Milligan's collision left all of us shaken

JOHN EISENBERG

April 24, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

They let Randy Milligan out of the hospital yesterday. He was finally blessed with the right kind of luck.

Everyone knows what happened to him Wednesday night in Kansas City. It was a terrifying sight. He chased after a ground ball hit between first and second and collided head-on with Bill Ripken.

It was a moment that just got worse and worse and worse.

Your first instinct was that it wasn't that bad. Couldn't be that bad. This was baseball, not football: Mike Utley does not happen here. Moose's collision with Ripken was violent, but no less violent than those that make you laugh on blooper reels.

But it just kept getting worse. Moose crawled on the turf for an instant, obviously stunned, then just stopped moving. Just lay there on his side. Out cold.

And it kept getting worse.

He wasn't moving. Wasn't rolling over and sitting up and shaking out the cobwebs, like they usually do, letting everyone else exhale and smile and maybe tell a joke. Letting people forget the dark thoughts bouncing through their heads.

No, he wasn't moving at all out there. And then the Orioles' trainers were hauling out this enormous neck brace and fitting it on him, immobilizing him, and there wasn't a person watching or listening who didn't understand the significance: They were worried about paralysis.

Then the ambulance was coming in from the bullpen, that ominous slow roll, and Moose was put on a stretcher and carted away, the ambulance rolling back up the bullpen ramp and disappearing into the cool Missouri night.

Then the game started again. The suddenly unimportant game.

Worse and worse and worse. What were you thinking? That this couldn't be happening. That this was baseball, not football. Such an injury just does not happen in baseball. Never has.

A baseball player can get hurt badly enough to end his career. Beaned in the face. Run over at the plate. One was killed by a pitch years ago. But a baseball player can't, ah, damn, who wanted to think it?

Then came the worst part of all: The wait.

You want to know anguish? It's watching Randy Milligan get carted off the field with the shadow of a dark injury standing over him, and knowing you wouldn't know anything for a while. Certainly minutes, maybe hours.

The only thing you knew was that someone somewhere had a touch of the poet.

Moose is already the Orioles' tragic figure, see. The guy who bounced around the minors so long that he still couldn't sleep comfortably when he finally made the majors. The guy who lost his job to Glenn Davis even though he did nothing to lose it. The guy the Orioles tried to trade all winter, even though he didn't want to go.

Playing first base for the Orioles, Mister Hard Luck.

And now this.

The wait was the worst of all. I kept coming back to this moment I'd had with him two years ago. It was in the clubhouse long after a night game at Memorial Stadium. Moose came out of the trainer's room with that easy amble of his, but a sour look on his face.

I was waiting at his locker. "What's wrong?" I asked.

He paused. Threw a towel in the locker in disgust. There was tape wrapped on his hand. "It's a broken collaborus flexus," he said, raising his hand. "I'm out."

"Really?" I asked, not stopping to think that there was no such thing as a collaborus flexus.

"Yeah," he said, and then he slowly turned to face me, and then he smiled, and then he said this:

"Gotcha."

That's the Moose, the most human of the Orioles. Again: the friendliest face in the clubhouse.

The wait was terrible.

But then word started filtering back, and it was good. He had feeling in his arms and legs. They were taking the brace off.

It turned out that the moment had looked scarier than it was, that Moose was getting his feeling back even before he left the field, that Orioles trainer Richie Bancells was just being careful -- the only way to treat a neck injury.

Word continued to improve overnight and into yesterday. Moose didn't even have the broken jaw that was feared. People watching could exhale and maybe tell a joke and try to forget the nervous burning that sat there in their gut during the wait.

Sat there until that first piece of news came back: That the worst was not true. The only news that really mattered.

That the right kind of luck had finally dusted Moose's shoulders.

"He might have to go on the disabled list," someone said yesterday.

Fine. No problem.

The disabled list never sounded so good.

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