O's star is ready to go back to bat


March 14, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

St. Petersburg, Fla. -- Mike Devereaux is building his dream house. He spent the winter shuttling between Baltimore and Tampa, Fla., prodding workmen and putting the finishing touches on what is fast becoming a technological wonder. The only thing that hasn't arrived yet is the 21st century, but when it does, he'll be ready.

"I've already got the place wired for 3-D television," Devereaux says proudly.

That revelation prompts a vision of the past -- a sea of faces wearing those silly red and green 3-D glasses at the movie house -- and prompts a silly question. Will Devereaux have to hand out glasses when he invites his friends over to watch Super Bowl XXXVI?

"I don't know," Devereaux says, laughing, "but if so, they'd have to be Oakleys."

No joke. He could afford to hand out $150 sunglasses if he wanted to. He finally hit the big-time to stay this year when he signed a one-year, $3.025 million contract that placed him behind only Cal Ripken and Glenn Davis on the Orioles' salary list.

He can also afford a laugh, because he is having the last one. He struggled for three years to establish himself after the Orioles acquired him from the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitcher Mike Morgan, but now has stepped to the threshold of superstardom. And he is enjoying the trappings of his newfound success.

"It gives you the opportunity to do the things you wouldn't be able to do otherwise," Devereaux said, "like building a home -- a dream home. I've played nine years, and that's something that I've always wanted."

Why Tampa? Because of the warm weather and the tax advantages that come with living in Florida. You've got to think about those things when you make $3 million per year. Why 3-D TV? Because Devereaux has long been a techno-junkie and he finally can afford it.

"I've always loved high-tech," he said. "I love computers, spaceships, anything."

It is not unusual to arrive in the clubhouse and find him reading a dictionary-sized manual for some new personal computer. If you went to his new house, you'd find all of the latest sound-reproduction equipment. If you rode in his car -- and, oh, what a car his Mercedes-Benz is -- you'd find that you can take the future with you wherever you go.

"The tires on his car cost more than my whole car," manager Johnny Oates said. "We went to do the 'Larry King Show' the other day and he's following us, and I look back and he's on the phone. It was like the epitome of the modern ballplayer."

Devereaux is just that. He is well-chiseled, well-healed and well-rehearsed. He knows the right things to say and how to say them. He knows the right way to act to carry out his responsibilities as a role model. He knows how to play the game, both on and off the field.

But no one can begrudge him his fame or his fortune because he came by them the old-fashioned way. He fought his way up through the minor leagues to finally emerge the past two years as a star-quality center fielder.

Last year, he finally hit the statistical mother lode with a 107-RBI performance that made him a legitimate American League MVP candidate.

Ready for prime time

It wasn't as if he came out of nowhere, but he nearly doubled his previous career RBI best.

He hooked up with friend and teammate Brady Anderson to provide a tremendous combination of all-around offensive production and defensive theatrics. Oates rode them hard, but they carried the Orioles back into contention in the American League East.

The numbers are striking, but Oates doesn't buy into the "dramatic emergence" theory. He thinks that Devereaux might have stepped into the upper echelon of AL run producers the year before if he had gotten any help.

"Look at his extra-base hits in 1991 and '92," Oates said.

"He had almost the same number of extra-base hits each year. He only had five more home runs last year. The difference was a matter of opportunity.

"In '91, he was batting leadoff and our seventh, eighth and ninth hitters weren't doing much in front of him. Last year, he batted mostly second and our eighth, ninth and leadoff hitters were very productive."

Devereaux also took better advantage of his opportunities. He hit .520 with the bases loaded last year (13-for-25), driving in 38 runs in those situations. The 1992 season was a run-production bonanza, but he doesn't agree that his success was a matter of simple circumstance.

"I felt a lot more comfortable last year," he said. "I was a lot more confident. The previous year my performance was a lot more sporadic."

Out of the Blue

No one ever has questioned Devereaux's confidence, but there was a time when he had to worry that this day might never come. He was backed up on the runway in Los Angeles, where the Dodgers' outfield was crowded with veterans and the only way to the major leagues appeared to be through another organization.

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