Davis a man of firepower, but not fireworks Baseball was refuge from troubled youth

January 13, 1991|By Kent Baker

Don't expect Glenn Davis to stampede into Baltimore amid blustery fanfare or to make bold predictions about turning the Orioles into instant champions.

That's just not his style.

One of baseball's most feared sluggers is a quiet man with a tumultuous past who prefers to blend into the fabric of a team, not dominate it.

"He won't be a cheerleader, rah-rahing with everybody," said former Oriole Brian Holton, who played with Davis in the Dominican Winter League and against him in the National League.

"But he's certainly not going to be a bad influence on this team. He keeps to himself and tries to get along with everybody. He's a good person, very religious and real quiet."

Davis, acquired from the Houston Astros for Pete Harnisch, Curt Schilling and Steve Finley last week, is expected to supply a major portion of the firepower that may make the Orioles contenders next season.

His story is one of an anguished childhood in Jacksonville, Fla., transformed into an American dream of success, wealth and fame.

But it is also one of a man who never forgot the troubles he endured that led him to contemplate suicide often in his youth and eventually took him to the home of George and Norma Davis, the parents of former Oriole Storm Davis, who lived across town.

His involvement with the Glenn Davis Home for Boys and the Teresa Davis Home for Girls in Columbus, Ga., his hometown, is testimony to his concern for abandoned and abused children and is a major reason he will receive the 1991 Bart Giamatti Caring Award next week.

The first such honor was presented last year to Cal Ripken Jr. for his charitable endeavors in Baltimore, drawing an even longer parallel between the two players who loom as the heart of the Orioles' batting order.

"He's the kind of guy who's a lot like Cal," said Storm Davis. "Not flashy, not loud and someone you have to watch day after day to really appreciate him. I would say he fits the Oriole mold, very team-oriented."

Said Ripken, who played with Davis on a major-league all-star tour of Japan in 1986: "Personally, I like him a lot. He has a giant heart. It seems he'll do anything for you. And he's very competitive. He lays it on the line all the time.

"Any time there's a trade, people wonder how it will affect the chemistry of a team. I don't think anybody could say a negative thing about Glenn Davis. Deep down inside, he's a very good man."

Dave Johnson spent about a month in Houston's training camp in 1989 and said his impression was that Davis was "a great guy to get along with. He leads by example like Cal, and the things he does for the community are overwhelming."

No one in the game knows Glenn Davis better than Storm, who considers him his brother, although they are not related. When Storm moved out of his home after signing with the Orioles, Glenn moved into his room.

"He was very wild in high school," said Storm Davis. "His dad wasn't around, and that can be tough. You do things that aren't good for your body."

Glenn Davis' parents were separated when he was 7, and his mother kept a tight rein on him. She wanted him to be a preacher and not to play professional baseball as his father had.

His mother told Sports Illustrated in 1986: "I knew Glenn had many struggles, and my heart bled for him. I wasn't the perfect mother, but then Glenn was a headstrong boy, and I felt I had to apply some discipline. I can assure you I never whipped Glenn harder than my own daddy whipped me."

He was a big, tough kid who began running with a tough crowd and has said he was a "juvenile delinquent."

"What he was doing was taking him into trouble," said Storm Davis. "If he had kept going that way, he'd have been dead or in jail. The thing that kept him alive was athletics."

At 17, Glenn Davis' life began to change after becoming close with Storm at University Christian High School, where Storm's father, George Sr., was the football coach and assistant baseball coach.

His new relationship with the Davises and his prowess in sports were the ways out of the rubble. Glenn Davis was encouraged to play baseball and was drafted in the 32nd round by the Orioles after some time in college.

But he didn't sign because he considered the bonus paltry and he did not want to become a pitcher.

In 1981, he became an Astro and has spent his entire career in that organization. Last summer, it became apparent the Astros JTC would not meet his contract demands upon his free agency, nor would they make moves to build a contender. Their relationship soured.

"The thing that frustrates him the most is that he has not played on a contender [one division champion] year in and year out," said Storm Davis. "He missed playing with a team committed wholeheartedly to winning.

"He thought the Astros were more budget-minded than anything. He had been to arbitration twice, through the wringer one too many times. He thought they weren't going to commit to be a winning organization."

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