Tettleton still pouring on milk, and power

SIDELIGHT

July 27, 1995|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Sun Staff Writer

Mickey Tettleton sits in front of his locker in a corner of the visitors clubhouse at Camden Yards, takes a sip of coffee, pulls out a cigarette and talks breakfast cereal.

Where have we seen this before?

Some things never change with Tettleton, the former Orioles catcher and folk hero who did more to sell Froot Loops in this city than any advertising campaign. The sleeveless shirt still reveals biceps the size of a small town. And the bat still produces enough power to keep him in the majors, even in the most trying of economic times.

Tettleton considered rejoining the Orioles before signing with the Texas Rangers in April, leaving behind a free-agent camp in Homestead, Fla., that cranked out its share of bargains. And Tettleton, purchased for $500,000 (with incentives that could push it closer to $1 million), has proven one of the better buys.

With his three-run home run last night, the Mick has 20 home runs and 47 RBIs -- the fifth time he's trotted around the bases 20 or more times in a season.

Even before the homer, Tettleton was on a tear, hitting .306 with seven homers and 12 RBIs in the past 17 games, providing a spark to the slumping Rangers, who have lost 10 in a row.

He's also the only Ranger to start at five different positions: designated hitter (42), right field (26), first base (5), left field (2) and catcher (1).

No wonder manager Johnny Oates calls him "one of those diamonds in the rough, and I mean rough."

"He and Mark McLemore, I don't know where we'd be without those two guys," he said.

General manager Roland Hemond said he had considered how Tettleton would fit with the Orioles, but decided it would be a tight squeeze with Chris Hoiles expected to do the bulk of the catching, Jeffrey Hammonds a fixture in right and Harold Baines the designated hitter.

Who knew that Hoiles and Hammonds would be sidelined with injuries and the Orioles would be left seeking a long-ball hitter to perk up the offense?

"At the time, we figured it would be difficult to guarantee Mickey the at-bats he would get in Texas," Hemond said. "He recognized that, at the time of opening the season, he had a better chance to get 400 or 500 at-bats in Texas than he would have here. You can't anticipate what would happen here.

"He has great memories from here, and we do, too. He's a good man. I'm happy for him."

Tettleton, 34, is happy playing in Texas, saying it's been "very pleasant being associated with Johnny Oates and [general manager] Doug Melvin."

"The people here, as far as the players, it's a great bunch of people to be around," he said. "Obviously, right now, things are a little tough, but overall, we're a very scrappy team that just goes out and battles every night."

It's been five years since Tettleton was traded from the Orioles to Detroit for pitcher Jeff Robinson, then hit 112 home runs in four seasons with the Tigers. But he still gets one of the warmest ovations here of any visiting player. The image of his breakthrough 1989 season, when he hit 26 home runs, still is fresh.

He hasn't forgotten that special time, either. "With Roland and Frank [Robinson], when he was the manager, they gave me an opportunity to play every day, and that's something I'll always be grateful for. It was a lot of fun. The fans were great, and it was a great place to play," he said.

And the only place where no conversation can end without mention of the breakfast food that, his wife once disclosed, may have been responsible for all the home runs.

So, does he still eat Froot Loops the morning before every game?

"I'm not disclosing any food products," he said, smiling. "I heard a couple Froot Loop yells in the outfield [Tuesday] night. That story kind of made it around everywhere, then it died out. It's probably best to leave it at that."

He couldn't have escaped it had he come back to Baltimore. But he had better reasons to join Texas, like its proximity to his home in Pauls Valley, Okla.

"I also liked the opportunity to play in their ballpark. There were so many positives and there weren't any negatives," he said.

"I don't look at [Camden Yards] and say, 'If I was playing here, I could do this or that.' But it's a nice place to come play baseball."

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