Davis leaves O's, signs with Cards 'Disappointed' by offer from O's, outfielder gets $8M for 2 years

'A special part of my life'

Jordan visits today

Womack deal mulled

November 20, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Eric Davis, who in only two seasons graduated from Orioles right fielder to cancer survivor to civic treasure, officially parted ways with the franchise yesterday when he signed a two-year, $8 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Davis, as inspirational a figure as he was productive with the Orioles, became a central piece of a sweeping Cardinals makeover that included a five-player trade immediately before his signing. Though the Cardinals met his asking price, Davis maintained he was "disappointed" that the Orioles had deleted him from their plans for 1999.

"These last two years have been a special part of my life," Davis said. "I wasn't looking forward to leaving Baltimore, but it became clear I wasn't part of their thinking."

The Orioles, as they entertain free-agent outfielder Brian Jordan today, are not assured of retaining any of their eight free agents.

Roberto Alomar is no longer considered a possibility to return at second base, leaving the Orioles to consider a trade for the Pittsburgh Pirates' Tony Womack, a base-stealing whiz with below-average defensive range and on-base percentage.

Left fielder B. J. Surhoff received a modified offer from the New York Mets on Wednesday guaranteeing him $13.5 million for three years with a club option for 2002. The Orioles bumped their bid from $12 million to $12.75 million earlier this week only to be trumped by the small-market Pittsburgh Pirates, who have offered Surhoff a guaranteed four-years worth $14-15 million.

A Wednesday dinner meeting between free-agent first baseman Rafael Palmeiro and majority owner Peter Angelos apparently accomplished little. Palmeiro returned to his Dallas home yesterday no closer to re-signing.

Davis, 36, was not expected to return. The Orioles answered his demand for a two-year, $8 million contract by offering a two-year, $5.6 million deal.

"They were either forcing me to leave or to come in at a lower salary than I deserved," Davis said.

An emotional return

The loss of Davis ends what the former Comeback Player of the Year often described as "a special relationship" between athlete and fans strengthened by an inspirational struggle against cancer.

After having a fist-sized malignancy removed from his colon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in June 1997, Davis underwent eight months of chemotherapy. The taxing treatment didn't prevent his emotional return to the field Sept. 15, 1997. He batted .474 after returning and contributed a pivotal home run during the Orioles' win over the Cleveland Indians in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.

On the anniversary of his surgery, Davis conceded that he will never really know if he is "cured" of the disease. Still, he didn't mind serving as inspiration to others.

"It's something I can't run from. But I don't dwell on it. It's not part of my everyday routine to wake up and think, 'Man, is it going to come back today?' I can't live my life like that," he said.

General manager Frank Wren labeled his decision on Davis as "a tough call" two weeks ago while saying the club needed to get younger and more athletic.

Davis played 173 games in two seasons here. Despite uncertainty about the player's future, majority owner Peter Angelos assumed his $2.5 million option for 1998. Davis responded by hitting a career-high .327 with 28 home runs, 89 RBIs and a team-high .582 slugging percentage.

"I will never, ever forget what Peter did for me. I will never forget that," Davis said. "And I thought by what I did this past season I justified what Peter did for me. If he would not have picked up option at $2.5 million and signed me for $1 million, that wasn't going to stop me from playing the way I played.

"Does what I did last year warrant $2.5 million? Evidently some other people don't think so."

Not part of plan

A lifetime .269 hitter, Davis batted .321 during his stay in Baltimore. However, the club is committed to shedding its label as the game's oldest clubhouse.

Davis said he sensed he was no longer part of manager Ray Miller's plan, which became ingrained with first-year GM Wren.

"I think Ray Miller probably did the same thing Ray Knight did to me in Cincinnati. When I did what I did in '96 [.287, 26 homers, 83 RBIs], the reason they didn't sign me was because the manager didn't think I could do it again. The GM took his word," Davis said.

Miller, attending a dinner meeting with Jordan, agent Jim Turner, Wren and director of player development Syd Thrift, could not be reached to comment.

"I don't dislike Ray," Davis said. "When he was taking a lot of slack last season from other players, I just came to play baseball. I don't need to be pampered or babied; I come to play. It bothers me that I didn't get the same kind of support."

Miller projected last spring that Davis would play 100 games this past season. But despite pulled hamstrings and a bone chip in his right elbow that limited his availability in right field, Davis appeared in 131 games, his most since 1989.

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