BALTIMORE -- Alan Wiggins has studied the lives of Wallace and Elijah Muhammad, the writings and speeches of Malcolm X and the career and accomplishments of Martin Luther King. He can argue the theory of supply-side economics, the industrial competitiveness of the Japanese and whether or not the United States ought to be escorting tankers through the Persian Gulf.

He has given money to fight sickle cell anemia and more money to send kids to summer camps. When he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles two years ago, he even took the time to go through the press guide and learn the names of his teammates' spouses and children.

Wiggins' friends say he's not only bright and well-rounded, but also caring, sensitive and something less than the monster many people make him out to be. For evidence, they point to his work with charity, the way he reacts to his wife and children and to his counseling of young players about the dangers of drugs.

"This guy cares about people," said his San Diego-based agent, Tony Attanasio. "He's a very bright guy and a good person. He may rub some people the wrong way, but people aren't all the same."

Listen to his friends -- and this is no longer a huge circle -- and the portrait that emerges is of a good man who sometimes says or does the wrong thing and is almost always misunderstood.

Why then do so many of his current teammates and associates say he's a man with such conflicts?

Why does the mention of his name bring sneers in the Orioles' front office and groans in the clubhouse?

Why did an umpire say, "He's the biggest jerk to come into this league in five or six years"? Why have the Orioles virtually stopped asking him to make public appearances?

Why does he look up reporters every day and accuse them of being racists and liars? One of his favorite routines is to walk up and make a motion like he's pulling a knife out of his back.

"Here," he'll say, handing the imaginary knife to a reporter, "you forgot this."

Why is he talkative and outgoing one minute, sullen and quiet the next?

As the emotions over his three-day suspension have faded away, the Orioles are back to square one with Alan Wiggins.

Is Wiggins misunderstood and made a victim because he dares to be different, or is he a brooding man who enjoys putting down others?

"Listen," he said, "people take things too literally. I have a lot of fun at other people's expense. I know some people take it wrong, and I need to work on that."

But in just the kind of remark that offends people, he waves his hand around the Orioles clubhouse and takes a slam at many of his 23 teammates.

"Hey, I get tired of talking about sliders and 15-foot putts all the time," he said. "I like to think about things outside this little world in here."

Son of an Engineer

So who is Alan Wiggins and why is he this way? He was born in a middle-class neighborhood of Pasadena, Calif., the son of an electrical engineer for the city. His dad, he said proudly, was one of the first black electrical engineers hired by the city.

One of his earliest recollections was a bad one, the divorce of his parents. At the time, he was in the first grade and the second-oldest of four.

"We didn't understand what was going on," he said. "After a while, it worked out, and we had pretty typical lives for kids from split homes. We saw our dad every other weekend and were with our mother the rest of the time. . . . A lot of kids have lives like that today."

His mother made ends meet by doing domestic work -- she later became a registered nurse -- and she trained the kids well. Wiggins remembers that the house ran efficiently, with each child having daily chores assigned to him or her. He also remembers his mother recognizing his special talent.

"My brothers and sisters would have to go without so I could have a baseball glove or shoes," he said.

He grew up in a mostly black neighborhood, but he tries time and again to dispell the notion (as dozens of his teammates have said privately) that he either hates or distrusts white people.

"I don't," he said. "I judge each person individually. I went to a school that was pretty well split, racially. But I just can't ignore that it's a part of society. It's like a family that has a dead elephant in their living room and never mentions it. They just walk around it and ignore how much it stinks. Then one day, a bright-eyed kid comes in and says, 'Why is there an elephant in the living room?' The whole family gets upset and says, 'Shhhh, you're not supposed to talk about it.' I just feel that me talking about it doesn't necessarily make it true or false. It's there for everyone to see, anyway, but most people hope you ignore it."

Racism, he said, had just been a vague term for most of his early years. He said he was always aware that black and white people were often treated differently, but he wasn't sure why.

That all changed during his senior year in high school when he read a biography of Malcolm X. Today, Wiggins still is interested, and for the last two weeks, he has spent many of his clubhouse hours buried in a tome called, "The Death and Life of Malcolm X."

