- ISBN: 9780670885114 | 0670885118
- Cover: Hardcover
- Copyright: 4/1/1999
|PART I: SPRING||3||(74)|
|PART II: SUMMER||77||(56)|
|PART III: FALL||133||(68)|
|PART IV: WINTER||201||(74)|
ONE / SPRING 1998
Trouble at Work
Know Your Craft and Personnel
My whole life's been a trial and a blessing. I've lived and learned that a bad thing can turn out to be a good thing, and a good thing can become a learning experience. That's the way it often is. It's important to see things as they are, as well as how you wish they would be. I've been a professional ballplayer for eighteen years now, here in the spring of 1998, and a major leaguer for thirteen. Few things that I know of feel better than hitting a home run in the big leagues. If there was a way to tell you how that feels, to put wood on a big-league pitch and knock it out of the ballpark, then I'd share it with you, because, bottom out, that's just the kind of person I am. If everyone could know how it feels ... but there isn't a way to describe it. You have to feel it.
I'll tell you what you can do. You can listen to the sound, and by that know the feeling is there. The louder the knock, the better a ball's been hit. When you hear that sound, it means another spring training, then another grind--162 games to see who can play best. I'm still getting around on the cheese--the ball still jumps off my bat as colors spin around me. Orange uniform numbers. White bases. Blue sky. Brown dirt. Green grass. I'm grateful to be here in Fort Lauderdale with the Baltimore Orioles baseball club. This is what I know, love, do--have done for a while. This is me.
It's probably similar for my teammates this season. All of us are back for one more go-round. That's getting rarer these days. Teams don't stay together. Now, not only can you get traded; you can walk free agent. Or your time may be up. Happens to everybody eventually.
Sooner or later it'll happen to me. But not today.
I'm in the cage, taking my cuts. Scotty Erickson is bringing it. Scott throws a heavy ball. Can splinter your bat almost just by looking at it. I line one out the opposite way anyhow. Fans in the stands cheer and call my name. "Eric! Good hit, Eric!" "Hey, Eric! Nice job!" "We love you!"
Teammates will say just about anything to one another, kidding around. Outfielder Tony Tarasco, who ain't gonna make this club and knows it--Joe Carter's here, over from Toronto--just said to me that my chemotherapy "aroused" him, made him "want" me. Said it gave him a "tingle."
"Funny guy." I sneered, snorted, then smiled. I ain't mad at him. I jump back in the cage.
"`Oh Eric, we love you Eric,'" Joe mocks me in a falsetto voice as a few Baltimore-based TV cameras film us. Joe smiles. Got one of those disarming lightbulb smiles. Joe says, "Oh, so you're a movie star now. Ah, Eric Davis is old news. There's a new guy in town. `Oh, we love you Eric.'"
Joe's kidding. Maybe he doesn't know that the fans appreciate me coming back from cancer. Joe was adored by the Toronto fans in his day because he produced--354 career homers and the walk-off job to win the World Series in '93. Maybe being adored is addictive and you get to wanting it all the time. But when that grind gets to grinding, when the days get muggy and long and that Lamp, the sun, beams down in the dog days of July and August, then it'll be all about production, smiling or not. Cancer or not. Quietly I say to Joe, "It's just one day, Joe. Let me have my day."
I feel lucky--no, not lucky, blessed --to be back among top-end big leaguers. I had cancer, a malignant tumor, and I'm lucky to be alive. I didn't have to be alive, let alone facing big-league pitching. There's an art and a science to facing big-league pitching, and also a ritual--things that take years to learn. If you haven't learned, the pitchers know you don't know. I've been buzzed chin-high by the best, at the highest level. Sometimes they got me, sometimes I got them. It's been a battle. Can't say if I won their respect. They won mine. Not for throwing at me; that only gets my blood going. No, I respect them for getting me out, because I'm not an easy guy to get.
