Uncertainty is following Milligan to Orioles camp

February 26, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Randy Milligan arrived at Twin Lakes Park yesterday, eager to join the Orioles pitchers and catchers for early workouts, but he brought along a lot of excess baggage from an unhappy off-season.

He has spent months waiting for the trade that has seemed inevitable since it became apparent that Glenn Davis would make a full recovery from last year's debilitating neck injury. He spent weeks waiting for the contract settlement that finally averted what could have been an ugly arbitration showdown with the club.

Now, he has come to Florida to get ready for a season that could be just as problematic. Milligan is still smiling, but he is not happy with the uncertainty that continues to envelop his career.

"My feeling is that if they wanted me to be here all year, they would have signed me to a two-year deal," Milligan said. "But that wasproposed and shot down real quick."

Instead, the Orioles fought hard to keep Milligan's salary down, apparently to keep his contract from becoming a complicating factor in trade talks. The contract dispute finally was settled -- at $1.05 million base salary, below Milligan's $1.4 million asking price -- but not before he got the impression that the team would do anything to win the case.

He voluntarily had moved from first base to left field last spring to make room in the lineup for Davis, but when the outfield experiment proved unsuccessful, Milligan said the club was prepared to use that against him in arbitration.

"When I went out there last year, it was to help the team," he said. "I found out through the arbitration process that they were goingto use that against me. I'm not going to hurt myself like that again."

Orioles officials deny they would have done any such thing, but it is an indication of how frustrating the situation has become for Milligan, who doesn't know if he is coming or going and isn't entirely sure which would be better for him.

"My heart tells me to stay in Baltimore," he said, "but my head says to get out of Dodge."

The writing on the clubhouse wall is clear: Milligan is going to be a role player if he stays with the Orioles -- barring some very unpleasant development. He figures to share the designated hitter role with Sam Horn and play behind Davis at first base. That is, if he's around on Opening Day.

He said two weeks ago that he rather would play regularly somewhere else than part-time in Baltimore, but he was less adamant about that yesterday. Now, he says that he would like to stay -- regardless of his playing time -- if the club could find a way to guarantee that he won't waste his prime earning years languishing on the bench.

"If I sign a two-year deal, I'm happy," he said. "I don't have to worry about where my money is going to come from. I don't have to worry about arbitration hearings. The way it is now, I have to play to earn a paycheck, and if I don't play, I'm moving backward."

Manager John Oates acted quickly to make sure there was no misunderstanding between him and Milligan, a player Oates considers too valuable to trade just to appease Milligan's desire to play full-time. He met with Milligan early yesterday to clear the air.

"I understand where Randy is coming from," Oates said. "I understand what his needs are, and I know what he's feeling. If I was 30 years old, I wouldn't want to spend the next four or five years on the bench.

"That's his perspective. My perspective is that I've got to do what's best for the Baltimore Orioles first and for the individual second."

Oates already has said that there will be no repeat of the left-field experiment. Milligan did not take to the position, and the attempt seemed to detract from his concentration at the plate. But assistant general manager Frank Robinson said that would not have been part of the case against Milligan if his contract dispute had reached a hearing.

"I don't know where he got that," Robinson said, "but it's not true. There are only four people who know what was [going to be presented] -- Roland [Hemond], [counsel] Lon Babby, myself and [statistician] Eddie Epstein. I don't know who would have told Randy that, but no, it's not true."

Perhaps Milligan just doesn't know what to believe, after three solid seasons in Baltimore. He has reason to believe that he should be emerging as a star-quality first baseman about now, but instead is submerged in a sea of uncertainty. Will he stay or will he go?

"It hurts," he said, "because my heart really is in Baltimore, and I don't think I've done anything there to warrant me being traded."

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