"I'm interested in the whole phenomenon of the '60s," Wiggins said. "You had Vietnam and the civil rights movement, and the result was that our country changed. In Malcolm's early years, he didn't really have a plan about how to get things done, but he did advocate aggression. In a lot of ways, I'm sure he made things easier for Martin Luther King, who sounded like a very reasonable alternative to what Malcolm X was saying. Still, what he was advocating was to change society. But Malcolm was saying a lot of the same things before it was fashionable."

Wiggins repeats that he's not obsessed. "I know a lot of racists," he said. "I'm not one."

Not enough people have been close enough to make a judgment, but regardless if it were his family situation, his resentment of racism or his personality, he was an angry young man by the time the California Angels made him a 1977 first-round draft pick. By the middle of the 1978 season, the Angels released him.

Wiggins is unclear about the reason, saying, "Go ask the Angels."

The Angels won't comment publicly, but several sources said Wiggins was dropped after an altercation with a coach on the club's Quad Cities team. He was out of baseball until the Los Angeles Dodgers signed him the following January. He lasted two years in their organization, and apparently impressed enough people that the San Diego Padres drafted him out of the Dodgers' organization.

He played briefly at Hawaii (and had a nasty clubhouse confrontation with then-Hawaii manager Doug Rader) and was in the big leagues to stay by the end of the 1982 season. He underwent drug rehabilitation in late 1982, but was one of the National League's best players in both 1983 and 1984, scoring 189 runs and stealing 136 bases.

The Padres won the pennant in 1984, and it appeared Wiggins was going to be a star. But early in the 1985 season, he left the Padres again to enter a drug rehabilitation clinic. The Padres announced after his problem in 1982 that he wouldn't be given a second chance, and he wasn't.

Certainly, there had been incidents before he ever came to Baltimore. There were screaming matches with reporters, teammates who didn't like him and fans who booed him.

Career Played Out in Public

But what separates the San Diego and Baltimore years is this: He was a terrific player in San Diego; an inferior one in Baltimore.

One thing is certain: the Orioles never have had a career played out in public as this one has been. There have been public apologies, tantrums against management and fans and spats with teammates.

Wiggins said he has considered his Orioles career many times. He said he honestly tried to get to know players, but that outsiders weren't accepted. In past interviews, he has mentioned a split with first baseman Eddie Murray that turned several players against him.

He says players never accepted him, but clubhouse sources say several reached out to him. Jim Dwyer took him fishing a couple of times, and Murray helped him have a television satellite dish installed at his home.

Mainly, however, the Orioles didn't find him funny, or his sense of humor appealing.

Almost every day, he seemed to be challenging someone about something. Wiggins says it's his sense of humor. Others believe it's pent-up anger. He has had verbal exchanges with a half-dozen or more players, including Murray, Mike Young and Larry Sheets.

He recently complained that the Orioles refused to offer him public appearances, and his agent has implied they're prejudiced against him. Privately, the Orioles say that in his first two years in Baltimore, he was asked to do dozens of public appearances. His answer usually was that autograph sessions weren't stimulating enough and that speaking engagements didn't pay enough. So now, he's seldom asked.

"I've always been my own man," he said. "Eric Show and I used to have big arguments in San Diego over political and social things. We'd had five or six guys gathered around, and it might go on five or six days with each of us coming in with something new every day. It was fun, and it was stimulating. It was probably healthy too."

One of his mistakes in 1985, he said, was in assuming that what was fine in the Padres clubhouse would be fine in the Orioles clubhouse. It wasn't. Players weren't inclined to discuss politics, civil rights or journalism.

"In retrospect, I look back and can see I should have done things differently," he said. "I just didn't know the attitude would be so different. This is a very different team. Everyone talks about how tough {former Padres manager} Dick Williams was, but damn, we had a loose clubhouse. It was a different atmosphere, and I think, a much more tolerant one."

And: "You didn't have all this tradition stuff. What the Padres had was a losing tradition, so there was less pressure to win. You went out, you did your job and you were appreciated. It was a good situation."

He says it with sadness, as if he's remembering a time he can never recapture.

"Nothing I could have done this year would have been good enough," he said. "I was hitting .340 in spring training and got thrown out at third base one day. The manager told the press he was concerned about how I was running the bases. He never said anything about me hitting .340.

"It's like my conversation with {team owner Edward Bennett Williams} this winter. He told me I'd get a fair chance and that nothing would be held against me. It was a very upbeat conversation, and his words carried me through May. A pat on the back does wonders, but I guess people here don't believe in that."