Davis warms hearts can he win games?

MIKE LITTWIN jvB

December 13, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

I love a heartwarming story as much as the next guy, particularly this time of year. I sit entranced even for the thousandth viewing of "A Christmas Carol" or "Miracle on 34th Street." Heck, I tear up annually at the first sighting of the larcenous Grinch.

So, naturally, when the Orioles reunited Glenn Davis and Storm Davis, my heartstrings were going like so many Clapton guitar strings.

It's a wonderful story of two men who consider themselves to be brothers. Glenn was the troubled teen-ager who was all but adopted by Storm's family back in Jacksonville, Fla., and now, years later, they're both Orioles. Glenn decided to stay here when he could have gone. And the Orioles have traded Bob Melvin for Storm, the ex-Oriole who never wanted to leave Baltimore. Now we have Ripkens and Davises and it's just a regular family ballclub.

This is good stuff. Pass a hanky, please, unless you can spare two.

There's only one teensy-weensy problem with the story. It would be ever so much better if it turns out that either of the Davises can pitch.

You see, the Orioles desperately need a starting pitcher. Glenn, of course, is the home run hitter, so he's out, since Babe Ruth was the last guy to fit both descriptions. Storm is the presumed starter, which is why the Orioles got him.

Last season, his second in Kansas City, Storm was 3-9 with a 4.96 ERA and got only nine starts. In his first season there, he was 7-10 with a 4.74 ERA. That's why he was available for a second-string catcher. He's nearly 30 years old, and his career, once so promising, is now problematic.

It's fair to point out that before Kansas City, Storm enjoyed two successful years in Oakland. It's also fair to say that if Storm turns up with Honeycutt and Eckersley, he'd probably be ready to have some successful years here, too. The truth is that the Orioles gave up on Cy Clone, the Jim Palmer protege, years ago, trading him to San Diego, and that, in less than one season, San Diego gave up on him and shipped him to Oakland and that Oakland made no real effort to keep him when his contract was up. That's a lot of teams giving up on the same player.

Clearly, Storm was never as good as his 35-14 record in Oakland -- it has been suggested he was the luckiest 19-game winner in modern times -- and now the Orioles must hope he was not as bad as his 10-19 record in Kansas City.

I'll give the Orioles this: They took a shot. A willingness to pay Storm $1.9 million of his $2.3 million salary -- Kansas City ponies up the rest -- shows a commitment to spend money to improve, particularly since the move is such a gamble. This is definitely a new strategy we're seeing from the Orioles.

What the Orioles must not do, however, is assume this trade solves anything. In fact, they must work on the premise that they've resolved nothing. They still need two pitchers. The question is: Where to find them?

Wheelin'-dealin' Rolan' Hemon' couldn't do much at the winter meetings, supposedly his favorite time of the year. Although he tried to trade Randy Milligan for a pitcher, he came up empty, despite all the action in the Fontainebleau lobby. Presumably, he'll keep trying, although there may not be any movement until spring training. On the free-agent scene, the Orioles are said to be interested in Kirk McCaskill, but the Angels also are interested in re-signing him, which may end the discussion.

Jack Morris is out there, somewhere, apparently ready to turn down millions of dollars. The Orioles, while willing to take a $1.9 million risk with Storm Davis, aren't ready to play in Morris' league.

And so, the outlook is not especially good at this point to make things better for next year.

What is good is that the Orioles are making a good-faith effort. Maybe it's true that coming home to Baltimore will make a difference for Storm. Giving up Melvin, even though it means Jeff Tackett is now an untried backup, was certainly not a bad trade, although it does bring back memories of Mickey Tettleton for Jeff Robinson. Does anyone in the wide, wide world still think the Orioles couldn't have used him?

I'm guessing that, if Tettleton were an Oriole today, the Orioles would keep him, just as they kept Glenn Davis. Apparently there is now a recognition that, even if you can't compete with New York and L.A. for the Bobby Bonillas, there are still market forces with which you must contend. The Orioles seem to be contending with them now, even in the face of the daunting prospect that by end of next season they will have to sign Cal Ripken to a Bonilla-sized contract.

So, even if Storm doesn't warm your cockles, an Orioles front office out there competing for players should.

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