Davis writes about Miller's wrongs

Inside the Orioles

Former Oriole criticizes manager in autobiography

April 11, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Eric Davis' two-year embrace with the Orioles officially ended Nov. 19 when he signed a two-year, $8 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. Davis had previously played for three other organizations, won a World Series and been recognized as one of the most gifted talents of his time. However, his career was defined during his time in Baltimore. Here, he became a transcendent figure rather than just a ballplayer. He became a survivor in the truest sense.

Just as Davis became part of Baltimore's tapestry, his Baltimore experience represents a large part of his autobiography, "Born To Play: The Eric Davis Story" (Viking), to be released tomorrow in New York. Coincidentally, the Orioles will be in town Tuesday to open a series against the Yankees.

Based on Davis' recollections as put forth by former Sports Illustrated staff writer Ralph Wiley, Orioles manager Ray Miller isn't on the invitation list.

The 278-page book is subtitled "Life Lessons in Overcoming Adversity On and Off the Field." While much of the work focuses on his confronting colon cancer after receiving the diagnosis in June 1997, Davis describes the '98 season and his eventual departure from the team as one of the most frustrating times in his career. Davis speaks well of Charm City, his teammates, majority owner Peter Angelos and the team's fans, but he largely holds Miller accountable for a 79-83 fourth-place season that he describes as sabotaged by an inexperienced, insecure manager.

To read the book, Davis was never going to mesh with Miller. First, Miller followed Davey Johnson, whom Davis thought owned the blueprint for a major-league manager. Davis' first impression of his new manager became a sour one when Miller projected during spring training that Davis would serve as his fifth outfielder and likely be restricted to 100 games.

Davis criticizes Miller for his inconsistent lineups -- Davis remains confused by his hitting second for much of June -- and his poor feel for players. Davis still can't believe being replaced by pinch hitter Rich Becker in New York last June.

The criticisms aren't new. Davis weighed in last April against the ill-fitting rotation among himself, Joe Carter and Harold Baines, perhaps more of a front-office misstep than Miller's. It's also clear Davis believes Miller waited too long to drop injured center fielder Brady Anderson in the order and that he considers his former manager a hindrance rather than a help to team chemistry.

Davis also breaks the silence regarding last August's ruinous clubhouse meeting in Chicago. Davis verifies accounts of Miller ripping into second baseman Roberto Alomar, who responded to Miller's criticism by insisting fault lay with the manager rather than the players. Davis leaves out that the confrontation nearly became a physical one.

Others might attempt revisionist history or downplay the incident, but Davis' account accurately cited the season's final turning point. The Orioles were 31-11 after the All-Star break entering the White Sox series. They exited exhausted, dispirited and not ready for September. The Orioles finished the season with a 10-23 collapse, and on Sept. 27, Alomar hurried from the Fenway Park visitors' clubhouse without acknowledging most of those he knew would become his former teammates.

Davis' view of Miller had irreversibly dimmed before the meeting. He considered the manager's reliance on statistics as a sign of weakness rather than strength. Remembering Miller's reference to him last summer as one of his "favorites," Davis counters, "Being somebody's favorite isn't always a help to them. A favorite can be asked to get one hitter too many. A favorite can be asked to play when he's injured and shouldn't be in there because he's hurting the team more than helping it."

Davis still considers Miller the central player in his departure, a point he reiterated as recently as February. However, Davis' view on this one is somewhat simplistic.

True, Miller later advocated importing less injury-prone players while Davis still carries bone chips in his right elbow and two delicate hamstrings. However, the possibility of retaining Davis as a full-time designated hitter -- an option Miller says he would have endorsed -- evaporated when Angelos spearheaded the surprise signing of 40-year-old Harold Baines to a one-year, $1.5 million extension last Sept. 4. The move blindsided Miller, who still questioned its logic as recently as spring training. Because Baines can no longer play outfield, Davis' susceptibility to hamstring and elbow problems made him a risky commodity (though the Cardinals obviously disagreed). General manager Frank Wren's public insistence on a more "athletic" team also rankled Davis, a former basketball star who carries less than 5 percent body fat.

Davis' Orioles experience represents about three of 14 chapters. Cal Ripken is considered "a brother." His respect for Baines is boundless. But unfortunately for one of the most charismatic men ever to wear an Orioles uniform, Davis' self-portrayal is of one both elevated and disenchanted by his experience.

Davis will sign copies of "Born to Play" at 5 p.m. tomorrow at Bibelot in Timonium Crossing.

Pub Date: 4/11/99

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