But I fear no pitcher. I've already faced tough situations, not just in the big leagues. Grew up in what turned out to be a tough 'hood in L.A. Lost a loved one to it. Smashed up my kidney something terrible during the 1990 World Series. Nearly died. Spent years in the minors. Had nine surgeries. And just last year, in '97, I had colon cancer. A malignant tumor the size of an orange, or a baseball, was removed from me, along with a third of my colon. I took 36 chemotherapy treatments prior to the spring of '98. But I still come to the post. They'll have to tear this uniform off me one day. And only God determines when the harvest time has come.
I just keep on plugging, and let His will be done.
A week ago, on February 11, I drove from our home in Woodland Hills to the treatment facility at the UCLA Medical Center. I took the Ventura Freeway to the 405, to Westwood. I didn't want to go, didn't feel up to it, but I had to go. Once in there I smiled at the other patients. Some smiled back, even some too weak to hold a smile very long. I know how they felt. I was with 'em, part of a battle that's unspectacular, not so crowd-pleasing as what I do for a living. No less of a battle than facing 97-m.p.h. cheese. I was taking my last chemo treatment. (Rather face the cheese.)
Chemo is like--well, snakebite, I guess. Glass bottles of Leucovorin and volatile 5FU hung over me as I sipped the tea my wife, Sherrie, made from herbs she got from Robin Anthony, wife of the ex-Dodger outfielder Eric Anthony. As usual I didn't watch as the urine-colored 5FU dripped into my arm. Focused elsewhere. Sometimes I brought videos of movies. Two-hour movies. Two-hour treatments. If you don't occupy yourself during chemo, each drip seems to take forever and each drop is like a big gong going off inside you. Now the Leucovorin. It's clear, colorless. Then I was finally done. The reactions I developed when I first began treatment last July--the heightened, sickening sense of smell, the queasiness--had subsided a great deal by then but were still there. I'd taken the full cycle, was thankful the side effects were no worse. Dr. William Isakoff said we'd continue monitoring for five years for reappearance of the cancer. But as far as I was concerned this was it, the last treatment. After eight months, the ordeal was over. Made it with prayer-- fierce prayer, a prayer party --God's help, and that of my mother, father, sister, wife, and family.
It was hard mentally to go from Woodland Hills to the medical facility over in Westwood. Adjuvant chemotherapy, begun six weeks after my surgery on June 13, 1997, at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. Some of my old guts are gone; I've still got some left. I had to take chemotherapy, not just for my sake but for my daughters, Erica, Sacha; for my wife, Sherrie; my mother, Shirley--for my whole family. People do look up to me. Some I know, some I don't. Some I met in the cancer wards. Some come to the ballpark, even in pain. When I hit a ball, as long as that ball's in flight, their pain is suspended. People with handicaps are more passionate about the players than Joe Average. Joe Average mulls over all that glue, the money ballplayers make. People in wheelchairs, heads made bald by radiation or chemo--they admire the skill, the battle. Money can't help you get a hit off the Big Unit--or cancer. So cancer survivors can relate, know without speaking that we share a battle. If I'm in there playing, I don't want to be seen as damaged goods, or a symbol. But that's probably the case. Invite him back because he showed courage, but don't depend on him. Get Joe in here. One of the minor-league outfielders is almost ready. Joe is older, even more grizzled than me. He can take care of himself. But comparing a young player like Jeffrey Hammonds to me isn't fair to Jeffrey. I remember when I came up and was compared to Willie Mays. I was able to do things, but I couldn't carry Willie Mays, and Jeffrey can't carry Eric Davis. Being a symbol isn't why I play. I play because I love to, always did, always could, and I took on baseball as a job years ago. Do what you love. It'll still become a job, but that love will still be in there. I once heard a definition for the most unforgettable love of your life--great sex, and great heartache and pain. I think of hitting a homer, or about striking out, or about nine surgeries, and I like that definition. I'd like to think all this time I spent playing wasn't wasted. People in chemo, who cheer or who wait at the ramps, my family, my girls--by them being there, they tell me, "It wasn't wasted time."
Hope my teammates don't doubt me--especially not after what happened last season.
