SARASOTA, Fla. -- It's lonely at the top of the Baltimore Orioles' batting order, where there hasn't been a full-time leadoff man since Al Bumbry in the late 1970s and early '80s and there may not be one this year.
But manager Frank Robinson will hold auditions for the job anyway, hoping that someone will emerge with the right combination of speed and on-base potential to warrant an everyday assignment.
"We're looking for someone to lead off," Robinson said, "but nobody has shown me all the skills I would like in a leadoff hitter, so we have to look and find and develop one."
The list of candidates is not long. Robinson has narrowed it down to outfielders Mike Devereaux, Brady Anderson and Joe Orsulak and second baseman Bill Ripken -- or any combination of the four. There was talk of including Randy Milligan, whose .408 on-base percentage led the club last year, but Robinson decided against it because Milligan was not comfortable with the idea.
Anderson and Devereaux want the job badly. Orsulak will take it, but would rather bat deeper in the lineup. Ripken probably would accept it without reservation, but could end up in the No. 2 spot.
"I think that's the role I'd like to fit into," said Anderson, who has batted leadoff intermittently since he joined the club in 1988. "I'm real confident in my base-stealing. I have a good eye and I can get on base. I have to get my average up, obviously [he hit .231 in 1990], but I think if I can have a decent season as far as average goes, I can score a lot of runs."
Somebody is going to score a few, now that the heart of the order is stocked with experienced run-producers. The arrivals of Glenn Davis and Dwight Evans make the emergence of a consistent leadoff hitter more desirable than ever.
Anderson is the most patient hitter among the four main candidates. He walked 74 times in 500 at-bats the past two seasons. Devereaux walked 64 times in 758 at-bats during the same period. Orsulak had 87 walks in 803 at-bats in 1989 and '90. Ripken led the club with a .291 batting average last year and bunts well, but he walked only 28 times in 406 at-bats.
"I've hit in the leadoff spot before," Devereaux said. "I want to be in the lineup every day and a full-time leadoff hitter plays every day, so I'd definitely enjoy that. But there are some things I have to work on.
"Leadoff hitters lay the ball down [bunt] a lot more than I do. I have to work on that. I also don't think that I've walked enough in the past, so I have to work on that, too. And I want to steal more bases [he stole 13 last year, 22 in 1989]. In the minor leagues, I never stole less than 30 a year."
Anderson, who stole 15 bases last year, probably has the more developed leadoff skills, but Devereaux is more likely to play regularly in the field. He is expected to be the full-time center fielder, with Anderson spelling him and sharing time in left.
"I haven't been given the leadoff role," Devereaux said, "but I want to get better in the aspects that would make me become a good leadoff hitter. That would make me a better all-around player no matter where I hit in the lineup."
The manager agrees. Robinson wants to see Devereaux show better judgment at the plate and improve his bunting skills.
"He needs to be more selective no matter where he is in the lineup," Robinson said. "He needs to use the skills he has more to his advantage. He needs to work the pitcher more and he needs to bring the corner guys up [with the bunt] so that more balls get through the infield. The threat of the bunt is almost as important as actually doing it."
Orsulak is not from the classic leadoff mold, but he can see that the most desirable places in the lineup probably are spoken for. Davis and Evans figure to join Milligan and Cal Ripken at the heart of the order, leaving Orsulak to bat very high or very low in the order.
"If I have to bat leadoff, I'll just put my mind to developing the frame of mind to hit in that position," he said. "The only reason I don't ask for it is because they expect you to walk a lot, and I'm a free swinger. But whatever the team needs, I'll do. I am capable of making that adjustment."
Though Robinson said that he wouldn't necessarily ask Orsulak to alter his approach for the leadoff spot, the veteran outfielder said he probably would do so anyway.
"If you have a guy who doesn't walk, when he's not going well, nobody is on base," Orsulak said. "If you have somebody who walks a lot, at least he'll still get on base that way. It's not something I would be opposed to."
Chances are, none of them will win the job outright. Robinson concedes that in all probability, all four would spend some time at the top of the lineup this year. He would like to see someone force his way into a full-time role, but says another year of leadoff by committee is the most likely scenario.
Leading off . . .
B6 Orioles leadoff hitters on Opening Day since 1980:
Al Bumbry, CF
1981 Al Bumbry, CF
1982 Al Bumbry, CF
1983 John Shelby, CF
1984 John Shelby, CF
1985 Mike Young, LF
1986 Alan Wiggins, 2B
1987 Alan Wiggins, DH
1988 Jeff Stone, LF
1989 Brady Anderson, CF
1990 Phil Bradley, LF