Why Not? A Fair Question

The Toy Department Catching Up With Mike Devereaux

Acrobatic Center Fielder Is Still Asked About Disputed Walk-off Homer In 1989

August 26, 2009|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

He hit the first Orioles home run in Camden Yards history in 1992, but that poke is long forgotten. What Baltimore fondly recalls of Mike Devereaux is his game-winning homer in the summer of 1989 during the Orioles' improbable push for the American League East pennant.

By the All-Star break, those Birds seemed a team of destiny, a ragtag bunch that could do no wrong. Devereaux proved that. On July 15, in a game fixed in the minds of Orioles fans, the rookie slammed a walk-off two-run homer that curled around the left-field foul pole at Memorial Stadium and gave the home team an 11-9 comeback victory over the California Angels.

If ever a moment defined a season, that was it.

Devereaux's hit triggered celebrations among the 47,000 fans at Memorial Stadium and howls of protest from the Angels, who claimed the ball was foul. For days, TV showed replays of the homer. Fair or foul? Twenty years later, it's still the question most often asked of Devereaux when he returns to Baltimore.

His answer? "Every time I check the record book, it says 'fair,' " said Devereaux, 46, of Woodstock, Ga. "I hit it hard, and I watched it as long as I could. I knew it was close."

How close? Devereaux laughed.

"Check the foul pole," he said of the marker, since moved to Camden Yards. "The scuff mark is probably still on it."

The '89 Orioles fell short of the playoffs, but Devereaux had earned his keep. For much of his seven years here, he owned center field, robbing hitters with crowd-pleasing catches. One night he would make an over-the-shoulder grab, Willie Mays-style. The next he would leap over the fence to save a home run, then trot off the field nonchalantly.

"I was never one to showboat, to hold the ball in the air and scream, 'I got it! I got it!' " Devereaux said.

He carried the Orioles in 1992 with a team-leading 24 homers and 107 RBIs while batting .520 with the bases loaded. An All-Star, he placed seventh in balloting for AL Most Valuable Player.

"It all came together that year," he said. "I batted second and with Cal [Ripken] hitting behind me, I got all of those good pitches."

His black bat was Devereaux's trademark. Its color, he said, made his swing more difficult for rival outfielders to see.

Beaned by a pitch in 1994 - the ball cut his cheek nearly all the way through - he fell into a slump and lost favor with the club. A free agent, he signed with the Chicago White Sox but was dealt to Atlanta in time to help the Braves win the 1995 World Series. Clutch hits in the playoffs earned Devereaux the National League Championship Series MVP award.

Re-signed by the Orioles, he played a subpar season, then moved on again and retired, reluctantly, two years later at age 35.

"I loved the game," he said. "I wish I could have been in it longer."

Divorced and the father of two, Devereaux lives near Atlanta and runs a private instructional baseball program for kids from 6 to 18. At 208 pounds, he's close to his playing weight and shows no ill effects from a lifetime of crashing into outfield walls.

"I'm still in one piece. I've been blessed," he said.

He may live in Dixie and wear a Braves World Series ring, but Devereaux said he will never forget his Baltimore ties.

"The people were the greatest," he said. "They cheered me in the good times and booed me when they had to. Every time I come back there, the fans recall things that I don't even remember."

At Camden Yards to sign autographs earlier this month, he took in a few Orioles games - against the Angels, no less - and was struck by the number of empty seats.

"I only played there when the place was sold out," Devereaux said. "It looks kind of weird right now."

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