It's time for Orioles to take hit on Davis

JOHN EISENBERG

May 21, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

Here is the audio summary of Glenn Davis' one at-bat yesterday:

Boooooo!

Steeeeee-rike threeee!!!

(Louder) Boooooo!

It happened in the eighth inning, with the Orioles down a run and looking particularly inept, even for this season, which is saying something. Manager Johnny Oates noticed on his crib sheets that over the years Davis had pulverized the Indians' relief pitcher, Derek Lilliquist.

"Five-for-12, two homers," Oates said afterward, ready with a prompt answer to the inevitable question. (For the record, the inevitable question was: "Why?")

Every player in the league is 5-for-12 with two homers against Derek Lilliquist, but this was still an unmistakable opportunity for Davis to get going. To do something. To do anything at the plate other than chew gum, look glum and pretend he doesn't hear the boos.

Which is all that yesterday's at-bat amounted to, once again bringing us back to the larger inevitable question: How much longer can this go on?

How much longer do the Orioles suffer Davis' failings before they give up and release him?

It is a drastic measure to contemplate, considering that the club must pay him some $3.75 million this season regardless if he swings a bat or takes lunch orders for Eli Jacobs' bankruptcy lawyers. But it's a drastic measure that is certainly worthy of contemplation. Action, even.

The sad and simple fact is that Davis has lost it. Lost the skills that made him one of the majors' best power hitters of the last decade. Whether it is a mental or physical problem is anyone's guess. No one will ever know. No one really cares anymore, either. The fact is that he can't do it anymore. Just can't do it.

In 100 at-bats this year, he has 26 strikeouts and 17 hits. Thirteen of his hits are singles. There is nothing there. No power. No discipline. Nothing.

It isn't because he doesn't care. He cares a lot.

It isn't because he isn't trying. He is trying as hard as anyone.

It isn't because there is some ominous flaw in his character. That's ridiculous. He is a good and decent man.

He simply can't hit anymore.

The Orioles didn't blow it when they traded for him. It was the right move at the time. They needed a power hitter. They got one of the best. You have to take chances. This one worked out for about five days in that first spring training in 1991, when Davis hit some monster balls that got everyone excited. How could anyone foresee a bust of this magnitude?

In any event, the time to make a decision is approaching. It's not tough. At this point, Davis is worth more to the club if he isn't wearing a uniform. That's not nice to say, but it's true.

All he is doing now is taking up space. Even a pinch runner would contribute more. As things stand now, Oates has less ammo than his counterpart every night. With 11 pitchers and Davis cluttering up his roster, Oates has only 13 viable position players. His counterparts have 15.

Of course, these things are never easy. Many apparent busts have ultimately flourished. You can't figure it. Kirk Gibson looked like he was finished. Brady Anderson was almost sent to Japan. Jose Mesa couldn't throw strikes here. Davis could always find the skills he lost.

But what are the chances? Anyone got a buck for a lottery ticket? Davis is at a lower ebb now than any of those other players ever were. If he does find what he lost somewhere along the way, he isn't going to find it here. Too much baggage.

Still, the Orioles don't want to give up until they are absolutely sure. You can't blame them. It's their money. The guess here is Oates will give Davis one more shot. A few starts in a row. On this next road trip, without the boos. If something happens, fine. If not, well, there is only so much a team can take. Or should take.

At that point, the only reason not to get rid of Davis will be the money. We're talking about a big, big swallow. Considering that the owner is in bankruptcy court, and never parted easily with his funds anyway, that could be tricky.

But here's a hunch: The Orioles will go ahead and swallow. They won't carry a useless bat all season. They'll try something else. Anything else. It's certainly what should happen.

Either way, when the season is over, they'll sit down and find themselves in a startlingly familiar position. There's little power in the organization. They'll need to make a big move. Take another big shot. Trade for another Glenn Davis. One that doesn't go bust.

Doesn't make you nervous, does it?

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