Millar's view from O's clubhouse not pretty

May 31, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

It's not even June, and -- if the events of the past week or so are any indication -- the heat already appears to be getting to the Orioles.

The discouraging 10-game road trip that ended Sunday created so much interpersonal fallout that it was still hanging over last night's opener of a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Pitching coach Leo Mazzone questioned the passion of the Orioles' pitching staff last Tuesday in Seattle. Manager Sam Perlozzo questioned the team's intensity Wednesday night and chastised some players Thursday for playing cards after the team bus arrived at Safeco Field. First baseman Kevin Millar completed the he-said hat trick by questioning the focus of his teammates Sunday.

Is this team coming emotionally unraveled, or what?

No one could have been particularly surprised at the blunt assessment of the pitching coach or the angry post-game speech by the manager, but Millar walked a fine line between fact and finger-pointing when he talked about what it would take for the Orioles to turn around a difficult start.

"Talk the game, be baseball players," Millar said. "We're not here to collect paychecks and have rims and tires on our cars and dress [fancy]. We're here to win baseball games. We've got to challenge each other, help each other and do that. I don't think that goes on enough. ... That's the thing we lack.

"We've got too many sideshows. We've got too many guys worrying about what suit they're wearing. ... That's the big thing here."

It was a stinging indictment that Millar says was not directed at any individual player, but it left room for at least one high-profile teammate to wonder if Millar -- for all his reputation as a great clubhouse guy -- was a uniter or a divider.

"I don't know what he is talking about," third baseman Melvin Mora said. "Everybody wants the same thing. I don't see anybody worrying about how they dress or whatever. We want to win, too. We're in a tough situation."

It might just be that Millar is still learning which buttons to push in the Orioles' clubhouse. When he said the same kind of thing in the Boston Red Sox's locker room a couple years ago, he was hailed as the king of "Cowboy Up" and a major contributor to that team's first World Series title in 86 years.

"It's not the Red Sox anymore," Mora said. "This is a different place. The Red Sox are a great team. They have great hitters. They have a lot of good players. You can't go out and compare us to the Red Sox. We've got a lot of guys who are hurt and we have a lot of young guys.

"I went to the playoffs two years in a row with the Mets, but I don't talk about the Mets. I want to play here."

Millar probably wishes now that he had kept his feelings to himself. He knows he is batting just .233, which has undermined his role as one of the veteran leaders on a young team.

"Maybe I don't know what the gig is here," he said. "The original question was, `Are we ready to panic?' I said, `No, not when you've got 100 or so games left. We're not playing so good. We need to start talking the game more ... You've got to have a little bit of passion about what you do.

"I know it has been tough. Guys have been hurt and we've had a revolving door and we're trying to win games at the major league level, but we've got a chance to win the American League East. We've got 100 games to play, and no one's wrapped up anything yet, and no one's out of anything yet."

Maybe that's a stretch, but Millar says that if everyone does what he is getting paid to do -- especially himself -- the Orioles can compete.

"I look in the mirror every day," he said. "You know this isn't how I envisioned my first seven weeks here, so I'm looking hard in the mirror. If we have 25 guys doing that, we'll be all right."

Perlozzo undoubtedly agrees, but he was walking a fine line of his own yesterday, choosing neither to endorse nor reject Millar's assessment of the situation in the Orioles' clubhouse.

"I'm not saying any of it is true or any of it is false," Perlozzo said. "I've just seen a whole lot worse things in the paper."

In short, he isn't interested in joining a debate over something that might be no more than a matter of faulty communication when he has already suffered through the kind of clubhouse meltdown that puts all lesser controversies in perspective.

The Orioles need only to remember what happened last August to realize that Millar's comments were -- at worst -- a wakeup call for a team too easily resigned to failure.

Whether he was the correct person to deliver that message remains open to discussion, but Hall of Famer Jim Palmer contends that Millar's on-field performance does not disqualify him from a leadership role in the clubhouse.

"Sometimes, it's not about results, it's about process," Palmer said. "I think that's what Kevin is about. Some people will say, `He probably shouldn't have said that,' and somebody else might say, `He's right.' "

"The Peter Schmuck Show" airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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