Davis finds a sense of belonging with O's Embraced early on, slugger more than happy to stay

Inside the Orioles

August 09, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS -- As the Orioles enter negotiations with several of their nine pending free agents, this much has already become clear: Outfielder Eric Davis will remain an Oriole next season and possibly for the season after that. An agreement on a deal is close, according to sources familiar with negotiations, .. and will likely include a guarantee for 1999 and a vesting option for 2000.

The deal would pay Davis about $3.5 million next season. Orioles assistant general manager Davis Kevin Malone and Davis' agent, Eric Goldschmidt, have discussed the framework in recent weeks and could sign off by month's end.

"I think we'll get something done soon," Davis said before this weekend's series against the Minnesota Twins. "It's something everybody wants, I think."

The sentiment is shared across the bargaining table by a club that recognizes Davis' worth as a player, a person and a unifying force within a clubhouse often stereotyped for its divergent factions and selfish agendas. Davis has done more than prove himself recovered from last summer's colon cancer surgery. He has come to symbolize a club written off as lost that now exerts influence on a wild-card race.

Hindered as an everyday outfielder, Davis has embraced a new role as designated hitter. He entered last night's game riding a career-high 23-game hitting streak and hinting at a challenge for a top five berth in batting.

During spring training, manager Ray Miller projected Davis as a part-time player capable of playing in 100 games. Davis played in Game No. 88 last night and has become an effective designated hitter. Until recently, Davis would have construed the role demeaning. Now, as part of his career metamorphosis, Davis recognizes a different way to contribute.

Miller considers Davis "an electric player" who seems to make good things happen. No one dare argue the point now, not as Davis makes a charge at Rafael Palmeiro's club-record hitting streak, not as he celebrates Wednesday's successful fund-raiser the ESPN Zone for the Eric Davis Foundation. Carrying something priceless -- a second chance at life -- Davis continues to seek ways to give back.

Through his foundation, Davis hopes to give children who have confronted cancer a chance to further their education in spite of the enormous financial toll associated with such a struggle.

He wants to give Baltimore what probably will be the last two years of his sometimes spectacular, often frustrating career.

"This is where I want to be. I think everybody knows that. If they don't, they should," said Davis.

Three years after retiring because of a herniated disk in his neck, Davis, 36, is now pushing for his most productive season since 1989 when he batted .281 for the Cincinnati Reds with 34 home runs and 101 RBIs. With 22 and 62 entering last night, he appears a cinch for his third 30-homer season and should challenge for his fourth 90-RBI campaign. He also entered last night batting almost 60 points (.321) more than his career average (.263).

"I came here for a chance to win a World Series. I had that chance last year and I feel we may have that chance again this year," Davis said. "I can't think of a better place for that to happen."

Davis wanted his career to work in Cincinnati, the organization that drafted him in 1980, shifted him from shortstop to outfield, hyped him as the next Willie Mays and eventually won a World Series with him. But numerous injuries and what he still remembers as callous treatment from the front office drove him away. He landed in Los Angeles, Detroit and, as a last resort, Cincinnati again in 1996 following his post-1994 retirement.

Three thousand miles from his Woodland Hills, Calif., hometown, Davis says he has found the acceptance he long craved in Cincinnati. Forever recognized for his five-tool talent, he gained something more valuable once coming to the Orioles.

"Even before I got sick, people seemed to like me for who I was more than what I was," he recalled. "Here, I've always been a person first."

The impression only deepened following Davis' surgery last summer when owner Peter Angelos visited him at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Without prompting, Angelos promised Davis the club would assume his $2.5 million option for this season regardless of his condition. At the time, no one knew when or if Davis would play again.

From a purely baseball standpoint, it was a wrong-headed move. Angelos based his call solely on Davis' character and what he believed "the right thing to do." Davis remembers.

"I don't want to go out on the market as a free agent and have other teams bid against this organization," Davis said.

He then flashes an electric smile and added, "I remember."

Pub Date: 8/09/98

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