The manager and nearly every Baltimore Orioles player already are talking enthusiastically about spring training and the 1991 season.
They defeated Toronto to finish their season at 76-85, in fifth place 11 1/2 games behind American League East champion Boston. They thought they could have done better, and should have done better, and seemed eager to prove it beginning next spring.
"It was just a year we didn't put it together as consistently as we thought we would," said Manager Frank Robinson, who declared Wednesday that he wants to be "a part of this ball club" not only next season but in 1992 when the Orioles move into their new downtown park.
Two factors make Robinson optimistic: the way some young players performed when given the chance late in the season, and the prospect of offseason deals to strengthen glaring weak spots.
"We let the kids play and they really opened some eyes," Robinson said. "I hope they can carry it over into next year. If they do that, we're going to be all right."
The Orioles' chances to improve also hinge on their willingness to make some deals -- trades or possibly the signing of a free agent.
"We've got some things to do this winter and I hope we can do them," Robinson said, "and if we do, we'll be a team to be reckoned with in 1991."
The Orioles won 11 of their last 15 games, contributing to the upbeat mood. "I think we've turned things around in the last month," said Ben McDonald, who finished the season with a 2.41 ERA, lowest among American League rookies with 50 or more innings pitched.
McDonald said he'll most remember the spring training injury -- a strained muscle in his side -- that limited him to a half-season with the Orioles. "I'm anxious to see what I can do with a whole season," he said.
The 22-year-old fastballer looks to be the potential head of the mound corps. He held batters below .200 this season; only Nolan Ryan was tougher to hit.
"I wanted to finish the season strong," said McDonald, after going 8 2/3 innings in Wednesday night's 3-2 finale (Gregg Olson got the victory). "It was a great game and I did what I wanted to. I wanted to limit them to one or two runs and go eight or nine innings. I'm pleased."
Bob Milacki and Dave Johnson also expressed satisfaction in their final performances. Milacki pitched seven innings of shutout ball, allowing only two hits, to pick up a victory Sunday in Cleveland. Johnson went 8 2/3 innings Tuesday night but gave up a game-winning home run to Fred McGriff in the ninth. "I think I've established myself," Johnson said.
The Orioles' needs for '91 are obvious. Most of all, the team needs a heavy hitting outfielder. "More punch, more power," General Manager Roland Hemond said.
Robinson would like a left-handed short reliever to give him "maneuverability" and to lessen the burden on Olson.
The Orioles also could use a lefthanded starter.
Officials have said the team has the depth to enable them to package some players in a deal to meet their needs -- but no one is even hinting what that swap might be.
At third base, there might be a choice between Craig Worthington, who had a disappointing season, and prospect Leo Gomez. Outfielders Steve Finley and Brady Anderson might be too similar to keep both -- Finley seems to have made more of his opportunity since Phil Bradley was traded.
The team has said it's open to acquiring a free agent under the right circumstances. The list of free agents is long, but two left-handed pitchers could be appealing -- Dave Righetti of the New York Yankees and Teddy Higuera of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Late-season hitting by two veterans added to the team's positive outlook. Randy Milligan, anxious to get back in the lineup after separating his shoulder Aug. 7, went four for 10 with two RBI in three games as designated hitter. And Mickey Tettleton hit safely in four straight games, with three home runs -- the last one concluding the season and beating the Blue Jays.
"You want to finish the season on a strong note," Tettleton said. "We didn't have a grudge against Toronto, but we didn't want to lie down and just let them have it. We wanted to try to play good hard baseball against them."
Tettleton is a free agent, one of the main figures the front office will be considering in the next few weeks. Although he struck out 160 times, Tettleton -- as well as Cal Ripken and Milligan -- could benefit from one proven power hitter in the lineup. The search is on.
The Orioles purchased the contract of catcher Jeff Tackett (.239) from Class AAA Rochester and designated right-handed pitcher Dorn Taylor for assignment. He was 0-1 with a 2.45 ERA in four games since being acquired Sept. 5 from the Pittsburgh Pirates. . . .
Left-hander Eric Bell has opted for free agency rather than accept his second outright release to Rochester, where he was 9-6 with a 4.86 ERA.