Money, sentiment and Storm Davis

KEN ROSENTHAL

March 13, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

PHOENIX -- Storm Davis says the Orioles made a cold-hearted business decision in refusing to offer him a contract. The Orioles say they didn't want a pitcher who showed no interest in becoming a starter and was undependable as a reliever.

Whom to believe? The game's changing economics offer no simple truths, just strange new realities. Davis went from a middle-inning reliever on a third-place club to a starter for the defending AL West champion Oakland Athletics. You figure it out.

"Back-to-back sequels," Davis says with a chuckle, referring to his homecoming with the Orioles last season and now his return to the A's. He wanted to finish his career in Baltimore, but he's just as happy with Oakland, the club that helped him achieve his greatest success.

Davis, 31, signed a two-year, $1.8 million contract with the A's in December but likely would have accepted a one-year deal for a lesser salary with the Orioles. Why did the Orioles balk? The reason seems obvious. They didn't want him.

Davis sees it differently, as well he should, after finishing 7-3 with a 3.43 ERA and four saves. "When the captain of the ship is in trouble, as it appears he is, then you don't know what's going to happen," he says of owner Eli Jacobs.

And that's just the start.

"Nobody from the Orioles called me when I was a free agent. To tell you the truth, they were rather rude," continues Davis, who pitched in Baltimore from 1982 to 1986 before returning last season from Kansas City in a trade for catcher Bob Melvin.

"Flanny [Mike Flanagan] and I talked about this. They're the first ones to cry loyalty when things don't go their way, especially [club president Larry] Lucchino. He has this big thing about bringing the tradition back. I don't think he knows what the Orioles tradition is all about. I think he misses out on some of it.

"When I was there the first time, there was always continuity to everything. You always felt the core group would come back every year. When a man put an Orioles uniform on, he was going to keep that uniform on, unless he was a jerk who didn't fit in. Last year, I observed and listened. It doesn't hold true anymore."

Lucchino's response?

"It reflects Storm's disappointment in not being back here," he says. "That was a hard decision we made. But it was one we thought was in the best interests of the club. I'm sorry he feels as he does. But there is still a great sense of Orioles pride and tradition here."

The difference is not the team but the game. Players come and go at a dizzying rate, and not simply when a club is for sale. That's life in the big-money era, and Davis benefited from it as much as anyone, signing a three-year, $6 million contract with Kansas City after winning 19 games for Oakland in '89.

As Davis recalls: "For three weeks, nothing was said or done. Then, within a matter of hours, I was deciding between five teams." The contract was so lucrative it made him the Orioles' second-highest-paid player last season, at nearly $2.57 million after incentives.

Those were the days.

Orioles general manager Roland Hemond says he met with Davis after the season and told him he would need to "adjust his thinking." The Orioles quickly dropped out of the picture, and Davis chose Oakland over Cleveland, which also offered a two-year deal.

Often, it's easier for a player to accept a dramatic pay cut from a team other than his own. Davis, however, remains perplexed by the Orioles' lack of interest. He again says he was willing to start or relieve, "anything they wanted me to do."

The Orioles dispute that point. "He wasn't indicating an interest in starting last year," Hemond says. "He preferred to relieve." And, even though he worked 89 1/3 innings, they say he frequently was unavailable because of nagging injuries.

Whatever, Davis is with Oakland, reunited with manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan, who coaxed 35 wins out of him in '88 and '89. In retrospect, he never should have left, but according to Michael Maas -- an associate of Davis' agent, Ron Shapiro -- the difference in Kansas City's offer was "literally millions."

"I can't look back. I can't change that now," Davis says. "I did what I thought was best for my family. Believe me, other teams offered more money. It wasn't like I went to the team with the most money. But you've got to go through that when you get the opportunity. It's once in a lifetime. I did what I thought was best."

Those were the days.

For Davis and so many others, they're long gone.

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