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Holiday Cruz

By Eddie Matz | Posted 1/1/2003

It's a gray Christmas morning, as some sort of sleety, snowy, rainy drizzle pelts my leaky roof. I believe the modern technical term for this is "wintry mix."

No biggie. Just as long as the wintry mix doesn't drip all over the Christmas tree. Because that's where Uncle Flanny and Uncle Jim have stashed my present. They're new to the family, which means they'll try extra hard to win my love with something extravagant. Right?

So I tiptoe down the long, beige-carpeted hallway to the living room, where sure enough, there sits a shiny gold-wrapped box with a fat green ribbon and a flowery red velvet bow. This looks way better than anything old Uncle Syd ever gave me.

As I delicately unwrap the package (my mom always taught me to try and save nice wrapping paper), the anticipation builds. I unpeel the red velvet bow then the fat green ribbon and finally the shiny gold paper until I'm left with a glossy white cardboard box, the top of which I hastily remove. Out pops . . . Deivi Cruz.

"Wait a second," I mutter to myself. "This must be a mistake--maybe I opened the wrong gift."

So I inspect the box. Sure enough, there's a card inside:

Dear Orioles fans,

Merry Christmas!


Uncles Flanny and Jim

It's no mistake. While all the other kids got Thomes or Glavines or Floyds for Christmas, we got Deivi Cruz.

Mike Flanagan has stated that the new Baltimore shortstop's value won't be based on his offensive production. That's wonderful news, considering how Cruz's 2002 numbers at the plate stacked up against those of his peers. His 7 home runs were tied for 21st among major league shortstops, his 47 RBI's tied for 17th. All right, so maybe he's no Miguel Tejada. But that's OK. He must be one of those middle infielders who hurt opposing teams with their speed, right?


Last year in San Diego, Cruz racked up all of two stolen bases. And two triples. All right, so maybe he's no Jimmy Rollins. But that's OK. He must be one of those middle infielders that hurts opposing teams with his glove, right?


Last year in San Diego, Cruz committed 15 errors on his way to compiling a .973 fielding percentage--good enough for 14th among his colleagues. Truth is, he's a serviceable shortstop with average range and an above-average arm. He can be counted on to make the ordinary plays, but not the extraordinary. Not exactly what you want out of a guy whose worth will be judged by his leather. Not exactly Mark Belanger.

You'd think Mike Flanagan would know better. After all, it was Belanger who anchored the airtight Baltimore infield behind the young lefty as he piled up a 57-34 record in his first three full seasons in the O's starting rotation. It was Belanger whose .986 fielding percentage during those three years more than justified his presence in the lineup despite hitting just .200 over the same time period. It was Belanger who helped Flanny win 23 games and the American League Cy Young back in the "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" year of 1979.

Deivi Cruz is no Mark Belanger.

And even if he were, Mike Hargrove would be hard-pressed to play him every day for one simple reason: Jeff Conine, Marty Cordova, and Chris Richard are no Eddie Murray, Lee May, and Ken Singleton. Back in the day, Earl Weaver could afford to field a one-dimensional defensive specialist like The Blade. Back in the day, the Birds didn't need another bat.

Today, they do.

I know it. You know it. Flanagan knows it. My wife Whitney knows it. Heck, even my Curious George stuffed animal knows it.

It might have been a different story had the Baltimore brass been able to land Jim Thome. Or Cliff Floyd. Or Hideki Matsui. But none of that happened, and so the Birds need another bat.

Or two. Or three.

Which makes you wonder why they went with Deivi Cruz instead of, oh . . . I don't know . . . maybe . . . Jose Hernandez. An equally capable glove man, the free agent shortstop hit .288, while pounding 24 long balls and driving in 73 runs on the way to a 2002 All-Star appearance. All that despite playing for the woeful Milwaukee Brewers, one of only four teams to score less runs than the Orioles. Granted, Hernandez would've been more expensive than Cruz, but not exorbitantly so. Besides, the Camden faithful deserve a little splurge for their recent sufferings, to say the least.

But alas, it was Deivi Cruz in the shiny gold wrapping this Christmas. And like my mom taught me, I'll write a thank-you note to my new uncles, because there's always something to be grateful for. In this case, it's the fact that Cruz has played at least 150 games in three of the last four seasons. So he's durable, which is more than you can say about the fragile trinkets Uncle Syd used to put under the tree.

Thanks Uncle Flanny. Thanks Uncle Jim.

Can't wait to see what you get us for Groundhog Day.

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