Mike Devereaux took the scenic route. He went from the Orioles to the Chicago White Sox, from the White Sox to the Atlanta Braves, and from there to a starring role in the National League Championship Series. Then on to his first World Series.
And, strangely enough, that long and winding road has led back to Baltimore, where Devereaux hopes to help his once and future teammates go the same distance in 1996.
Devereaux agreed to a one-year contract yesterday to rejoin the team he left as a free agent little more than a year ago. He'll earn about $700,000 to be the club's No. 4 outfielder and sometime designated hitter, but he hopes he can parlay that into a more regular role.
"I can look at the situation and figure things out," Devereaux said. "I know the makeup of the ballclub. I know they've got Jeffrey [Hammonds] in left, Brady [Anderson] in center and Bobby [Bonilla] in right. I also know there is a DH. I can see some opportunity there. The bottom line is, I like to play baseball."
General manager Pat Gillick said last week that he would sign Devereaux only if he were convinced that the 32-year-old outfielder would be content with a limited role, but he apparently did not make that a prerequisite for Devereaux's return to Baltimore.
"I think he is aware of what direction we're going," Gillick said, "but in his mind, I'm sure he's coming to spring training with the attitude that he's going to be one of the three outfielders. I think the situation is a little different than when he left and he realizes that."
Devereaux would just as soon forget the circumstances of his departure. He became a free agent after a series of injuries and a pair of very disappointing seasons dissuaded the Orioles from making any serious attempt to re-sign him. His numbers had declined dramatically after a career performance in 1992 (24 homers, 107 RBIs), and he was happy for a new beginning in Chicago.
He batted .306 with 10 homers and 55 RBIs in a half-season as an everyday outfielder with the White Sox, then moved into a spot role when the Braves acquired him for a minor-league prospect in August. He didn't have a tremendous impact down the stretch, but he stepped up in the postseason and was named Most Valuable Player of the NLCS.
The off-season did not play out exactly as Devereaux had planned. He had hoped that his solid offensive numbers in Chicago and his strong postseason performance would lead to a bigger contract and a guarantee of regular playing time. Instead, he found that most teams were interested in him as a utility player.
"I was blessed with a chance to go to the World Series last year," Devereaux said, "but the down side was that -- after I went to the Braves from the White Sox -- I was put into a platoon role. I think that was a problem."
Devereaux insists it will not be a problem in Baltimore, for the same reason that it was not a problem in Atlanta. He knew when he was traded to the Braves last summer that the club was set and that he would have to help any way he could. The Orioles, thanks to the machinations of their aggressive new general manager, have become the same kind of team.
"I feel great," Devereaux said. "I've always liked Baltimore and they've got a great ballclub. They definitely have the ability to go all the way, so I'm very happy to be on the team.
"I found with the Braves that it's a good feeling being on a #F championship ballclub and knowing that you did something to help that ballclub. That can happen in a variety of ways."
In Atlanta, he batted just 55 times in 29 regular-season games, but he got a chance in the postseason and hit .308 with a game-breaking home run in the NLCS sweep of Davey Johnson's Cincinnati Reds. In Baltimore, he could find himself in a number of possible scenarios, from 200 at-bats as a DH against left-handers to a much larger outfield role if one of the regulars is unable to produce.
"He gives us some options," Gillick said. "We have B. J. Surhoff, who can play some outfield, and we got back Kimera Bartee in the draft, but we needed another outfielder in case of an injury."
The club also made an offer to veteran outfielder Tony Phillips, but saved millions by choosing Devereaux, whose modest contract will give the club more payroll flexibility if Gillick needs to add a high-salaried player during the course of the season.
Devereaux probably will be the last significant acquisition before the Orioles open spring training. Gillick already had traded for starting pitchers Kent Mercker and David Wells and signed free agents Roberto Alomar, Surhoff, Randy Myers, Roger McDowell and Bill Ripken. The only need left is a reserve catcher, and Gillick said last night that he probably will go into training camp with Greg Zaun as the primary backup to Chris Hoiles.
"We're not going to vigorously go after that right now," Gillick said. "We think it will happen, but it's not something we feel is urgent with Zaun here. We'd just like to have some protection there."