When it comes to charity, Davis swings for fences


March 10, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The first question you have to ask about Glenn Davis is simply this: Is he too good to be true?

As far as I can tell, if you don't like Davis, then you just don't fall for the tall, strong, serious-minded, caring type of first baseman who also hits about 30 homers a year.

"He'll hit the homers," said teammate Jeff Ballard. "He's coming from the Astrodome to a park where it's 310 down the left-field line. What do you think?"

He'll hit the homers; he always has. Davis is the cleanup hitter the Orioles have lacked since Eddie Murray beat a hasty retreat from the town that once loved him.

But, if reports on Davis are to be believed, the story doesn't end there.

In fact, it could start with the home he and his wife have set up in Columbus, Ga., to provide shelter for emotionally and physically abused youngsters. It's a ranch-like facility that is scheduled to open this summer.

Ask him how the children will be selected, and he says that he and his wife will do it. Then you begin to understand -- his money and his time.

That's what he's doing in Columbus, his hometown. In Baltimore, his newly adopted town, he has other plans.

Soon after he signed his contract, worth $3.275 million, Davis contacted the Orioles' public-relations staff in search of guidance. He wanted to know how he could best give away his money and give away his time. You read that right.

"We kicked around some things," Davis said. "It's just a way of saying thank you."

It's also just a way of kicking to death the stereotype of the rich, greedy athlete. Apparently, it's possible to be rich and not greedy.

We always knew that, or should have. Eddie Murray gave half a million to an outreach camp. Cal Ripken Jr. gave $250,000 toward an adult learning center. Many players visit hospitals, give clinics and don't even charge for an autograph.

What seems to separate Davis is the degree of commitment.

Already, he has made plans to contribute $1,000 to charity for each home run he hits. He will purchase 50 seats to every game for needy youngsters (Ripken has bought 25 for years). He asked the Orioles for the name of a children's hospital he could visit regularly and please, he said, without cameras standing between him and the sick kids. He would do this on his own and on his own time.

"It comes from the heart," said Davis, who has talked openly about his own troubled childhood. "There are a number of principles involved. It's something you can do to recognize the fans. It's a way of saying that I want to give back a little more than just a couple of hits in the field.

"It's something everyone can do. I have the money to do certain things. People who don't have the money volunteer their time. If I buy athletic equipment and nobody takes the time to coach the kids, then what good have I done?"

Davis grows quite serious when discussing the concept of good works. It is something he has thought a lot about.

"It's a principle set by God," he said. "It's better to give than to receive. And I'm the first to admit it makes me feel very good."

The conversation comes easily now, sitting in a spring-camp clubhouse. No pressure yet. He can watch in appreciation as Sam Horn delivers the big blows and figure, as he learns the American League, his homers will come, too. He has already hit a 400-foot foul ball.

Once the season begins, the first test will be on the field, not off it. A lot is expected of Davis. A player who makes that kind of money coming to a new team inevitably faces season-breaking pressure. Many players can't deal with it. We'll find out about Davis.

But he has already been surprised by initial reaction from Baltimore fans. In town for a week during the off-season, Davis couldn't get over the number of well-wishers he encountered.

Fred Lynn used to tell the story that when he came to the Orioles, he appeared on a radio talk show and was stunned by how many people called just to welcome him to town. That was a love affair, of course, that didn't exactly last.

The Davis affair may not have legs, either. He is playing on a one-year contract, and a new one will cost the Orioles at least $4 million a year. There is no indication yet which way that will go, only that it will be a major test of management commitment.

Davis is making no promises about performance. Well, just one.

"I learned last year that you can never predict what will happen," said Davis, who lost two months to injury in his final season with Houston. "All I can do is promise a good effort."

Off-the-field promises are another matter. He knows what he can do there. Effort, and the money, is all that is required.

"It's a way of putting your money where your mouth is," he said.

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