Munoz gains O's attention before throwing a pitch With height, heft, tattoos, he's clubhouse presence

Orioles sidelight

May 17, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

As Bobby Munoz cuts a wide path through the Orioles' clubhouse, it's hard to know exactly where to look.

First, there's his head. Hop on a chair and you might catch a glimpse of the 6-foot-7 pitcher's closely cropped hair, the bristles a suspicious blond.

"I don't think that's natural," said reliever Norm Charlton.

Scan down and you'll see enough tattoos to make Dennis Rodman blush. They cover his arms, shoulders and back, about 20 in all, he estimates.

He's generously listed at 210 pounds. Most of it is ink.

"They all came together and I just kept adding on," said Munoz, who made his Orioles debut last night, pitching a scoreless eighth inning. "The next thing you knew, it looks like a mural. And I'm not done yet."

Once a hot prospect in the Yankees' farm system, Munoz is being given another chance in the majors, however fleeting, because manager Ray Miller needed a 12th pitcher while ace Mike Mussina's status remained uncertain.

"From what I understood, they were looking at me in Rochester," said Munoz, 30, who was 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA and four saves. "I thought it was going to be later instead of now, so I was real surprised."

Since arriving at Camden Yards, he has been recruited more as a bodyguard. The next time there's trouble on the field, the entire team may seek him out.

"If there's a fight, I'm standing behind him," catcher Chris Hoiles said.

"That's not a problem," Munoz said. "They're my teammates. I've got to stand up for them."

It's tough talk, but it comes in a quiet voice. Charlton was a teammate of Munoz's with the Philadelphia Phillies. He warns not to be fooled by a mild demeanor.

"He's a hard-core guy," Charlton said. "His personality matches the look."

What about the listed weight?

"That's just his right side," Hoiles said.

"His left leg's 210," Miller said.

"I'm really 215," Munoz said, chuckling at his conservative estimate. "I think that media guide's from when I signed."

Munoz was the Yankees' 15-round pick in the 1988 draft, a menacing right-hander who threw heat. He appeared in 38 games with the Yankees in 1993, all in relief, then spent parts of the next four seasons in Philadelphia.

His right elbow was operated on twice in 1995, to remove loose particles and reconstruct a ligament. He had the elbow scoped fTC last year, and his fastball has tapered off from about 98 mph to 90, he said.

"I was always a power pitcher. I didn't really know how to approach the game another way," he said. "I eventually learned."

Munoz began last season in the Phillies' rotation, went 1-5 with an 8.91 ERA in eight games and was let go May 16 after refusing an assignment to Triple-A Scranton. Baseball was a problem in his life. Now, he's being looked upon by the Orioles as the latest solution.

"Hopefully this will be long-term," he said. "I guess it will be based on performance."

Or how well he follows orders from the manager.

"I'm going to ask him how fast he can run," Miller said. "When he says, 'Pretty good,' I'm going to say, 'If we have a fight, you have one obligation -- to find me.' "

Pub Date: 5/17/98

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