Davis takes wing, hoping to regain stroke in Rochester Struggling vet accepts temporary assignment

May 28, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer Patti Singer contributed to this article.

NEW YORK -- The strange saga of Orioles first baseman Glenn Davis took another unexpected turn yesterday when he )) voluntarily accepted a temporary assignment to the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings.

Davis, an eight-year veteran who is the second-highest-paid player on the club ($3.8 million), behind Cal Ripken, could have rejected the assignment because he has five years of major-league service, but club officials apparently convinced him could help himself and the team by going to the minor leagues to work out his problems at the plate.

Orioles general manager Roland Hemond announced the move as part of the series of transactions that returned center fielder Mike Devereaux and designated hitter Harold Baines to the active roster. Outfielder Mark Leonard also was optioned to Rochester to make room for the return of Devereaux and Baines from the disabled list.

Davis met with Orioles officials several times during the past three days before accepting the conditional assignment, which included a written guarantee that he would be recalled after appearing in 20 games for the Red Wings.

"He had a right to decline the assignment," Hemond said. "He felt it would be a good move for the club and a good move for him to go down and get his stroke down. What we've agreed to is that he would play 15 to 20 games at Rochester and then we would recall him to the major-league club."

Davis had appeared in 30 games this year and was batting .177 with one home run and nine RBI. He had come back from two years of debilitating injuries to play regularly at first base, only to be pushed out of the everyday lineup by the recent success of David Segui.

The club could have threatened Davis with his unconditional release, but Hemond said team officials did not issue any ultimatums. The Orioles were not ready to eat the remainder of his 1993 contract and probably do not relish the possibility -- however remote -- that Davis might come back to haunt them in another uniform.

"We didn't want to consider that [releasing him]," Hemond said. "We gave that no consideration. We feel that he is not far away from getting to the point where he could be a productive member of this team. He agrees that this is a good baseball move."

Davis was not available for comment. He apparently headed home after an afternoon meeting with Hemond and is not expected to join the Red Wings until Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C. The Red Wings' eight-game road trip includes an exhibition game against the Bowie Baysox on Thursday at Memorial Stadium, and it also will take them to Richmond and Norfolk in Virginia.

If he had not accepted the assignment, the Orioles would have had only two possible courses of action -- release him or keep him on the roster. Hemond said that the disabled list was not a possibility because Davis is healthy.

"He would have stayed on the club," Hemond said, "but how much playing time he would have gotten, I don't know."

The Orioles were depending on Davis to rebound from two years of injuries and re-establish himself as one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball. He had averaged nearly 30 home runs a season during his six-year career with the Houston Astros, but his career took a cruel turn soon after he was traded to the Orioles for Pete Harnisch, Curt Schilling and Steve Finley.

Davis suffered a freakish neck injury during spring training in 1991 and never has been the same since.

The reaction in the Orioles clubhouse was one of surprise that a star player such as Davis would voluntarily go to the minors, but his teammates were supportive of the decision. Even pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, who had questioned Davis' attitude a year ago, expressed hope he could find himself in time to help the Orioles recover from a frustrating start.

"I'm one of the few people here who saw him when he was in Houston," Sutcliffe said. "I know what he was like when he was going good."

Manager Johnny Oates wrote Davis into the starting lineup almost every day for the first five weeks of the season, but finally benched him on May 15 and turned most of the playing time over to Segui. Since then, Segui has raised his batting average to .289 and Davis has appeared in just four games.

Oates praised the unselfishness of Davis, who also allowed club officials to leave him unprotected in the November expansion draft. "He could have said no," Oates said, "but he's also looking out for the ballclub."

There have been times over the past two seasons when Oates expressed exasperation with Davis and his sometimes eccentric behavior. Two weeks ago, Davis went back out on the field at Camden Yards after two games, sitting on the warning track for several hours with a friend on one night and then sitting on the grass, talking with his wife the following night.

Oates said he was concerned about the effect that two months of vocal fan disapproval were having on his veteran first baseman's psyche.

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