For Millar, it would be hair today, win tomorrow

Commentary

February 26, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.-- --Scruffy first baseman Kevin Millar may be quixotic, but he is no quitter.

Last year, he arrived at spring training bent on bringing a little bit of Boston into the Orioles' clubhouse, but he did not succeed in persuading management to relax the conservative facial-hair policy that prohibits anything more than a tidy mustache. This year, he arrived in camp with his usual three-day beard and began jousting the same windmill.

"It's time to end that," Millar said. "Nine straight years of losing. It's time to show some hair."

There is general agreement in the clubhouse that the team ought to leave personal grooming decisions - within reason - up to the players, but the Orioles are not a democracy. The grooming policy comes straight from the top, and owner Peter Angelos is about as likely to overturn it as he is to take one of my phone calls.

(For the record, I call Mr. Angelos periodically to give him the opportunity to compliment me on my winning personality and incisive wit, but he must be really busy because I haven't gotten a callback from him since, I think, sometime in 2005.)

Angelos is an old-school guy who thinks that his baseball players ought to be fresh-faced and clean-cut. Millar is a self-professed "idiot" who emerged as one of the leaders of the unkempt 2004 Boston Red Sox team that ended the "Curse of the Bambino" with its first world title in 86 years. He is quick to point out that the Orioles haven't had a winning season since 1997, which is a pretty good argument against the status quo.

"That's what we're trying to stop," he said. "I believe the hair will stop it. This should be Team Hair."

It already is, to some extent. Several players, including the normally well-trimmed Jay Gibbons and Brian Roberts, showed up shaggy for spring camp. The offseason beards disappeared quickly, but there is a lot more long hair in the clubhouse than there was a year ago.

Of course, no hairdo ever won a baseball game, but if Millar could get a hearing in front of Baltimore's most famous attorney, he could cite precedent after precedent to support his case that the Orioles would benefit from a change in both attitude and appearance.

The Oakland Athletics built a dynasty in the early 1970s around a bunch of grungy-looking characters. The 1993 Philadelphia Phillies reached the World Series with an unseemly cast that included John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra and current Orioles instructor Dave Hollins. The '04 Red Sox captured our imagination with a guy (Johnny Damon) who was channeling Prince Valiant and a left fielder (Manny Ramirez) who always looked as though his uniform pants were about to fall down.

New York Mets manager Willie Randolph instituted strict facial-hair restrictions when he took over the club in 2005, but relaxed them last year. The Mets went all the way to the National League Championship Series before losing in seven games to the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.

I don't know if any legitimate cause-and-effect relationship existed in any of those cases, but they demonstrate - at the very least - that facial hair isn't going to keep you out of the postseason.

"Doesn't hair show personality?" Millar asked. "You want a team with personality. I think if you asked everyone in the clubhouse, they'd be in favor of growing facial hair."

Millar may have hit on the one argument that might fly with ownership. The Orioles are getting ready for their first season on the new Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, and anything they can do to project a new image to the team's long-suffering fan base probably would be good for ratings.

Now, he's trying to marshal support from his teammates, who generally agree with the sentiment but remain ambivalent about joining the fight.

"I think this is Kevin's battle," utility man Chris Gomez said. "I don't think anyone else really gives a crap."

Millar disagrees, and he provided a long list of players he feels would sprout facial hair as soon as club officials gave the go-ahead.

"Look around, the Red Rocket [Gibbons] has got hair," Millar said. "Brian has hair. [Aubrey] Huff would have hair, but the Army apparently got to him a couple of days ago. Everybody in the clubhouse wants it. Jamie Walker. Chad Bradford. Jay Payton. Corey Patterson, Jaret Wright. You've got a tremendous amount of personality on this club."

The other players nod when he challenges them to joust the windmill with him, but no one is likely to be as vocal as Millar.

"There aren't many people who would be as vocal as Kevin on any subject," Roberts said. "I don't think there is anybody who is against [relaxing the policy]. Some people would like it. Some wouldn't change things a bit. It really does bother some people. Others don't care."

Gibbons would like the decision left up to the players. He is, after all, 29 years old, but he concedes the team has the right to make that policy and isn't going to hold his breath waiting for Angelos to change it.

"That's not going to happen," Gibbons said.

Millar thinks that's too bad.

"Jay," he said, "is actually much better-looking with a beard."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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

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