Rob Woodward and outfielders Mike Stenhouse, John Christensen and Mike Greenwell.
Second baseman Jerry Remy, an 11-year veteran unable to play any longer after seven left knee operations but still on the Pawtucket roster, is expected to be released today. Remy is guaranteed a 1986 salary of about $500,000 on the final year of a long-term contract.
Brown of Vienna, Va., one of Boston's top young prospects until plagued by injuries the last couple of years, allowed just one run in seven exhibition appearances. Bitterly disappointed, he asked the club to trade him . . .
Steve Carlton, 1-8 last season and sidelined much of it with a shoulder strain, is back as Philadelphia's opening day starter Monday in Cincinnati, Manager John Felske announced. The 300-game-winning left-hander has pitched effectively and without pain this spring . . .
New York Yankees Manager Lou Piniella named left-hander Dennis Rasmussen the club's No. 5 starter, with free agent candidate Tommy John, 42, being asked to stay in Florida and work out in case needed once the season is begun. There was no immediate word whether John would accept . . . Rick Langford, 34, coming back from three years of arm problems, made the Oakland rotation, over Tim Birtsas . . .
Chicago's Tom Seaver lost to Kansas City, 5-3, in an exhibition stint, and, even as trade talks continue to swirl around Seaver, he is scheduled to start Monday's opener against Milwaukee.