Davis' durability a disabling debate

MIKE LITTWIN

April 15, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

BOSTON -- Strange things happen all the time. I read the tabloids. UFOs piloted by Elvis (what do you think: the new Elvis or the old Elvis?) routinely land on people's lawns. I didn't used to believe in such stories, but then you tell me Glenn Davis is on the disabled list again, and I guess I've got to believe anything.

This can't be true, can it? It's April, right? He's played one game, right? Talk about durability. Was this guy made in Detroit? Heck, the cherry blossoms outlasted him this year.

OK, let's go to the calculator. I'll bet Eli Jacobs is hunched over his right now. Let's see, if Davis plays one game at 3.5 mil a year, that figures out to . . .

This is terrible news. In the Jacobs era, the Orioles have made one -- count 'em, one -- big-time investment. That investment is Glenn Davis. Let's just say, as investments go, it isn't like getting in on the ground floor with Apple Computer.

You remember how he came to be an Oriole. The ballclub, in desperate need of a slugger, had found Davis in Houston, where the folks were even less inclined than the Orioles to pay the new high salaries. Davis had played five full seasons with the Astros. In the first four, he averaged more than 150 games and 30 homers. In the fifth season, he missed 69 games with a rib-cage injury. But the rib cage was better, it was agreed, and everyone foresaw great things with Davis in the Orioles lineup.

He had an RBI double in his first at-bat as an Oriole, but nobody, except Davis, knew he was already injured. On April 24, he hit a pinch homer. Two days later, he was on the DL with an injury to the spinal accessory nerve. Nobody had heard of the nerve, much less of the injury. It was officially called a "rare" injury because it's about as common as yellow fever.

That was last season. He played 49 games and had 10 homers. Somebody with a calculator figured that the 10 homers projected to 33 over a full season. People got excited again. The doctors said he was fine. Davis said he was fine. The Orioles bit the bullet and gave him a lot more millions over two seasons.

And, then, boom.

It actually went boom. Davis said that when he came off the plane from spring training, he felt like someone had shot him in the back, and it wasn't Billy the Kid either.

He played one game. He got one hit. And now it's back to the DL. Last year, it was April 26. This year, it's April 14. And it feels like April Fools'. Unbelievable.

Oh, by the way, it's another rib-cage injury. Well, not exactly a rib-cage injury -- at least not like the one he had in Houston. That's what Davis says. He says it's a muscle strain or spasm near the rib cage. Actually, there's some confusion as to what it is, or how long it will keep him out. It started out as one of those day-to-day situations you hear so much about. And as for the exact nature of the problem, Orioles officials always say to ask someone else.

The scary part is that the Orioles, given this experience, might never reach for their checkbook again. I mean, you don't think Eli Jacobs is going to touch Memorex again, do you? On the other hand, you have to figure Cal Ripken, who's waiting for a call, is never going to get hurt.

Of course, as Davis can tell you, there are no guarantees in life. You have to feel for Davis. You know he would have given anything in the world not to have had to tell the Orioles he couldn't suit up for Game 2. The last thing he wanted to hear again were all the questions. In fact, he said the other day that he realized he was playing under a stigma. Well, the stigma is now approaching the size of the B&O warehouse.

First, they said he'd be out a day or two. Then they said he'd be here in Boston. And then they said, well, certainly we weren't talking disabled list.

And now?

What Davis is telling people is that he stepped out of whirlpool treatment the other day only to suffer what he described as a "major setback."

What that means nobody knows. The Orioles brought up Luis Mercedes, who will see some time as the right-handed DH while Randy Milligan continues to play first base and the Orioles try to figure out what else they might do.

The timing couldn't be much worse. After the league gift-wrapped Cleveland for the Orioles' opening series at Camden Yards, it put the team on the road for 15 of 19 games. This is a period when you can get blown out of the race.

It isn't Davis' fault, of course. It isn't his fault people are calling him Gentle Glenn. But, for two seasons now, he has been counted on as the Orioles' cleanup hitter. What's clear now -- and it's the only thing that's clear -- is that, for the time being, the Orioles can't count on him for anything.

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