Feels good to be back with Baltimore, back in the Show, period. I want my teammates to know I'm good, that ol' E.D. won't let 'em down. I worked out in a different way this off-season, due to the chemotherapy. No weight training. Instead I worked in the martial arts, deep thinking, meditation, stretching, yogalike activity, working both inside and out. And now I want 'em to know they don't have to treat me different, or expect any less than my usual. I'm healthy, 100 percent--maybe 99 44/100 percent if you count my being 35, soon to be 36, then 37, and missing a section of intestine. Other than that, I feel strong. What else could it be but the grace of God?
I let my personality out. When you join a club, you get to see how another big leaguer gets his numbers. You know him then. You can read box scores, watch highlights, but that doesn't tell you how a guy gets his numbers, where his mass is, off what pitches he thrives, in what situations he's comfortable, how the umpiring affects him, what he believes in, how he came up in the game, what he can joke about, or can't, all kinda stuff. You want to know, so you can complement him within your own game, if you can. How to best set him up to be successful. Within a couple of months of joining the Orioles, I could imitate perfectly the batting stances of all my teammates.
"This is Harold," I say, assuming Harold Baines's stance. I exaggerate it some. Everyone smiles. Bainesy laughs. Then I do Roberto Alomar's stance. He laughs. I do Hammer, jumping up, turning in a circle, saying "Aw c'mon, Blue!" Hammer says, "Pops, that's not me," but he's smiling, because he knows it is. I jump back in the cage, set another one off to right-center, a drive deep into the bleacher seats. They're made of metal. The ball bangs off them loudly. Somebody barks like a hungry dog. "Let the big dog eat!" That's how it starts for me. Right-center-field bleachers on a line. When I go deep in the spring, it's to right-center. As summer arrives, I'll drop an ounce on the bat, to 31. Then I'll be pulling--taking pitches to the back wall of many an AL bullpen.
That night I fix a big meal for some of my teammates. Cook oxtails in a pressure cooker 'til the meat is falling off the bone, whip up some greens (turkey is lean, you can season it to taste, but honestly? I slipped some ham in the greens), candied sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese. I can eat like that again, occasionally, even with a third of my large intestine gone. Guys stop by--Lenny Webster, Hammer, Eddie Murray--eat like there's no tomorrow. We talk about Mike Mussina's knuckle-curve, that Frisbee of his, and other things that oughta be illegal. Before dropping off to sleep, I lie alone in my bed, listening to my body. Feels quiet. Healed. God brought me back for something.
Jupiter, Florida--early March. Standing in against some kid for the Montreal Expos. Don't know who he is. If he makes it, I'll learn him. Montreal is always beating the bushes, finding a live arm from Dominica or Venezuela who the Expos can squeeze wins from before he goes free agent and Montreal loses him to the Yankees, Dodgers, Braves, Orioles, Indians, some team that can afford him if he's worth it. The big leagues weed them out. Right now, this is just some kid trying to make the club, rushing it up there for all he's worth. I stand in calm, hands twisting around the bat handle, held in front of and just below the Oriole insignia on the uniform top.
Everything upright. Relaxed. Deep in the box.
The rookie's arm whips forward and I see the release point clearly; he brings me belt-high gas. I turn. Helps to be strong in the gut. Bomb contact--feels like it always does when you catch one on the sweet spot, in your wheelhouse. Like feeling a color. Like you swallowed the Lamp, but it don't burn bad, burns good. I don't watch it. I look in our dugout. I like to see their faces when I take a guy deep. Plus I don't want to show pitch up. May have to face him again, next time with something on the line. I want him to think he can get me. The pitcher has his hands on his hips. I don't know him. But he knows me, now.
"Hey Keith man, you're Eric Davis!"
There's a reason I lasted, a reason I survived in the big leagues, and survived cancer. A strategy was developed, and a lot of lessons learned. There's a plan. What is the plan? Well, it's God's Plan first , that has to be acknowledged first , in order for anything else good to happen in your life. That ain't just a loose excuse, that's my life, the reality of my life. God has always been my manager. My job is to play what he deals. Sometimes you just have to go on faith.
I hit .474 the first seven games. Three homers. I worked. I prayed. I got dog tired of being in Florida. Ray Miller, the new manager, says I've got nothing to prove. Says he wants me in 100 games. My wonder is not whether I can play 100. I wonder whether that's all we'll need for us to win. I don't wonder if the cancer cells have been removed from my body. I give that one to God.
