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The '84 season warms up

By Christopher SwanStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 30, 1984


WHEN self-appointed experts talk about all the mixed pitches the Orioles threw to win the 1983 World Series, pitching coach Ray Miller laughs quietly up his sleeve.

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''We threw 60.9 percent fastballs in that series,'' Miller says as he stands by a fence in the Baltimore training camp here. ''But we didn't throw every fastball with everything we had on it. We teach our pitchers to be smart enough to know that a hitter is expecting a particular pitch, and then to give it to him - but at a different speed.''

It's a small bit of the arcana that make up professional baseball. And in the spring home of the world champion Baltimore Orioles you can see the way these minute gestures and mental rigors are fashioned into the smoothly choreographed motions that make up a game which remains the great American sports institution.

Over at the New York Yankees' spring training camp in nearby Fort Lauderdale, what stands out is something different: the flexing of muscle and the flash of talent.

The sport happens to be baseball. But here the game still has that universal shape of all sports - the honing of skills and the testing of muscles, the trial of eye and mind, and the labor to be even better than you were yesterday.

The difference between these two teams, say many observers here, can be summed up simply. Where the Yankees tend to fill their roster with high-price free agents fresh off the market, the Orioles like to build their ball club from the basement up.

Under the general theory that a fast wallet beats a slow farm system, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner buys expensive stars. The Orioles, in contrast, have grown their own.

It's a distinction in method that, going far beyond the sports world, appears these days in ballet companies, university faculties, corporations, and a host of other organizations. It can be summed up in one simple question: Do you buy talent or do you train it? From the pitcher's mound

The Orioles' answer is nowhere more apparent than on the pitcher's mound.

Over the years, the club has developed a reputation for turning out not flame-throwing wonders but resourceful, dependable pitchers - players who stay in a game long after most smoking hurlers begin to fizzle out and who can think their way through a lineup. And Ray Miller swears it's no accident.

Back in the bullpen, where Mike Boddicker is warming up, all you see is the sheer work of leg up, heave, catch, leg up, heave, catch. Twenty or 30 feet away Ray Miller works his stable of pitchers through some basic fielding exercises, casting an occasional glance in Boddicker's direction.

What Orioles pitching coach Miller and his associates teach their hurlers is a matter of some import to the game of baseball, and it has wider meaning to the world of sports in general.

''A lot of people believe we just have good pitchers and I'm lucky to be here ,'' Miller says as Jim Palmer's fastball whizzes by his head and cracks into a catcher's glove. But he adds that the Orioles have long cherished a strong pitching philosophy, one that they've built their club around.

During an interview earlier in the day, Palmer, a longtime pitching star, points out that the pitching tradition at the Orioles predates the reign of recently retired manager Earl Weaver.

''You can go way back to Paul Richards,'' he says, ''who loved to get good young pitchers. This was always pretty much of a pitching-oriented organization.'' With the advent of the draft, Palmer adds, the Orioles, being a top-ranking club, generally found themselves drawing from the bottom every year. ''By the time you get that far down in the draft, there's nothing left but guys with good arms.''

So, since life gave them lemons, the Orioles made lemonade - a particularly tasty variety. They made it their business to train the pitchers they got and to keep them around for a long time. ''We've never had to go with 6 out of 8 pitchers with only two or three years' experience,'' Palmer points out.