In this corner of O's bullpen, brawlers Mills and Charlton

March 24, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- It was the brawl to end all brawls, a wild, 20-minute donnybrook that merited a two-page photo spread in Sports Illustrated.

Remember?

Nearly five years ago, the Orioles battled the Seattle Mariners at Camden Yards, and Alan Mills and Norm Charlton went at each other like Ali and Frazier.

Now, they're teammates, members of the same bullpen, brothers-in-arms trying to help the Orioles win the World Series.

"We've been to lunch about 10 times this spring," Mills said.

Politics makes strange bedfellows.

Sports, too.

Orioles fans will cheer this season for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar, two former members of the rival Toronto Blue Jays, and Jimmy Key, a former member of both the Blue Jays and hated New York Yankees.

They'll also cheer for Charlton, a former member of the Seattle team that injured Mike Mussina's shoulder and nearly ended Cal Ripken's consecutive-games streak on June 6, 1993.

"We welcomed him aboard," Orioles bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks said, smiling. "We just had to remind him that he and Millsy are teammates now."

Mills actually participated in two main events on that memorable Sunday afternoon, fighting not just Charlton, but also Mariners slugger Jay Buhner.

Here's his blow-by-blow:

"I broke up one fight Harold Reynolds was in -- he was on our team, he had been on theirs. I went in and broke up another fight. Buhner got mad because I grabbed him to calm him down. We ended up in it. Then Charlton just came out of nowhere. I don't know where he came from."

Charlton's recollection isn't quite as clear.

"I was in the middle somewhere," he said.

The umpires ejected the seven players they deemed the most combative. Those seven -- four Mariners and three Orioles -- also were suspended. Mills and Charlton each missed four games and paid $1,000 fines.

Buhner avoided suspension, but Mills didn't forget him. In fact, he expressed relief when the Orioles were thwarted in their attempt to sign Buhner after the '94 season, saying he didn't know how he would have reacted.

It's different now with Charlton.

"I used to give it some thought," Mills said. "But one day he was walking out to the bullpen, and I was tossing with the outfielders. He said, 'What's up, Millsy?' After that, it was pretty much over. That kind of stuff just happens in baseball.

"Even with Buhner, when I see him, I remember. But if you can hold anger that long, there's something wrong with you. It's one thing to hold a grudge. To be angry for that period of time, I just can't see it."

Heck, the way players, coaches and managers change teams these days, you never know who will wind up as your new best friends.

Mussina, who triggered the brawl by hitting Bill Haselman with a pitch, was surprised to learn that Orioles third base coach Sam Perlozzo, then with Seattle, was practically alongside him at the bottom of the pile.

"Was he?" Mussina asked, smiling. "I wasn't taking roll call."

The trouble began after Seattle's Chris Bosio threw breaking pitches behind the heads of Mark McLemore and Reynolds, the Orioles' leadoff hitters in the fifth and sixth innings.

Mussina hit Haselman in the seventh, and the benches emptied.

"It was definitely the worst I've ever been in," Perlozzo said. "Toward the end, I started getting a little scared. It didn't look like it was going to end. Every time you turned around, there was something new going on.

"Elrod and I have talked about it several times. We were trying to break it up. When all was said and done, he walked over to me and said, 'Are you OK?' I said, 'Why?' Someone had scratched the corner of my mouth, and there was blood coming down."

His memories are that clear, that vivid.

"I remember Millsy specifically," Perlozzo said. "In front of the Orioles' dugout, there was a group of five guys from both sides, tugging on each other, pushing, not doing anything. All of a sudden, I remember this fist came flying from the other side. The fist was Millsy's."

Oh, Mills was a star, all right. In the clubhouse the next day, former first base coach Davey Lopes asked him, "What's up, Cassius?" a reference to Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali's original name.

"It seemed like every time I dove into a pile to get a white jersey out, it was Mills," former Orioles pitcher Rick Sutcliffe said. "Mills, he's crazy. He was fighting half their team."

But off the field, Mills was -- and is -- one of the Orioles' nice guys, thoughtful and friendly, a gentleman.

Every Sunday during the season, he wears a tie to the ballpark, a practice he and Atlanta's Gerald Williams began when they were in the Yankees' minor-league system to remind themselves of church.

The last time Mills wore casual Sunday clothes?

You guessed it: The day of the brawl.

"That particular day, I got up and said, 'I ain't ironing this stuff,' " Mills said. "I threw on a pair of shorts and a shirt and I left. I haven't missed one since, though. It cost me $1,000 and four days."

He can laugh about it now. He can say that he hears good things about Buhner. He can go to lunch -- and war -- with Charlton.

"Baseball has a way of taking care of its problems," Charlton said. "We had a problem that day. We fought. It was over with."

What's that old expression?

"Let bygones be bygones," Norm Charlton said.

Pub Date: 3/24/98

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