SARASOTA, Fla. -- You might hate his trades. You might pray he retires. But Orioles general manager Roland Hemond is above all a decent man. He wouldn't resort to dirty tricks in an arbitration hearing, as first baseman Randy Milligan suggested yesterday upon his arrival at training camp.
Milligan didn't mention Hemond by name, but he claimed team officials were prepared to attack his inability to play leftfield in a case that was settled before reaching the hearing stage. Hemond categorically denied the charge. His track record supports him. It is just not his style.
Arbitrations can indeed turn nasty, but if Milligan wants to question the club's conduct, he should simply consider the evidence from pitcher Bob Milacki's recent hearing. Both Milacki and his agent, Alan Hendricks, lauded the club's professionalism, reserving special praise for Hemond.
"He has always handled himself with dignity," said Hendricks, who twice argued cases against Hemond during the GM's tenure with the Chicago White Sox. "My experience with Roland dates back to the late '70s, and it's always been professional, proper, positive."
Milacki won his case; he asked for $1.18 million, the club offered
See ROSENTHAL, 4B, Col. 1 ROSENTHAL, From 1B $700,000. But Hemond not only reassured him about the club's intentions beforehand, he congratulated him immediately after the decision was announced. "I'm glad it's over with," he told Milacki. "Let's play ball."
"He felt it was important to talk to me," Milacki said. "He let me know they were going to present a lot of facts and figures. He said, 'Don't be upset; whatever you hear, don't take it the wrong way.' I felt it was really nice he called and tried to prepare me for what was coming up."
Hemond no doubt would have done the same with Milligan, who agreed to a new contract the day of his scheduled hearing. The difference is, Milligan is no longer a viable part of this team. He's frustrated by his uncertain status, and his cheerful disposition is starting to turn sour.
The Orioles shifted Milligan to left last season because they wanted to keep him in the lineup after acquiring Glenn Davis. Both parties acknowledge the experiment was a disaster. "I guarantee you we weren't going to use it in our argument," Hemond said. "We felt it would be unfair."
But Milligan, a class act in his own right, insisted, "I know that was going to come up. I did that to make the team better. I didn't do it for me. If I had my way, I never would have done it. What did I have to gain?"
This is clearly a player worried about his future. Milligan asked for $1.4 million in arbitration, the club offered $900,000, and the two sides settled on $1.05 million. It's a hefty sum, but Milligan's future bargaining position will decrease dramatically if he stops playing every day.
That's the scenario now that Davis is healthy and Sam Horn is established as a lefthanded DH. Milligan deserves better. Manager John Oates himself said, "I know if I was 30 years old and only had so many years of earning power left, I wouldn't want to sit on the bench."
So forgive Milligan his chagrin. Not even his agent, Mike Powers, believes the Orioles intended to cite his outfield play in arbitration. Powers, however, did expect the club to make Milligan's fielding an issue. Milligan made 11 errors last season -- 10 at first base, one in leftfield.
"I thought they'd bring up the fact he made 11 errors -- that's fair game," Powers said from Baltimore. "But I didn't think anybody was going to take a cheap shot at Randy Milligan playing leftfield. I certainly didn't anticipate responding to that."
The Orioles can be accused of many things, but they're rarely devious toward players. It's understandable Milligan feared arbitration. "I was scared going in there," Milacki said. "You don't know what to expect." But in this case, his accusations are unfounded.
The Milacki hearing was the Orioles' first since 1980, yet they handled it right. Club counsel Lon Babby presented the bulk of the oral argument. Hemond built the case with Babby, assistant GM Frank Robinson and statistician Eddie Epstein -- and still made a point to comfort Milacki.
"You don't want to win the case and lose the player," Hemond said. "It's like going to court for the first time. There's a certain apprehension, tension, fear. If you've never experienced it, it's tough to handle. It's important for them to realize it's not a personal vendetta."
The Orioles are not engaged in a vendetta against Randy Milligan. But this is an unpleasant situation, and such misunderstandings are bound to increase. "He's happy with his contract," Powers said. "We would now like to see him get into the next situation, where he can be a productive member of a team."
That, too, is only fair.