Over the last few years, thanks to Baseball Prospectus, Bill James stuff, Moneyball, etc., I have gone back and looked over the stats of players to see about possibly underappreciated ballplayers of my childhood (I turned 23 eleven days ago), and one that surprised me was Randy Milligan.
My love of baseball and sports in general came kind of uniquely - I'm from Michigan, but I never had sports as part of my family really. My dad wasn't a sports fan, my grandfather wasn't a sports fan. I had an uncle by marriage who was a basketball player and general sports fan. The first baseball I remember seeing was the 1987 World Series when I was five years old and sick. I started buying baseball cards and obsessing over the numbers. I gradually learned what they meant. I was pretty well hooked by then. I chose the Orioles as my team when I was seven and starting to get into playing the game. My first favorite players were Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden, but I took a liking to Mickey Tettleton for some reason via baseball cards, so Tettleton is basically the reason I'm an Orioles fan. An odd route, perhaps, but it was what I had to work with.
Milligan was a guy I didn't pay a lot of attention to, but boy is he someone I'd like to have in my lineup looking over his numbers. A big guy - 6'1", 228, sort of looked like Albert Belle. As the third pick in the '81 draft by the Mets, Milligan ended up seeing only three games of major league action and one at-bat in New York before being traded for Mackey Sasser and Tim Drummond in a deal with the Pirates. Sasser would go on to famously be the inspiration for Rube in Major League 2 and Drummond went on to basically do nothing.
Baseball Library would have me believe that Milligan struggled in 82 at-bats with the Pirates in 1988, and yeah, he hit .220. But he got on base at a .379 clip and of his 18 hits, five were doubles and three were homers.
He was traded to Baltimore in the 1988 offseason for Pete Blohm, a pitcher who never did make the majors. Milligan wound up the regular first baseman in '89 for Baltimore, splitting a bit with Jim Traber. Traber was awful. Milligan was quite good.
In '89 the Orioles improved by 33 wins from the disastrous '88 year. There's a fantastic chronicle of the both 1989 season and the troubling years that led to it at the fantastic itself Birds in the Belfry. There are plenty of reasons for the turnaround, but I think you can thank three players more than anyone else: Phil Bradley, Mickey Tettleton and Randy Milligan.
Milligan was not stepping into an easy situation. He was 27 years old, had been dropped by two organizations, and was being asked to replace Eddie freaking Murray, traded away to the Dodgers for Juan Bell, Brian Holton and Ken Howell. Murray was a legend, Milligan must have been being widely considered either a bust or an of-the-time Ken Phelps All-Star.
But Milligan, Tettleton and Bradley did one important thing: they got on base. In 124 games, Milligan walked 74 times, ending up with a line of .268/.394/.458, bringing to mind Scott Hatteberg immediately for me, and sure enough Hatteberg's breakout season matches up rather similarly to Milligan's. As best I can tell, Milligan was an average fielder.
Milligan was even better in 1990, hitting .265/.408/.492 with 20 homers, and contributed again the next two seasons with the Orioles. He was his usual self for 83 games after signing with Cincinnati, then was traded to Cleveland during that '93 season. After a stint with the Expos in '94, at the age of 33, Milligan retired.
Also notable: he hit the first-ever grand slam at Camden Yards.
All I have to work with in regard to Milligan are the numbers he put up in the majors. Is there more to Milligan's story? Two organizations gave up on him. Was he a classic example of teams not knowing what they had? Was he discriminated against for not having huge power? Even Baltimore brought in Glenn Davis in that ill-fated disaster of a deal, basically manuevering to lessen Milligan's plate appearances.
To Randy Milligan, wherever you are, here's a retroactive salute.