Injuries are sore spot with Davis Outfielder: Saying his painful past is behind him, Orioles newcomer Eric Davis is taking a healthy approach into the new season.

March 31, 1997|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Go ahead and ask Eric Davis about his hitting. Ask him about the three Gold Gloves he keeps at his California home and the move from center field to right and his reasons for signing with the Orioles.

Just lay off the injuries.

They're a dead issue, and he plans to keep it that way.

Davis is healthy, and he wants that understood more than anything. The herniated disk in his neck that drove him into retirement two years ago is healed. So are the vast assortment of breaks, sprains and bruises that were spliced into what had the makings of a Hall of Fame career.

"I guess I should take it that somebody cares. If you don't ask me, you don't care. So I just try to roll with it," he said.

"I'm not even concerning myself with health problems. I feel good."

Last season should have proved something to his doubters. Or did they forget his triumphant return to the Cincinnati Reds, who had plucked him from the eighth round of the June 1980 draft and brought him to the majors four years later?

There were 26 home runs and 83 RBIs, 23 stolen bases and a .287 average. He also made a brief stop on the disabled list because of bruised ribs, but his 129 games were the most he had played since 1989, and tied the fourth-highest total of his career.

Now look at what he's done this spring: A .313 average, five doubles, three home runs -- none of them cheap -- and 10 RBIs. He's stolen four bases, and a few extra-base hits with acrobatic catches.

This is something Orioles fans will get used to seeing; Davis, 34, making the long run and diving for the ball, sacrificing a hard, muscular body that looks as though it lives in the weight room. A body that soaks in the clubhouse whirlpool while he reads the morning paper.

"I told him the other day, 'Every time you hit the ground, I pray that you're healthy,' " said Kevin Malone, the club's assistant general manager. "He said, 'I'm going to be fine.' "

Malone said that signing Davis, for one year at $2.2 million, was somewhat of a gamble. But it was worth taking.

"He was pretty much healthy all last year," Malone said. "We think he's over that hump. There's always risk involved, but we felt, for the money we spent, the return -- the reward -- was much greater than the risk.

"We really like everything he brings to the team. He's a complete player. He can beat you in all phases of the game. And there's his attitude, his makeup. He's a team player. He knows how to win. He plays hard. He works hard."

"The biggest thing is he's a leader," said third base coach Sam Perlozzo, who was with Davis in Cincinnati the year the Reds won the World Series in 1990. "He's a force on your ballclub just by his presence. He gives you a sense of security, that you've got a real veteran out there who's a gamer. And he's a multidimensional player. He'll play good defense, throw, run as good as anyone, steal bases, hit for power and hit for average. And he's serious when he's out on the field."

That's the key, keeping Davis on the field.

He left it after the 1994 season, when he batted .183 in 37 games with the Detroit Tigers. And he had no intention of returning.

Still, his love of the game kept pulling him back, and the people closest to Davis were nudging him in that direction.

"They wanted me to come back. Family, friends, ex-teammates, they were constantly telling me I shouldn't be retired, that the game still needs me," he said.

"I took that to heart, and things worked out."

Davis said he thought he would finish his career with the Reds, where he hit 203 of his 231 career homers and stole 270 bases. "But if I've learned anything in this game, it's you can't take things for granted," he said.

Instead, he took the Orioles' offer and became their new right fielder, a position that was weak defensively last season with Bobby Bonilla, who signed as a free agent with the Florida Marlins.

"The No. 1 aspect was the opportunity to win and having a manager like Davey [Johnson]. I just thought it was the best fit for me at this time," Davis said.

"When I retired, I was on the outside looking in, and I realized, 'Hey, you're truly blessed to be able to put that uniform on, so take advantage of that opportunity.' There are a lot of people who wish they could do what we do."

Davis wishes he could have done more during his two years playing for his hometown team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was traded there before the 1992 season, then missed time with a sprained left shoulder and a fractured left wrist, eventually needing surgery on both. On Aug. 31, 1993, he was shipped to Detroit for pitcher John DeSilva.

"That was just an unfortunate situation," he said. "I was beat up. I couldn't do anything. If there's anything I regret, it's not being able to give them the kind of player I am. I just wasn't physically able to do it."

The Orioles are counting on him to do much more.

"He brings everything," said outfielder Tony Tarasco, whose locker was next to Davis' in spring training. "Power, speed, leadership, comedy."

Comedy?

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