For Milligan, nightmares are coming out of left field

MIKE LITTWIN

March 06, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Since his past is best forgotten and the present isn't exactly what he'd hoped for, Randy Milligan was working on his future.

"I'm thinking about my career after baseball," he said. "I think pro wrestling is the way to go."

He waited for his audience to be properly impressed.

"I'm going to be called the Mangler," he said, without a trace of irony.

But there it is: Will he, in fact, be the mangler? The Orioles have asked him to play left field, and every sweat-stained night, and most of every sweat-stained day, when Milligan isn't thinking about the World Wrestling Federation, he's considering the possibility of mangling balls in the outfield.

It scares him to death.

One of the many wonderful things about Milligan is that he's willing to say things scare him to death.

"I don't want to fall into that Mickey Tettleton syndrome," Milligan was saying. "Remember when Mickey played first base last year and everyone booed? I don't want that to happen to me. I don't want to go out there and embarrass myself."

He laughed, and it sounded like whistling in the dark. He doesn't want to go out there at all.

What happened to Milligan shouldn't have happened. Not in a fair world. He spent eight years in the minor leagues, kicked around in a few organizations and finally made it to the big leagues. And then came last year, his breakthrough season, when he hit 20 homers before suffering an injury in early August. It was a season that established him as a legitimate major-leaguer and also -- he thought sure -- a legitimate major-league first baseman.

And then the Orioles traded for Glenn Davis. Superstar. And, yes, first baseman.

"It was like a shock," Milligan said.

It was like a knife to the shoulder. It was like eight years in the minors. It was a terrible blow to Milligan, who used to have a confidence problem. He would always think that no matter how good things were going, something bad would happen. Just when he seemed to have gotten over it, Glenn Davis happened.

"You can say I'm paranoid," Milligan argued, "but now do you know why? I have nothing against Glenn, and how can you argue against the trade? But if I had my way, I'd still be playing first base."

It isn't fair, but there is Milligan early every morning working on playing left field. He's out there before everyone else arrives, learning a position he had long ago abandoned. Actually, it abandoned him, in part because, in Milligan's words, "They took one look at my arm and said, 'Put this kid at first.' "

Now he's back. And come tomorrow, in the Orioles' first exhibition game, he'll be in left field. His first baseman's mitt will be back in the clubhouse, an empty reminder of the good times of the recent past.

"A lot of people think you just go there and play," he said. "I kind of thought that way myself -- just go out there and do what comes naturally. But there's a lot of work to do, a lot of stuff to learn. The ball that worries me most is the one to the corner. In the game I know Devo (Mike Devereaux) would get to the ball in the gap, or if it's a pop-up that Cal will be there, but down the line, whew, it's just me."

He laughed. Milligan is generous with his laughter, as generous as he is with his good feeling. When Frank Robinson asked Milligan to try left field, he didn't have to worry about a tantrum. This isn't Barry Bonds. Of course, Bonds is a pretty good outfielder while Milligan is, to this point, just a nice guy.

"They hit the ball down the line and I can't yell, 'Devo, help!' " Milligan said. "This is not A ball where you can learn by your mistakes. This is the big leagues. You make a mistake and it's all on you."

He will make mistakes. Willie Mays made errors, and so did Frank Robinson.

"I think Moose can do it," Robinson said. "It's not that difficult changing positions if you can accept it mentally. I'm not saying it's easy. But Moose has the right makeup, and he has the skills."

And he has the sweaty palms.

"My comfort zone has been touched," he said. "Before we got Glenn, all I had to do was worry about hitting. I knew how to play first base. Now, I have to worry about hitting and worry about playing the outfield."

If Milligan can make the switch, it makes everything easier for the Orioles. It means that Dwight Evans, at 39, can play DH when he isn't up to playing right field. It allows Sam Horn to get more at-bats. It gives Robinson more flexibility in forming and managing a 25-man roster.

"It's not that bad," Milligan said of the switch. He paused and then added, about half-seriously: "Well, it's not that good, either."

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