* * *
In an early season April home game, three of us threw out the ceremonial first pitch--me; Boog Powell, the old Orioles' first baseman; and a player from the minor leagues named Joel Stephens. Boog is in his fifties, I'm in my deep thirties, Joel is in his early twenties. We all have had colon cancer. We can't ask "Why me?" because why not me? That's your first thought, and for some that's the first answer. Boog played first base in Baltimore for years. Joel has been an outfielder in the minors for two and a half years. He said he paid attention to how I handled the cancer. He said he had a goal now, to get in an at-bat during the upcoming season. I told him I understood that, and would pray he'd do it.
Mr. Angelos says, "Once an Oriole always an Oriole." I've learned to take the man at his word. Not that he's above making mistakes. We're all only human, but for a ball club owner, I don't think I've met anyone better than Mr. Angelos. Watching this organization run when I first came here in '97 was like watching a Ferrari in a Grand Prix. All the pieces fit in a machine with a lot of horsepower: mechanics, great; pit people, great; car owner, great. All we need is a driver.
Ray Miller, pitching coach last year, is taking over for Davey Johnson, a great manager, one of the best that ever came down the pike, as far as I know. Davey believed in me. When I came back from cancer surgery and chemo last year, he gave me every opportunity to hit my way onto the playoff roster--when I did it, he didn't resent it, he was happy for me. He knew I could help him and the ball club. That's supposed to be the bottom line. The Orioles were all about winning, an organization dedicated to providing a community service, and they did it with a lot of class and style. That doesn't mean mistakes wouldn't be made. We all make outs.
We started off business as usual. For other teams that would mean a house afire. A 10-2 record out the gate was not crazy good for us, not if we pitched well. In baseball, pitching is everything. Pitching is key. And pitching is delicate. It dictates winning and losing; can make or break a streak. You can go to Atlanta (or New York in the '98 season) and come out of there 0-for-19 real easy. And after that quick start, we began to wobble, badly. Ray used 20 different batting orders barely a month into the season. Seemed to favor hitting me or Joe Carter second, behind slumping Brady Anderson. He hit me or Joe second 30 times. A waste. In the bullpen, we had arms, but no proven closer. Last season's closer, Randy Myers, went over to Toronto, after Davey Johnson stepped down as manager after winning 98 games. Manager of the Year one day, gone the next. Armando Benitez has the stuff but not the experience. Thinks being closer means staying in the clubhouse working out until the sixth inning, like Myers. That's not it at all. It's just as simple and as hard as getting big-league hitters out. Got a pitching coach as a manager now. Last season, 1997, with Mike Mussina, Erickson, and Jimmy Key being right on the beam as starters, pitching good all year, we were strong. In 1998: What's wrong with this picture? If anything happens to Mussina, Erickson, or Key--trouble. In the 162-game grind, wherever you're short, it comes out.
The funny thing about Davey Johnson is, he's been with all these teams, everybody says how good they were--how lucky he was to be managing the Mets in the '80s, the Reds in the mid-'90s, Baltimore the last couple of years--but when he leaves, those teams don't do so well for a while. I don't know if Pat Gillick and Kevin Malone, the Oriole general manager and assistant, wanted Ray Miller to manage. It'll take time for him. Managing's a whole other gig--keeping everybody ready, using 'em right, playing to their strengths, handling different game situations. Sometimes the best managing is no managing. Especially with talented veterans. Ray was Mr. Angelos's call, they say, so it's hard. Never played for an owner in baseball that I respect in the same way I do Peter Angelos. And I'll never forget what he did for me. I owe him my best efforts to get a World Series title. But with the shape of our pitching in early 1998, seems like the best we can do is .500.
