Davis' big day: award, contract O's outfielder gets Clemente honor

club picks up $2.5M option

October 23, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- Orioles outfielder Eric Davis has carried on his fight against cancer in front of the world, and has done so with such grace and altruistic spirit that the baseball world took special notice yesterday.

Davis received the Roberto Clemente Man of the Year Award at a media gathering before Game 4 of the 93rd World Series, and also received some welcome -- though not unexpected -- news from the Orioles.

The club helped Davis celebrate baseball's most prestigious off-the-field honor by officially fulfilling owner Peter Angelos' June pledge to renew his contract, picking up a $2.5 million option for the 1998 season.

Not a bad day for the 35-year-old outfielder, who achieved his goal of returning to the Orioles' lineup for the final weeks of the regular season and postseason while he continued to receive chemotherapy. He quickly became a local hero, both because of the courageous way he responded to the diagnosis and because of the way he used his fame to touch the lives of other cancer patients.

"I don't have words to describe how I feel right now," Davis said. "I feel that if I can only be half the man that Roberto Clemente was, then I'm moving in the right direction."

The award is named for the Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Famer who died in a 1972 plane crash during a mission to deliver relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. It is given annually to the player who personifies the humanitarian ideals championed by Clemente.

It's the fourth time an Oriole has won the award. Brooks Robinson was honored in 1972, Ken Singleton in 1982 and Cal Ripken in 1992.

During yesterday's award ceremony, the True Value Hardware Company donated $25,000 in Davis' name to the Johns Hopkins Colon Cancer Center and $28,000 to the Roberto Clemente Foundation. Clemente's widow, Vera, and his son, Roberto Clemente Jr., participated in the award presentation along with interim baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

"I don't consider myself a hero," Davis said. "I consider myself to have been blessed with an attitude about life that I credit to my parents. This year has been tough because I was diagnosed with cancer and [because of] the death of my older brother, but I try not to dwell on the negative.

"When I was diagnosed with cancer -- even though I'm 35 years old -- my dreams did not stop. Through the grace of God, my dream of getting back in uniform came true."

The decision by Orioles management to exercise the club option on his contract did not come as a surprise, though the club made the announcement early to coincide with the award ceremony. Soon after Davis underwent surgery to remove a cancerous mass from his colon in June, Angelos announced that he intended to bring the veteran outfielder back for the option year of his contract.

Davis' contribution was limited by his long absence from the starting lineup, but he was a big contributor to the club's strong start in April and May and delivered a couple of big hits during the postseason. His home run in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series proved decisive and forced the playoffs back to Baltimore, though the club was eliminated by the Cleveland Indians in Game 6.

General manager Pat Gillick said yesterday that the decision to renew Davis' contract was not based on sentiment.

"I don't think that any contract decision is based entirely on physical talent," Gillick said, "but we're optimistic he's going to make a full recovery and come back. We feel that at $2.5 million, he's a real good deal. We look for him to come back and have a good year in 1998. It's a baseball decision. It was not made on emotion."

Clemente winners

Year ..Winner, Team

'71 ...Willie Mays, S.F.

'72 ...Brooks Robinson, Orioles

'73 ...Al Kaline, Det.

'74 ...Willie Stargell, Pitt.

'75 ...Lou Brock, StL.

'76 ...Pete Rose, Cinc.

'77 ...Rod Carew, Minn.

'78 ...Greg Luzinski, Phil.

'79 ...Andre Thornton, Cle.

'80 ...Phil Niekro, Atl.

'81 ...Steve Garvey, L.A.

'82 ...Ken Singleton, Orioles

'83 ...Cecil Cooper, Milw.

'84 ...Ron Guidry, N.Y.Y

'85 ...Don Baylor, N.Y.Y

'86 ...Garry Maddox, Phil.

'87 ...Rick Sutcliffe, Ch.C

'88 ...Dale Murphy, Atl.

'89 ...Gary Carter, N.Y.M

'90 ...Dave Stewart, Oak.

'91 ...Harold Reynolds, Sea.

'92 ...Cal Ripken, Orioles

'93 ...Barry Larkin, Cinc.

'94 ...Dave Winfield, Minn.

'95 ...Ozzie Smith, StL.

'96 ...Kirby Puckett, Minn.

'97 ...Eric Davis, Orioles

Pub Date: 10/23/97

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