DODGERS : Salaries Don't Increase Pressure, O'Malley Says

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Those who expect Peter O'Malley to start putting pressure on his team after spending $36.65 million on three players this winter don't know O'Malley, according to the Dodger owner.

"I think we have built a championship team, but nobody is looking at it like, 'Hey, we have to win this year,' " O'Malley said Saturday from his Dodgertown office. "We try to win it every year, and there is no more pressure on us now than in the past. There is no more pressure on the manager, general manager, anyone.

"I learned from many people a long time ago, you can't play this game under pressure. You have to be relaxed. I've always lived by that."

O'Malley said that he wasn't upset by the actions of recent Dodger holdouts Jay Howell and Ramon Martinez.

"If I was a player, I would definitely not complain about the system, but I understand how those things work," he said. "You have a left-handed pitcher who is making one amount, a right-handed pitcher who is making another amount, and one guy gets mad about it.

"Players' salaries are so visible, and their family sees where others are making more than them, and the players start to wonder."

He paused and added, "But nobody said the system was fair."

That system might be tested again later this season. Fernando Valenzuela might be forced out of the starting rotation if Orel Hershiser returns from shoulder surgery.

Many assume that O'Malley, who was involved in negotiations that kept Valenzuela with the team this winter, will be reluctant to trade or release the pitcher.

While O'Malley did not want to discuss Valenzuela's case specifically, he was adamant about his view on personnel.

"If anybody thinks we are going to have a member of this team who is not doing as much as somebody else who isn't here, that is absurd," O'Malley said. "In the case of player performance, nothing matters to me as much as winning."

O'Malley said public popularity never enters a personnel decision, because a player who no longer contributes is usually no longer popular.

"The public is smarter than you or me," he said to a reporter. "The public senses when a guy can't do the job anymore. The public wants to win. The public will know what is going on."

Dodger Notes

Orel Hershiser threw 75 long tosses in a batting cage, then threw 50 curveballs to a catcher in the cage during a pouring rain Saturday. He said his shoulder felt fine after Thursday's simulated game, adding that he hopes to throw another simulated game Monday. . . . The Dodgers' scheduled game against the New York Mets at Port St. Lucie was canceled because of rain. Today's televised game (KTTV Channel 11, 10:30 a.m.) will feature the Mets' Dwight Gooden facing good friend Darryl Strawberry. The Dodger pitchers will be Fernando Valenzuela, Kevin Gross, Dan Opperman and Jay Howell.

Strawberry said Gooden seems troubled by recent contract squabbles that could lead to Gooden becoming a free agent at the end of the season. "It looks like he is having a tough time, like he is confused about some things," Strawberry said of Gooden, whom he met and hugged in Port St. Lucie Thursday at the spring opener for both teams. "I pray for him. He has to be strong." Of Strawberry, Gooden said, "I am behind the guy 100%. It is almost like a dream, seeing him in a different uniform. I really wish he was back here."

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