Over in the National League, you carry 10, 11 pitchers on a roster, tops, or that's been my experience. This season, we have a short bench of everyday players because we are carrying 12 pitchers. Twelve arms on a 25-man roster. Carrying 12, pitching better be a strength. We have three legit starters--Mussina, Erickson, and Key. Two of them got hurt in May. DL--disabled list. Got four lefties, but none of them are starters. As for Ray, he's a good pitching coach, but sometimes you can be good at one thing, then take on more responsibilities and lose the edge on the very thing you're good at. Ray's been using a lot of experimental batting orders, hitting Brady leadoff, then me or Joe, maybe B.J., Raffy, then Robby, then Cal--it's been throwing guys off. Robby's a number two hitter. You can hit him leadoff, even third, but ideally he's a number two hitter. As we struggled in May and June, Ray had Robby hitting fifth--supposedly protecting Rafael Palmeiro. But Bay-Bay don't have the pop to protect nobody. He's not that kind of hitter. Robby's more a table setter. Hitting second changes my approach, my preparation. You look to advance runners, hit to right. By the All Star break I had 11 homers. Ten were solo. Joe had 10 homers. All of his were solo. My at-bats were short, but I understood that everybody wanted to play. I think we'll win if I'm in there. As a big leaguer, it's the only way to think. If you ever stop thinking that, it's time to go home.
So what do we do? We get swept by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays , at home, four games! Swept by Devil Rays?! Drabek took the last loss, May 18. Gave up five in four frames. Hit rock bottom. I tossed and turned that night. Davey Johnson was in Florida, laughing probably. I take that back. Davey was probably mad, probably felt he should be at the helm of the club right now.
Early June. We haven't seen .500 since Mike Mussina got hit in the face by a line drive off Sandy Alomar's bat on May 14, suffering a broken nose and bad facial lacerations. He's gonna miss some turns, and when he does come back it'll take a while for him to be Moose again.
Jimmy Key went on the 60-day DL a few days later. Bad rotator cuff.
Now Ray has taken to pinch-hitting for me in late-game situations. Happened in Anaheim, with my family in the stands. Then in Tampa, against Esteban Yan. I don't care anything about any Esteban Yan. Mariano Rivera either. Ray still pinch-hit me with Harold Baines. H.B.'s a great hitter. I don't particularly like being pinch-hit for, just to get a lefty-righty matchup. I understand it more with Bainesy--as a hitter he's my equal. Or better. Well ... sometimes. When Tampa Bay came into Baltimore, I faced Yan and took him to the back of the bullpen for a home run. Just to try and clear up misgivings Ray might have about me. Right now there appears to be many.
The batting order is still not set. Brady's still struggling. Took 80 games for Ray to move B.A. out of leadoff. Hitting second--safe to say I never hit second before. I'm an RBI guy, my bat can protect another RBI guy, I'm going to get numbers if I'm healthy. The book says .269 lifetime hitter, but that's not me. I shouldn't have even been out there from 1991 through 1994 with that damaged kidney. I'm .290. A hard .290. Batting average is overrated anyway. Reggie Jackson is lifetime .263, anyway. It's all about run production. Do you score, drive runs home? Although I had 25 extra-base hits at the All Star break, I only had 28 RBI. Batting second, nobody on.
As a big leaguer, you have to get your numbers in order to stay around. Knowing that can cause funny things to happen sometimes. Just that little bit of selfishness--like, a base hit up the middle with a runner on second. Say the runner on second is, ah, unfast, like quite a few of our guys are. You want that guy to get around with your RBI, so maybe you steam in toward second base to draw the throw from the cutoff man, making sure the run scores but also running into an out, killing a rally for the team, maybe. Or say a guy's running, got second base stolen, but you swing anyway 'cause there's a hole where a middle infielder went to cover the bag. Maybe you do this when the hit-and-run's not on. Maybe a 3-1 pitch, runners at second and third, and it figures to be the cheese, so you swing over the top of it because it's actually a splitter; but see, you want those ribbies, instead of taking the walk, letting the guy behind you put in some work. Subtle things.
