Baltimore Orioles pitcher Bob Milacki will become the first player to take the club to salary arbitration since 1980 if his contract dispute is not settled before a hearing today in Chicago.
Milacki filed for a salary of $1.18 million for the 1992 season. The club submitted a $700,000 salary figure. The Orioles have a history of finding some middle ground in negotiations with their arbitration-eligible players -- they have done so in every case since infielder Billy Smith took them to a hearing 12 years ago -- but an arbitration showdown with Milacki now seems almost inevitable.
"That's the way it points right now," said general manager Roland Hemond, who headed for Chicago last night with club counsel Lon Babby, assistant GM Frank Robinson and statistician Eddie Epstein.
Milacki also will be in Chicago to take part in the hearing, but he probably won't like what he hears. The Orioles have to present a case against him, even though he is considered one of the cornerstones of the club's starting rotation. They cannot afford to pull any punches if they expect to win the case, so Milacki can expect to hear some unpleasant statistics and some unfavorable comparisons during today's hearing.
He is hoping to quadruple his salary (he made $280,000 last year) after a 10-9 performance that made him the winningest pitcher on an ineffective pitching staff, but he is a combined 15-17 in the two seasons since he was one of baseball's top rookie pitchers (14-12) in 1989.
"You never know how it will affect you," Milacki said. "I've never been through it before. . . . I can't let it bother me. If I let it bother me, it might affect the way things go in spring training."
Milackiknows that he has to prepare himself. "I'm going to go there with an open mind," he said. "I know how things didn't work out for me in 1990. Let's be realistic. I'm no Roger Clemens, but I do have some impact on the league. Hopefully, what I've done in the past shows up more positive than negative."
Hemond doesn't seem concerned that the club will alienate Milacki during the hearing. He stands to get a 150 percent raise even if the arbitrator rules against him.
The arbitration hearing doesn't necessarily mark the end of the negotiating process. Players and their clubs can work toward a compromise right up until the arbitrator issues his decision.
The issue will be settled one way or the other within 24 hours after the hearing. Then the Orioles can focus their attention on their remaining arbitration eligible players -- Randy Milligan and Mike Devereaux. Both are scheduled for hearings in Chicago on Tuesday.
Devereaux and the club are just $200,000 apart, so a compromise is not out of the question, but it appears that Milligan is headed for a hearing. He's seeking $1.4 million. The club's offer is $900,000.
NOTES: Last week, the Orioles offered 2B Bill Ripken the same salary he earned in 1991 ($700,000) but Ripken chose to accept a slight cut in base salary (to $685,000) in exchange for incentive bonuses that could take him up to $775,000 if he stays healthy and plays regularly. "I asked Bill if he wanted to take the $700,000," attorney Ron Shapiro said, "but he is so confident that he's going to have a good year, he wanted the chance to do better."