Orioles appear to be playing rent-a-slugger

MIKE LITTWIN

February 13, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

The meter is running. When it gets to $3.275 million, will it be time to tell Glenn Davis goodbye?

My guess is yes.

My guess is that if you want to get to know Davis, you ought to get to know him in a hurry. What I'm trying to say is, get that invitation in the mail immediately, while it's still 29 cents.

I don't think Davis will be putting down roots here. He might not even be here long enough to put down rugs. And while we're on the subject, you might want to rethink the idea of naming your next kid Glenn.

More and more, this is beginning to look like a rent-a-slugger deal. Davis' agent says that he and the Orioles will start to discuss a long-term contract during the spring. The Orioles, in their usual manner, have nothing to say on the subject.

The big news is supposed to be that the Orioles signed Glenn Davis yesterday, but the real news is that they signed him for one year. They signed him in order to avoid arbitration, which is, ++ apparently, even worse than having your teeth cleaned and to be avoided at all costs. Davis wanted the sun, the Orioles countered with the moon, and they split it down the middle, which is $3.275 million, or almost $63,000 a week.

That's a lot of dough, by any measure. For instance, if Davis bats 600 times, that would be $5,458 per at-bat. If he showers twice a day, it's $4,486 per toweling. It adds up quickly, say, at 30 homers, it adds up to $109,167 a shot.

While it's obviously crazy to pay anyone that kind of money to play baseball, or to do anything else short of inventing sneakers with pumps, it's what happens these days in the post-collusion era of unbridled capitalism when the price is freely set in the

marketplace and baseball owners are too rich to care.

Make that most owners.

Eli Jacobs, the Orioles owner, is sort of trying this concept on for size, to see how it fits. This is a guy who wants to know why the lights are burning. He's a throwback among owners, and has always believed, as they all used to, that everything you pay your employees is money you don't get to keep yourself.

He agreed to take Davis on, even at $3.275 million. But what happens next? If the Orioles don't sign Davis to a long-term contract, then they've simply given away three young players in order to get one year's worth of home runs. Is this a good deal? Did the Reds get a good deal on Milt Pappas?

The Orioles, who had the lowest payroll in the majors last season and who will still be in the lower fifth this season, like to think of themselves as fiscally responsible. My guess is that if they don't have Davis in '92, they'll be fiscally responsible and in fifth place.

And yet, commissioner Fay Vincent said the other day that eight to 10 teams lost money last season, not counting the $10 million collusion bill they were all handed. This seems far-fetched, although Vincent seems fairly forthcoming for a commissioner. But does it matter? According to those who should know, no baseball owner has ever lost money if you include capital gained from the team's sale.

Vincent's fear is that the small markets will be locked out of thehigh-priced players, and that the Yankees and Dodgers will win every year. It should be pointed out that the only time the Yankees and Dodgers used to win every year was in the time before free agency, and that no team in 15 years of free agency has been able to put together anything like a dynasty.

Still, maybe matters are getting out of hand when the Red Sox agree to pay Roger Clemens $21,521,000 over four years, starting with the 1992 season. I just hope they put in a sanity clause, because, as anyone could predict, this is one guy who looks like he has a date with a shrink somewhere in his future. (Groucho to Chico: It's called a sanity clause. Chico: You can't-a fool-a me. I know there ain't no Santy Claus.)

Including Clemens, the Red Sox, now called the Gold Sox, have nine players making more than $2 million a year, and the number will grow to 10 if Ellis Burks wins his arbitration case. The Orioles now have two such players, and they may have none next year.

The other guy is, of course, Cal Ripken, and his contract ends with the 1991 season. Ripken and Davis are both going to be asking for multiyear (and not two-year) contracts worth more than $4 million a year.

In fact, four years at $16 million may even be low. Someone out there, probably a lot of someones out there, will be willing to pay that price, meaning that if the Orioles aren't, they could lose both of them.

It's unthinkable to lose Ripken, of course, who is as much a part of the Orioles history as the Robinsons and Earl Weaver and the comeback, uh, kid -- Jim Palmer. Will the Orioles keep both

players? Will they lock in a foundation upon which they might be able to build a winning team for years to come?

That remains the question. Some of us remain skeptical.

All we know is that a one-year contract for Davis means nothing, except that he's $3.275 million richer.

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