No one has really accepted the reason why the Orioles are losing this year. I don't think they want to accept it. Our manager is trying to prove he can manage, instead of just letting the club play; the starting pitching is short due to injury; some arms in the rotation and the pen can't get big-league hitters out anymore. We aren't good enough. The batting order is all out of whack. Nothing's going right. After Rafael Palmeiro went deep against the Yankees on June 15 during the first game of a three-game set at Camden Yards against New York, Yankee pitcher Mike Stanton came back and immediately hit me dead square in the back with a fastball. It did hurt--don't ever think that ball doesn't hurt--but I didn't charge the mound. Didn't know if our pitchers would protect me or not. Tino Martinez got hit in the back by Armando Benitez at Yankee Stadium, after a Bernie Williams three-run homer, precipitating a brawl. I knew how to answer. Go deep. Let your pitchers handle the rest. Later I was asked if I thought Stanton tried to hit me. I couldn't say. Looking at the video, at his release point, let's just say I don't think he was trying to miss me.
On Wednesday, June 17, the largest crowd in the history of Camden Yards shows up for the Yankees. I'm in right field. Mussina is pitching, but he's not right yet. He walks the light-hitting Luis Sojo, so Darryl Strawberry comes up in the first inning. Straw gets a change-up and takes it out--high, deep, way beyond the center-field wall, a towering drive, moon shot; it lands 467 feet away at the base of the ivy-covered hitter's backdrop behind center. I stand in right. That's the longest ball that's been hit at Camden Yards. I had the third-longest hit there. Now I had number four. I hit it in '94, when I was with Sparky Anderson's Detroit Tigers. Dead center too. Straw's bomb gives the Yanks a 3-0 lead. We've been battling since we were boys, me and Straw, so it was just a matter of time before my turn came. Straw and me, we go back. We competed against each other in Little League. Usually it's been, he makes a play, I make a play. Or, vice versa. My turn.
In the eighth inning, with Joe aboard, I'm due up. Yankee manager Joe Torre comes out of the dugout immediately. Some people think because I had cancer I'm weaker now. But I notice managers like Joe Torte will have a mound meeting on me in a minute. They still call the bullpen for me. Torre doesn't want Andy Pettitte facing me a third time: 5-2 Yankees. This is my element, the late-game RBI spot. I'm not punching out often in that spot. I'm looking for something I can drive, but I'll chip the good pitch down the right-field line, go up the middle if I need to. We need something to win this game. I'm standing in the on-deck circle; Raffy behind me. Torre brings in Mariano Rivera, fastballer, the ninth-inning closer, even though it's only the eighth inning.
"You're gonna take him out, kid," Raffy says to me.
"If he brings me the cheese, he's mine, kid," I say, swinging an iron rod around as we talk.
Ray pinch-hits for me. At first I think, `Oh, okay, Bainesy.' Then I frown, Bainesy is on the DL. So Ray hits for me with Rich Becker, an outfielder we picked up off waivers from the Mets. Pinch-hitting for me, in a late-game home-run situation? With Rich? He's a legitimate big leaguer, but I had to look down at my own self, to see if I was still me. I didn't want to see what happened. I went into the clubhouse alone, took a shower, dressed. Rich grounded out to second. We lost. Again. I left without a word. Didn't sleep. Tossed and turned. I hate losing. For my own manager to have no faith in me, not to believe in my baseball ability--it hurt. I didn't get here hitting lefty pitchers only. Ain't no specialty players coming up to the big leagues. Ain't happening. You don't make it to the big leagues as a pinch hitter extraordinaire. Late-game situations are what I've spent my life preparing for. That's me . The season's going down the tubes. We're giving in to the grind already. Some guys are signed, some are comfortable, and some are struggling. In our clubhouse something's missing. I know what it is. Faith. Somebody's got to battle back.
I know I've got to try and lead, somehow.
The next day, I got to the park at 2 P.M., even though a night game was scheduled.
I went directly into Ray's office. "What's going on, Ray?" I asked.
