After calling Manager John Oates a liar in the clubhouse onLabor Day night, Glenn Davis was responsible for a series of parades in the bowels of Camden Yards—culminating in the end of his Orioles career.
The processionals began when Public Relations Director Rick Vaughn escorted reporters out of the combat zone. Then, General Manager Roland Hemond marched in, prompting the expectation that Davis would exit the clubhouse with a release in hand. Then—because any Davis drama has a role for a doctor or two—team orthopedist Charles Silberstein arrived. Later, Assistant General Manager Frank Robinson joined the party, walking the long subterranean corridor from his office in the warehouse and zipping his lip shut like a school kid as he passed the eight waiting reporters outside the clubhouse.
Minutes before game time, Hemond emerged to announce that “everything has been resolved.” Hemond, Davis, and Oates were all so dismissive of the incident, so lacking in anger or malice, that their statements were actually believable. However, “resolved” in this case meant Davis was gone.
There was no question that Davis had to go, and there was no shortage of reasons why—including the Labor Day shouting match with Oates.
Davis’ tirade was, in isolation, an admirable thing. He wanted his licks against Seattle Mariners lefty Dave Fleming, but the Orioles were starting Mike Pagliarulo—a left-handed-hitting third baseman—at first base. Davis might have thought he was just trying to help the Orioles win a game in their then-unlikely quest for the pennant. But Davis had never hit Fleming well, and in fact hadn’t faced major-league pitching at all since May, when he touched it up for a .177 average. To anyone watching the clubhouse scene, Davis was questioning the manager and at least indirectly criticizing a teammate by contending that he should play in Pagliarulo’s place. Those sentiments, in the middle of a pennant race, led Oates to scream, “This is the last thing we need right now!”
That Davis picked his spot so poorly, and escalated it into an incident that would make the papers, demonstrated the same mix of bad luck and bad judgment that have plagued Davis throughout his Baltimore tenure—especially this year. His most recent injuries—having his jaw busted in a fight outside a bar and getting hit by a foul ball—fed the notion that he had become a magnet for trouble. Baseball lore is filled with players considered lucky by teammates: Yogi Berra, Stan Musial, and maybe even Lonnie Smith among them. Less well documented are their opposite numbers— jinxes, a category into which Davis slipped. Seeing Davis back at his locker in the corner of the clubhouse surely reminded his teammates how many bad things could happen to them.
Davis’ disagreement with Oates, even if motivated by good intentions, emphasized another negative. Davis’ demand to play exemplified the way he put himself ahead of the team. It began when Davis consulted his own physicians and followed his own rehabilitation program to treat injuries that limited him to 185 games in his three-year Oriole career. None of that would have mattered if Davis had hit 30 homers in one of those years. But as Davis repeatedly failed to produce, people found it increasingly difficult to believe that his neck or ribs or shoulder hurt as much as he claimed, particularly since the team’s doctor couldn’t back it up.
Injuries are a risk that every player and team assumes. Most teams protect against injuries through roster depth and, in many cases, insurance policies. Surely Davis did not come to Baltimore intending to get hurt, and he did everything in his power to return to health. But it is hard to accept that, following his ’91 shoulder/neck woes, Davis could believe he was completely healthy. His uncertain health did not prevent him from signing a two-year contract for more than $7 million.
You can give him the benefit of the doubt and buy the notion that last year’s injuries had nothing to do with the ’91 trouble. But the incredible, persistent fall in his power output suggests that Davis just never recovered from the woes that atrophied his right shoulder to the extent that it still hangs lower than his left. If he knew he was damaged, the deeply religious Davis broke the eighth commandment (thou shalt not steal) when he signed that contract and took the money.
Eli’s Next On Davis’ fight night, Oriole owner Eli Jacobs trod the same well-worn path from the warehouse to the clubhouse, chatting with a non-baseball business associate. Jacobs went right by the scene of the tumult and headed for the elevator to the private box that would remain his for perhaps another dozen games. Like that of the orthopedist, Jacobs’ presence was appropriate for a major Davis moment.
Jacobs and Davis are linked in Oriole annals, an association to be remembered mainly because each man behaved completely out of character. Davis, hurt just once in seven seasons in Houston, was the one big-ticket player brought to Baltimore during Jacobs’ four-year tenure. Three years and $10 million later, Davis is going, having taken more than $415,000 of Jacobs’ money for each of his 24 Oriole homers. That was the best, if not the only way, to hurt Jacobs.
During the Jacobs era, the Orioles generally got by with lower-priced talent, with the notable exceptions of Davis and Cal Ripken. Jacobs was lucky enough to buy the O’s just before they moved into an enormously popular stadium, and he emerged from his foray into baseball with $100 million (for his creditors) from the sale, plus millions in operating profits. It barely dented the bottom line, but the two players who last year took the biggest chunks of Jacobs’ change—Davis and Ripken—were enriched by front-office bungles.
In Ripken’s case, the Bird brain trust should have tied him to a long-term deal in ’91, the year before his contract expired. Ripken was coming off a career year. But if the brass were reluctant to sign him under those circumstances, it suggests they were gambling on a bad year from their signature player to save some money. As it played out, Ripken obliged with the worst year of his career, but the team had to pay him the money anyway.
The other explanation for the delay with Ripken—one that makes sense considering Jacobs’ bankruptcy—is that the O’s owner badly misread this market, too. After ’91, a five-year, $20 million contract extension or a new six-year, $23 million deal would have put Ripken near the top of the salary heap while saving the O’s about $10 million—and probably preserving a chunk of Cal’s hairline. The Edward Bennett Williams-era Orioles knew that signing players for the long-term at the current market rate makes sense in a rising market.
In Davis’ case, keeping him around after ’91 was a matter of pride over prudence. The front office kept Davis to justify having traded three players to get him. Following Davis’ first year, it was a good trade gone bad. Giving him two additional unproductive seasons—not to mention $7 million in salary—changed history’s judgment for the worse.
Still, it’s a September to remember for the Orioles, and the memories needn’t be bad. The Birds have their best chance of winning the division since ’89, when they were alive until the penultimate inning of the penultimate game. Even if the Orioles can’t produce a better final result this time, color this stretch drive sunny. By the time it’s over, the two blackest clouds over the franchise will have passed.