Davis of old arrives in time for pennant drive Orioles don't need trade-in to acquire late-model hitter

August 07, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

Imagine for a moment that the Orioles did the unimaginable and traded for Pittsburgh Pirates star Barry Bonds in early July. The move would have changed the balance of power in the American League East and rejuvenated the club's stagnant pennant drive.

Imagine the fanfare the acquisition of a player of that caliber would have generated.

Now, understand that something very similar happened with very little fanfare. The Orioles did add a front-line run-producer to the lineup -- one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball -- and they did it without changing the chemistry of the club or giving up any prospects.

The player's name is Glenn Davis.

"It's like we've acquired a new player," manager Johnny Oates said recently. "But we traded for a Barry Bonds-type player two years ago. It wasn't his fault that he got hurt. He's just now doing what he did in the National League. It doesn't surprise me one single bit."

Davis has just recently become a significant player in the Orioles' surprising run at the first-place Toronto Blue Jays. He spent the first 2 1/2 months of the season rebounding from another discouraging physical setback, but he has come back to be a major force in the club's midsummer resurgence.

He has hit safely in 30 of his past 35 games -- dating to June 15 -- to raise his average from .215 to .301. He's batting .397 in the 20 games since the All-Star break. Only four American League players have hit for a higher average over the same period. He has driven ineight runs in the past 10 games to contribute heavily to an 8-2 run that has helped the club inch closer to the top of the standings.

That, Davis says, is all he wants to do.

"One of the main things I want to accomplish, I want to make a significant contribution to this ballclub," Davis said. "That would be very rewarding. All of the things in the past would be forgotten. I think their investment in me would be well worth it."

He makes an interesting point. If he continues to produce and the club finds a way to upset the Blue Jays in the AL East, then it would be hard to question the trade that brought him to the Orioles or the money that has been spent to keep him in Baltimore.

Davis missed most of last season, but it was a season he could not have changed for the better. The Orioles did not have the pitching to compete, so an additional 20 home runs probably wouldn't have had much impact on the club's place in the standings. He could have had an MVP year and the team still would have sold the same number of tickets in the final season at Memorial Stadium.

This year has been something else altogether. He has injected himself into the pennant race at just the right juncture. If he truly is the "old" Glenn Davis, then the Orioles can make a legitimate claim to contention. The club has stayed close on the strength of the players at the far ends of the lineup. Davis has come back to fill the breach, which could make the difference down the stretch.

What is he doing right? He is locked into the strike zone. He is jumping on his pitch. He is, according to Oates, very "hitterish" -- the meaning of which is not entirely clear, but it sounds good. Davis also is enigmatic on the subject of his offensive revival.

"I don't want to reflect on the past, but I know I'm doing things the way Glenn Davis has done in the past," he said. "I'm reverting to some of the things I've always done."

Perhaps it is too soon to say with any certainty, but he appears to have triumphed over two years of injuries and disappointment. He came to Baltimore hoping to justify a trade that sent three promising and popular young players to the Houston Astros, but missed 105 games last year with a neck injury so rare he had to travel around the country to find doctors to treat it.

This year was supposed to be different, but another hard-to-pinpoint injury forced him onto the disabled list in April and left room to wonder whether he ever would be the player that the Orioles traded a healthy chunk of their future to acquire.

Patience is a virtue that club officials displayed publicly, but the possibility that they had thrown away three solid players -- Curt Schilling, Pete Harnisch and Steve Finley -- and $10 million (the value of Davis's 1991 contract and the two-year deal he signed last fall) had to weigh heavily on the organization.

There was some private grumbling. There also was a day in June when Oates called Davis into his office and told him that it was time to play regularly or go back on the disabled list. But Davis insists that he received encouragement during his rehabilitation period.

"I got plenty of support from my wife and my friends and teammates and friends in the Orioles front office," he said. "The toughest thing was facing the fact that I might never be able to do what I've been doing my whole life."

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