"I knew you'd come in first thing, E.D.," Ray said. Said he didn't sleep good last night. I said that I didn't either. He said if a home run could've tied the game he would've let me hit. I said we scored a run in the ninth and lost 5-3, so if I had homered, it would've meant a tie game. He said the book showed righthanders were 4-for-40 off Rivera, and lefties (Becker is a lefty hitter) were 7-for-30, that Becker was a good high-fastball hitter. I said if Becker was that good he wouldn't have been waived. I'd never faced Rivera. I had no fear of him. I'm the one with the bat. If he missed his spot or if I was hot, I didn't care who he was--but he'd care about me. I've faced the best in the big leagues for 13 years. Mariano Rivera isn't any better than Clemens, Ryan, Lee Smith--I could name 'em for you if we had time. Absently, Ray said he shouldn't have pinch-hit me.
Didn't Ray have any confidence in me? The thing about Davey Johnson was that he had that faith, that confidence in you, or made you think so. There's a point the game goes beyond numbers, things you have to know . I don't see it with Ray. Davey showed confidence even if you didn't have confidence. You don't have confidence every time you go to the mound, or to the plate. You might have gotten beat up the last couple of times. You might be 2-for-40, bases loaded, in the ninth. Davey's going to let you hit because he's saying, "You can do it. You can get this guy."
I hadn't gotten pinch-hit for much since my rookie years in the big leagues, in '84 and '85. When I came up, in the mid-'80s, you didn't have printouts hanging on the walls of the dugouts. You had vets and you listened to 'em. A computer might say I'm 3-for-14 off Denny Naegle, 1-for-4 the last time I faced him. What the computer doesn't say is I put a charge into all four balls I hit off Denny--four bullets, three chased down, one outta here, not a cheap home run but a rocket into the right-center stands. The 1-for-4 is deceiving. If I've got confidence in you, doesn't matter if Babe Ruth's up, or if Bob Gibson is on the mound. If I have confidence in you--if you've proven it--I'm going with you. That's what bonds teams. That's how cliques are stopped, by guys getting a chance to do what they do best, then doing it. We're playing to the opposition's strengths.
"Ray, you can't do that to people who have been through the wars, and won. I'm a warrior, Ray." I was pleading with the manager. I know how I respond. I respond to faith. "You can't not have confidence in me, Ray. I've come too far. I can still do it, Ray."
"I know you can, E.D.," Ray said. He seemed distracted.
"Ray ... I can do it. "
Ray said, sure I could. Said he had confidence in me. All the confidence in the world. But I didn't get the feeling of confidence from him. You never know what's in the back of somebody's mind. There have been players who've come back from cancer, played cameo roles--pitcher Dave Dravecky with the San Francisco Giants in the '80s, the Dodgers' Brett Butler a couple years ago. Butler called after I was diagnosed and had surgery last year. He was kind, but I don't know of anyone who came back from cancer to the same level of productivity on the field. I can do it. I feel it. Doesn't mean Ray can feel it. He's a pitching coach. If I was a manager, I'd hire him as a pitching coach myself. He was pitching coach last year when we won 98 games, beat the breaks off the whole AL East, led wire to wire. But managing everyday players over 162 games is different.
Baseball is fluid in this way--if you're in the big leagues long enough, you run across the same guys again and again. In 1990 I was the Man in Cincinnati. Ray Miller was pitching coach in Pittsburgh. The Pirates also had Barry Bonds, and if they beat us in the playoffs, they would get to play the defending champion, Oakland A's, in the World Series. It doesn't get much better than Barry Bonds as a player, Jim Leyland as a manager. But the Cincinnati Reds played well, and we won that National League Championship Series. I made plays. You can beat a guy and end up playing with him and you're teammates. To me, Bonds is at this point still the best player, and Leyland may be the best manager. They hold no grudge because we won that playoff in '90. I can't really say what's bothering Ray about me. If Ray can't see what I'm capable of, if the decision is made to trade me, there's nothing I can do, not with Ray Miller pinch-hitting for me with Rich Becker.
The Lord restoreth my soul, my body, and my faculties. God didn't go halfway. How can I? He brought me back from so much. He allowed me to still be able to run. He left me still able to swing a bat. In spite of all I'd done in baseball, it seemed people appreciated me only when I got cancer. But I had given it all before and produced. All you can do is give to the game. You can't take. You're going to do well, you're going to struggle. You're going to get sick, but God willing, you're going to get well again. There's a divine plan. God's will is in baseball too. You can't take from God. You can't take from the game. Ail you can do is give. Then you'll get.
