Signing on with White Sox right turn for Devereaux

April 11, 1995|By KEN ROSENTHAL

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Ellis Burks, Darrin Jackson and now Mike Devereaux. Three one-year rentals for the Chicago White Sox. Three center fielders the White Sox moved to right.

Burks and Jackson revived their careers, and don't be surprised if Devereaux does, too. For two years, he felt unwanted in Baltimore. Now, at the age of 32, he has changed his diet, his hitting style, his entire approach.

"I think the Orioles were ready to turn the page with me, and I was ready to turn the page myself," he said yesterday. "No hard feelings. It could be good for both sides."

The Orioles rid themselves of a huge salary and a player who batted .203 last season, creating an opening for two top center-field prospects, Curtis Goodwin and Damon Buford.

Devereaux, meanwhile, chose the perfect team. He'll earn $800,000 in Chicago, less than one-fourth of his salary last season with the Orioles. But if he succeeds like Burks and Jackson, he could make big money again.

Burks signed a three-year, $10 million contract with the Rockies after one season with Chicago. Jackson signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract with the Seibu Lions in Japan.

The difference is, Burks and Jackson were physical risks -- Burks was recovering from back trouble, Jackson from Graves' disease.

Devereaux was slowed by injuries the past two seasons, but he needs a mental rehabilitation more than anything else.

"It's a change of scenery, a different hitting coach, a new organization, and obviously he wants a bigger contract," White Sox general manager Ron Schueler said.

"A lot of things play into it. We've had success doing it this way. And I think he sees what happened with our right fielders the past two years."

Actually, Devereaux had no clue.

"I didn't know about that until after I got here," he said. "The people coming up to me, they've mentioned it. Since then, I know. It was not on my mind. What was on my mind was getting in a situation where I can play."

Strange how these things work out. Former Orioles manager Johnny Oates moved Devereaux to right last spring, and it greatly upset him. Devereaux played so poorly, Oates had to move him back to center.

Now, Devereaux will be the everyday right fielder for a World Series contender, weak arm and all.

"I'm not worried about that," Lamont said. "I thought he was a good center fielder. He'll go over there and play fine."

Orioles assistant GM Frank Robinson agreed.

"When Mike came here in the spring of '89, he played some right field, and played it very well," Robinson said. "I knew when we moved him over there last spring, he had his problems. He said it was because he hadn't played over there, had to readjust. But there's no reason he can't play right field.

"I don't know if his mind was in it. He felt like he had no reason to move from center. It was done in a way he didn't understand. It was rumored in the paper for a long time. I think Johnny told him it wasn't going to happen. And it did happen."

And in a sense, it was the final emotional blow.

Devereaux never understood why the Orioles didn't offer him a long-term contract after his 107-RBI season in 1992. And he never understood why Oates felt compelled to replace him with Brady Anderson in center field.

His offensive production and outfield play had declined in '93, but Robinson said he returned too quickly from a shoulder injury, and he also was bothered by a sore right heel the last month of the season.

Then came last season, when he arrived at spring training with a sore ankle, and the understanding he would remain in center entering his free-agent year.

Almost immediately, Oates changed his mind.

"Nobody explained to me why the move was being made," Devereaux said. "It was something I couldn't get out of my mind.

"If I'm in a situation where someone says, 'Lance Johnson is going to be the center fielder,' I have no problem with that. If I was told, 'We feel Brady Anderson is a better center fielder than you are, we'd like to put you in right,' I could have handled that.

"But that's not what he said. I didn't understand it. We had one of the best defenses in the league. He wanted to change it without explanation. He mentioned my arm being weaker than Brady's, but then he put me in right field."

Whatever, the experiment was a disaster, and Devereaux opened the season in center. He batted .169 in April, and just when it appeared he was starting to hit, he was hit in the face by a pitch May 8.

Devereaux played the next day, but never regained his aggressiveness at the plate. A pulled hamstring sent him to the disabled list in June. He looked just as awful after he returned.

The beaning, Devereaux said, "was something that could have ended my career, if it hit me in the wrong spot. It's something you think of. But I haven't thought about it since I've been here. That's something the eight months got rid of."

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