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Sorry Past, Bright Future
Bruce Newman
August 25, 1986
Despite the lingering effects of an agonizing adolescence, Glenn Davis has become the slugging anchor of the division-leading Houston Astros
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August 25, 1986

Sorry Past, Bright Future

Despite the lingering effects of an agonizing adolescence, Glenn Davis has become the slugging anchor of the division-leading Houston Astros

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On this night Davis had been troubled not only by his recent slump but also by the success that had gone before it. "I'm not the type of person to enjoy doing well," he said. His offensive cannonade had thrown him into a tailspin because he wasn't sure how he would handle the praise that was sure to follow.

By any measure, he had come a long way. His father was seldom around when he was growing up, and when Glenn was only seven his dad walked out of the house for good. Gene Davis had bounced around in the minor leagues for 10 years, a power hitter with jangled nerves and a drinking problem, before finally giving up the game. "He was the type of person that couldn't handle pressure," Glenn says. "He had all the ability, but he wasn't able to deal with failure. I think that's what started the problems between him and my mother." The elder Davis, who now runs the post office at a Jacksonville naval base, hopes his son will cope with failure better than he did. "If I did three good things and one bad, I couldn't let the bad one lie," he says. "I always elaborated on the past and it destroyed me."

It also destroyed his marriage. Margaret Davis eventually divorced her husband and got on with her life, but she never could get over what baseball had done to her. "When Daddy was playing ball he got involved in drinking," says Diane Kirksey, Glenn's older sister. "Momma was determined to protect Glenn from that." Even now Gene Davis concedes, "When I get off work I'm going to have six or seven cold drafts." He is not proud of the emotional wreckage his carousing caused. "I led a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde life," he says. "I had a beautiful family and a nice home, and then I turned around and did these things on the sly. I finally decided it would be best to just bow out."

Davis's mother decided early on that her only son would one day be a preacher, and that he would never under any circumstances play professional baseball. "I know what goes on, having been through it once before, and I feared for Glenn," she says now. After the divorce Glenn was forbidden to see his father. "I didn't understand what was going on for a while, but I began to see that something was wrong, that I was being used as a tool of jealousy against my father," he says. "I was always made fun of in the neighborhood because I had to sneak down and meet my father at the end of the block if I wanted to see him." As his involvement in sports grew, it became increasingly galling to Glenn that he had no father to whom he could report his triumphs. "Glenn was very bitter about the divorce, much more so than the rest of us," says Diane. "He wanted his daddy there to see him do all these things."

Davis is 6'3" and 205 pounds; he had grown to much of his full size while still in elementary school. He was bigger and stronger than others his age, and when Glenn lumbered up to the plate in street games the fielders would turn and run as far back as they could go. "Ever since I was a kid I was always the one who could hit the ball the farthest," he says. But he was ponderous and slow, and he became both the neighborhood gorilla and the neighborhood joke. "He was always so fat that they would kid him in Little League that he had to hit a home run just to get to first base," recalls his sister. Before he was even into his teens his face had been ravaged by acne, and for that hormonal sin he was also made the butt of jokes.

His mother's determination to keep him from falling in with the wrong crowd was one of the great ironies of Davis's adolescence, because by his early teens he was the wrong crowd. "If she could have had her way, I would have been confined to our yard," Davis says. "It was like all there was to life was to stay home, go to church and associate with no one else."

Davis would not date because his mother insisted on being his chauffeur, and he couldn't talk to girls on the telephone without her picking up the phone and cutting off the conversation. "When I would stay out late playing ball she would come and drag me home in front of everybody," he says. But that was not the worst of it. "Momma would come to pick him up in that old Cadillac with the huge tail fins and the kids would say, 'Here comes the Batmobile again,' " says his sister. "Glenn would get so mad he'd want to fight them all."

He certainly seems to have fought his fair share of them. "We used to hang around down at the convenience store and pick fights," he says. "Anybody I could pick a fight with, for no reason at all, I would do it." Davis grew up on the north side of Jacksonville, where people refer to themselves with a certain amount of pride as "rednecks" because it distinguishes them from the "rich snobs" of the south side. He lived on Tulsa Road, and it was his whole world, a quiet stretch of shaggy lawns and towering trees, with brightly colored automobiles sitting in the shade like decaying fruit.

Davis considered Tulsa Road to be his own and did not welcome visitors. When outsiders began using the road as a shortcut to a busy thoroughfare, Davis and his friends imposed punitive measures. "If we didn't know the people in the vehicles, we would throw rocks at them and try to destroy their cars," he says. "When they started routing school buses through there for desegregation, we really didn't like that. We didn't want them coming through our neighborhood, so it became like a combat zone. We would get dressed up in our camouflage clothes and hide in the woods with our BB guns, rocks and bows and arrows."

Though he was never actually arrested, Davis concedes he was "your basic juvenile delinquent," a situation that infuriated his mother. "My mother was a firm believer that if you spared the rod you spoiled the child," he says. "I was beaten by belts and when a belt didn't work, whatever else she could get her hands on. Until I was 17 there wasn't a day that went by when I wasn't beaten." Diane remembers their home as being "very tense all the time." When Glenn went out to play in the neighborhood, "Punishment was coming when he got home," she says.

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