"Ray, you just don't realize what you have here in this clubhouse."
Never ... say ... die.
* * *
So we went up to Shea, and I got hit with a pitch again, this time by Rick Reed. Right on the elbow. The bursa had to be drained. We had our bench coach, Eddie Murray, a should-be Hall of Famer, showing outfielders how to throw because he felt like he didn't have anything else to do, and because we were losing. I'd never had an elbow problem before. By us having a veteran team, there's not much for a coach to do in terms of instruction. It's all deployment. Ray asked if the outfielders would work with Ed. Ed felt he wasn't contributing. Nobody picks up a pitcher's tendencies like Ed, or lifts a sign like Ed. But as far as playing defensive outfield, there ain't a lot Eddie Murray can do coaching my defensive technique. Ed was a first baseman. Brilliant as Ed is about the infield game, we had him coaching the outfielders. Ed tried to change my arm action, wanting me throwing over the top. As an outfielder, I don't throw like that. I throw three-quarter, to get carry. I messed up my elbow some more. My elbow hurt so bad I had to run the ball back into the infield after a base hit. The brass said I might go on the DL. They said it with long faces. I met with Ray and Kevin Malone in the visiting clubhouse in Montreal, on Sunday, June 29. Montreal was busy sweeping us three games. Kevin Malone, with a long glum face, asked me if I thought that going DL was a good idea. "Tuesday," I said to him and Ray. "I'll be ready Tuesday."
Finally, on Tuesday, July 1, Ray changed the batting order to Alomar first, Brady second, me number three, Raffy at cleanup. We went to New York, lost 3 one-run games, hit the All Star break 38-50. We were playing mule-ugly until those three in New York. The Yankees were 61-20--a modern-day record for a first half, .753 ball--after beating us 1-0 on Sunday, July 5. In the fifth, I hit a hard single off David Cone. Raffy lifted an opposite-field fly ball down the left-field line. A rookie named Ledee seemed to catch it, then dropped it. I couldn't tell if the ump called Raffy out. We'd lost 4-3 the day before on a blown call. Scott Brosius dropped a throw, but the third-base umpire called an out. I see Ledee drop it; I look at Blue, who very leisurely drops his arm. Now I've got to make third from a standstill halfway between first and second. For having just turned 36, I get to third quick. So does the ball. Blue pulls the chain, we end up losing, 1-0.
The very same guys managed by Davey Johnson, who won 98 games last season, have now disintegrated into cliques. Losing does that. The question is, Can I put this club on my back and carry it for a month? And will I get the chance? I've done it before--before the cancer was diagnosed. People are saying it's too late for us. No. We're just in an impossible situation. That's my specialty.
The Yankees were out of sight now--30 games up. We were 15 1/2 games behind the Red Sox for the wild-card spot--17 in the loss column. The Orioles weren't as bad as we were playing. The Yankees and Red Sox were good, but not as good as they were playing. Nobody's .750 in the big leagues. It'll all even out. Just may not even out this year. In times of trouble, work harder. As my mother says, "He may not be there when you want Him, but He's always right on time."
At the All Star break, I was hitting .287, with 34 runs scored, 13 doubles, 11 home runs, a triple, 25 extra-base hits, and only 28 RBI. The Orioles were fractured, going nowhere. D.O.A.
Sherrie, Erica, and Sacha came to Baltimore after the break. I do love my girls so. Anybody who knows me knows that. I come from a praying family--a praying father, a praying mother, and a praying sister. I pray often myself. I prayed now, for the ability to be me again in baseball. I didn't pray to win. I prayed to be me. I knew by then that sometimes winning is all on the outside, and sometimes it's all on the inside. Sometimes a cancer is outside, sometimes inside. Sometimes a big leaguer can be special, but we all are special, sometimes. Some of us just happen to play this great game of big-league baseball for a living while we're young enough and able. In the major leagues, there are many life lessons for everybody. It's just a question of which spring.
Copyright © 1999 Eric Davis and Ralph Wiley. All rights reserved.