Call them flakes, misfits or screwballs. They are athletes whose offbeat antics mystify teammates and fascinate fans – and Baltimore has been blessed with its share.
During the next two weeks, The Baltimore Sun will count down The Daffy Dozen, the 12 most memorable characters in the city's sports lore. Drawn from three centuries, they include zanies such as the Orioles' John Lowenstein, whose skewed logic and left-handed persona captivated crowds, and the Colts' Alex Hawkins, whose night-owl shenanigans surpassed anything he accomplished in football.
No. 12 is former Orioles first baseman-designated hitter Kevin Millar.
Never mind his lackluster stats (.252 average) in three years here. What Kevin Millar brought to the moribund Orioles from 2006 to 2008 was more important — levity in an otherwise gloomy clubhouse.
"He made light of our struggles and kept things loose through our struggles," teammate Jay Gibbons said. "Kevin wasn't afraid to say anything to anyone. He called me 'Street Sweeper' because he said the only time I hit the ball was when it was about to hit the ground.
"He made fun of others, but also himself. For instance, he hardly ever wore a shirt because he swore he had the best body on the team."
Millar liked to sneak up behind players and put them in headlocks. In the clubhouse, within earshot of reporters, he held jaw-dropping phone conversations with make-believe bookies.
"Give me $1,500 on the Yanks and $1,500 on the Sox," he'd say. "We're tanking tonight."
Before the Orioles' 2007 home opener, Millar galvanized the crowd by high-stepping onto the field at Camden Yards to imitate Ravens star Ray Lewis. He grabbed a handful of grass and wiped it across his jersey, like Lewis, and then mimicked the latter's signature dance. During the game, Millar hit a home run to help defeat the Detroit Tigers.
"You never knew what Kevin was going to do. He just enjoyed life," said Sam Perlozzo, his manager. "He changed moods more than he did his hairdo. He saw humor in the toughest moment but, despite all of his antics, he came to play."
Fans respected that. In 2007, when asked with which Oriole they would most like to share a beer, readers of The Baltimore Sun voted Millar No. 1, though he was batting less than .230 at the time.
Signed as a free agent, he left the same way, though regrettably having failed to persuade the club to change its facial hair policy to allow beards.
"It's time to end that," Millar declared. "Nine straight years of losing. It's time to show some hair."