Forget excuses, just go ahead and sign Davis

JOHN EISENBERG

September 15, 1991|By JOHN EISENBERG

John Oates said this the other day about Glenn Davis: "Wherever he plays next year, he will hit 30 home runs. I am absolutely convinced. There is no doubt in my mind."

That Davis should hit the 30 for the Orioles is an irrefutable point. There is no valid excuse for their not signing him when he becomes a free agent this off-season. No ifs or buts.

If anyone tells you otherwise -- and I have actually heard people say the club shouldn't bring him back -- their heads have been buried in the AL East standings too long.

The Orioles may not bring Davis back, but they won't be right for doing it. No explanation will suffice. If it happens, it will mean this and only this: The price of trying to win was more than they wanted to pay.

The argument against signing Davis goes like this: He is a risk because of the neck injury he suffered this season, and it is silly to sign such a risk to a contract of three or four years.

Getting him for one year is smart, the thinking goes, but some team in baseball's mad world probably will offer three or four, and the Orioles shouldn't match such a multimillion-dollar risk. Better to invest in safer talent.

Well. There is no denying Davis is a risk. It's possible his injury could recur, although his doctors say it's unlikely. It's possible he may never again reach his old All-Star form.

But, really, that's no excuse at all. Since when was anything in baseball a no-risk venture? Has there ever been a sure thing? A player with a 35-homer or 20-win guarantee? Of course not.

The Orioles want the world perfect, risk-free, and that's not possible. (Actually, we shouldn't be surprised that a team getting a free stadium wants the world perfect. That's the Orioles' idea of a reasonable deal.)

The fact is you have to take risks if you want to win these days, particularly if you are as shallow in talent as the Orioles, who are heading toward 90 losses for the third time in five years.

You have to do what the Braves did coming off a 97-loss 1990, take a shot with a sore-kneed Sid Bream and .230-hitting Terry Pendleton. Today, they're in a pennant race.

You have to do what the Tigers did after three dispiriting seasons, invest in putting some whack back in the lineup. Win or lose, they've had a terrific year.

Sometimes it doesn't work out, but at least you tried. At least you showed the fans -- and, more importantly, the players -- you're committed to trying to win.

Bringing Davis back, regardless of the circumstances, would help show such a commitment. If the Orioles can get his name on a one-year contract, good for them. But if the market dictates a higher price and longer deal, they should still sign him.

It's not as if they won't have the cash in the new ballpark. And anyway, the chances are good that Davis will make a difference commensurate with his price. As risks go, it's not nearly as big as it seems.

"He's completely healthy," Oates said. "I've seen him hit 475-foot balls in batting practice. He's back. And this is a guy with a track record. He has been been a big power hitter for a long time."

A big power hitter. There aren't many in the game. Are you listening to other teams' shopping lists? They all talk about finding more punch. The Orioles have it easy. They don't even need to look. More punch is already wearing their uniform.

Forget the slump that has collared Davis since he came back. He's rusty. It's April to him. Eddie Murray used to go 0-for-April at his peak. Randy Milligan did so this year and he'll still wind up with 70 RBI. A slow start is irrelevant.

Speaking of Milligan, there are those who say the Orioles lineup isn't big enough for Milligan and Davis. What a laugh. The Orioles aren't good enough to have a too-much-talent dilemma. See: standings.

They are one of the league's poorest-hitting teams. They need every legitimate bat they can find. There's plenty of room for Davis and Milligan in the lineup. They can both play every day, one at DH, the other at first, alternating playing the field.

Yes, they'd rather play the field every day, but that's just too bad. Anyway, they won't complain if the team wins instead of dropping like a rock. And a Ripken-Davis-Milligan order would win some games.

Sam Horn would lose his place, of course, and that's too bad, because Horn has produced this year and deserves better. But Horn just isn't as complete or consistent as Davis or Milligan. A trade probably could be made.

The one thing sure to be a disaster is the Orioles' saying they won't sign Davis, but will use the money to get other free agents. Other means cheaper in this instance, and cheaper means not as talented.

The Orioles have been using such bargain-basement tactics, looking to fill holes with minor-league free agents, mediocre major-league free agents and players who haven't reached their potential. It's gotten them nowhere.

They need better players to make a difference in the standings, and better players cost. Davis will cost plenty, but he could be the linchpin of the lineup for years. If the Orioles don't sign him, regardless of the length of his contract, you'll know the reason.

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