REGRETTING L.A.; INJURIES SLOWED DAVIS IN TIME WITH HOMETOWN TEAM.
It has been six years since Eric Davis played in Los Angeles. To many, it might seem he never played there at all.
Not after returning from colon cancer last year to bat .327 with 28 homers in Baltimore. Not with 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases well within range for a career that was often cut short by injuries.
But as Davis, now a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, remembers his 1-1/2 seasons with the Dodgers, he calls it one of the few regrets in 14 major- league seasons.
He had grown up in South Central L.A. and had lived in Woodland Hills since 1985. His childhood buddy Darryl Strawberry was part of a Dodgers outfield that also included Brett Butler. It had the potential to be the greatest in L.A. Dodgers history. But Strawberry went down with a back injury in May 1992 and his career never recovered. Davis had injuries to his neck, left shoulder and left wrist that all later required surgery. The neck forced him to retire after the 1994 season, but he came back after a year.
``I've been through a lot in my life,'' Davis said before Saturday's game with the Dodgers and Cardinals. ``But I've always felt very badly that the fans in L.A. didn't get a chance to see me really play. Everything was in place, coming home, everything. That could have really been something.''
What is really something is the way Davis has responded to every adversity. Once considered surly and aloof, Davis is one of the most popular players in the Cardinals clubhouse. Once reluctant to accept the responsibility of team leadership, he now embraces a more prominent role.
``He is a special, special man,'' said Dodgers manager Davey Johnson, who had Davis in Baltimore in 1997. ``That team had a lot of big names, Cal (Ripken) and Brady (Anderson), but Eric was our leader. Players responded to him and not just after the cancer. He was very important to that team.''
Davis acknowledges that the cancer surgery and subsequent chemotherapy affected his perspective and resolve in a positive way.
He said leadership is a quality, ``set by example, not just performance. It is the respect you get for standing up when times are bad and accepting your part. It is easy for a guy to talk after he's gotten a couple of hits. It's more important that he's there when times are tough.''
He does not look back in anger at Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott, his former boss. The two often battled, including after the Reds won the 1990 World Series. Davis lacerated a kidney in the Series and Schott billed him for the flight back to Cincinnati on a separate medical charter.
Schott has been under suspension from baseball for two years for racially insensitive remarks and forced to sell her part of the Reds.
``I think of her and I'm sad,'' he said. ``She is not a bad person, she just made bad decisions. I think she often trusted in people in Cincinnati that did not have her best interests at heart. There are a lot of powerful people who think like that, but they aren't allowed to do it in public.''
Davis also says poor decision making is at the root of the legal problems facing Strawberry, who was arrested in April for possession of cocaine and soliciting a prostitute. The two remain close and Davis was Strawberry's chief confidante when the Yankees outfielder underwent similar surgery for colon cancer last October. But Davis said he isn't sure Strawberry will escape the demons that have ruined his career.
``Will Darryl ever find peace?'' he said. ``Not until he can find some peace in his heart. He made some bad choices because he has to realize that drugs are a disease that has to be addressed every day.''
Davis, now 37, said he expected to return to Baltimore after last season, but the Cardinals offered a two-year, $8 million contract. Although he has battled the flu the past week, Davis started in right field Saturday night. He entered the game batting .27D4 with three homers and 17 RBI.
Davis said his biggest individual goal is to reach 300 home runs, which should occur next season. After that, he said he would like to stay in baseball in a management capacity. Cincinnati general manager Jim Bowden and Dodgers GM Kevin Malone have talked to him about front-office possibilities down the road.
``I would like to see that someday,'' Davis said. ``I've learned a lot over the years.''
PHOTO Cal Ripken playfully wrestles with ex-teammate Eric Davis, who didn't have such fun as a Dodger.
Roberto Borea/Associated Press
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||May 16, 1999|
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