Outside pitch should enable Davis to park extra 5 to 10 HRs

John Steadman

January 11, 1991|By John Steadman

LET GLENN DAVIS swing a bat in the great outdoors, which he'll be doing henceforth for the Baltimore Orioles, and it'll mean an increase of from five to 10 home runs a season. Davis gets out of the homogenized, humidity-controlled, air-conditioned Houston Astrodome, which means he's going to be a born-again power hitter of intimidating proportions.

In some ways, the deal for Davis is reminiscent of what happened in 1966 when the Orioles picked up what was described as an "old 30" Frank Robinson, who proceeded to lift his new team to the pennant and World Series title. Robinson sees the similarities, too.

On March 28, Davis will celebrate his 30th birthday and be playing for the same Robinson, now the Orioles manager. And what does Robinson think as he ponders Davis in his lineup? "The difference between Houston and Baltimore is between five and 10 home runs, at least," he said. "After the Orioles traded me to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1972, I hit a pitch in the Astrodome I knew was a three-run homer. I really drove it. No doubt it was out of there. But I looked up to see it being caught for a fly ball out. The ball doesn't carry there."

Doug Melvin, the Orioles' personnel director, who is credited by president Larry Lucchino and general manager Roland Hemond with contributing much to the trade process, quotes San Francisco's Will Clark as telling a friend, "If they get Davis out of the Astrodome he'll be the leading home run hitter in baseball."

When Davis was told of Clark's comments last night, he registered a trace of surprise. Then he reacted as modestly as few players ever have when he said, "You'll find out about me. My approach to the game is from a humble perspective."

In the latter part of the 1990 season, after Davis suffered a torn muscle in his rib cage, Melvin dispatched Fred Uhlman Sr., special assignment scout, to watch Davis for a week because it was believed he would be available. Everything Uhlman came back with was positive.

While at Houston, it was Davis' distinction to be the only Astro to ever hit more than 30 home runs three different seasons. Although a free-swinger, he makes consistent contact, which means he doesn't have a propensity for striking out.

The reason the Astros parted with him, according to Lucchino and Hemond, is they wanted to disperse older, higher-salaried players to put the emphasis on rebuilding with youngsters, the same formula the Orioles pursued three years ago. It also has been said the situation could be likened, in reverse, to when Eddie Murray was sent to the Dodgers after the 1988 season as the Orioles prepared to recharge their engines with an infusion of youth.

Hemond, never one to take a bow, explains the acquisition in apt language when he says, "Getting a power hitter of his type achieved some of the goals we placed upon ourselves. I am thrilled our player development program made the deal possible. Doug Melvin worked long and hard." And, to rework one of the principles made popular by Branch Rickey, father of the baseball farm system, Hemond added, "We traded from our strength."

So in giving up pitchers Pete Harnisch and Curt Schilling, along with outfielder Steve Finley, the Orioles once again feel they have stockpiled pitching depth with the varsity and within the minor-league organization. A trade the Orioles once made with the Oakland A's, when they got Reggie Jackson in 1976, offers similar contractual circumstances.

But Jackson played out his option and, as a free agent, signed with the New York Yankees. The same could happen with Davis, but the Orioles contend otherwise.

Hearing that Memorial Stadium's leftfield fence is 21 feet closer than the Astrodome's, the new Oriole contemplated such a natural advantage for a home run hitter and quickly cautioned himself by adding, "I hope my eyes don't get too big."

There's a twist to the Davis scenario in that the Orioles drafted him in 1979, out of University Christian High School in Jacksonville, Fla., on the 32nd round. They invited him to Bluefield of the Appalachian League for a series of workouts but weren't able to sign him. The Orioles offered a plane ticket, a bonus of $2,700 and two years of college. They were primarily interested in him as a pitcher but couldn't get him to agree.

Two years later, Davis was the first pick of the Astros in the secondary phase of the draft and, while in the minors, tied for the home run championship of the Florida State League and Southern League. As a rookie at Houston in 1985, he accounted for 20 homers and went on to up the production to 31, 27, 30, 34 and 22 (despite the rib injury and missing 69 games).

But the Orioles, 12 years after their draft, get Glenn Davis . . . a hitter, not a pitcher.

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