A's rightfielder Mike Davis has just sent three batting-practice pitches rifling over shortstop at the Oakland Coliseum, and the reports turn the head of Red Sox centerfielder Tony Armas.
Armas, the major league leader in home runs last year and the man Davis replaced in what used to be the best outfield in baseball, has been lingering around the batting cage giving his former teammates the needle. Now he pays backhanded tribute to his successor.
"Michael Davis! Michael Davis!" Armas calls as the lefthanded hitter drills another rope to the opposite field. "Is that all Billy Williams can show you? I thought you could go deep."
Davis, whose gold-rimmed spectacles and goatee give him the mien of the coolest of jazzmen, smiles but stays intent on his cuts. Williams, the A's laconic batting coach, does the talking for his prize student. "That's the way you hit the ball," he says with a good-natured but pointed look at Armas, whose big swing is less than classic. "That's when the home runs come by themselves."
With a stroke sweet enough to make Billy Williams smile, Mike Davis has been hitting home runs in bunches this season. He hit nine in April, and with 10 is tied with Armas for the AL lead in homers. Davis, who is batting .312, tops the league in runs, slugging percentage and extra-base hits.
Davis is a 6'3", 185-pound coiled spring of a 25-year-old who has run 40 yards in 4.4 seconds. He was first called up to the A's in 1980 by Billy Martin, who liked him so much he kept him on the big team to learn from outfielders Armas, Dwayne Murphy and Rickey Henderson. "Billy was a beautiful confidence builder for me," says Davis.
Martin was gone by the time Davis became a regular in 1983, replacing the departed Armas, but Davis still hit .275 with 62 RBIs and 33 stolen bases. He also threw out 16 runners.
"In ability and attitude, Mike doesn't have any deficiencies—he's just a bunch of plusses," says A's manager Jackie Moore. Opposing players agree. "He's got everything to be one of the best in the league," says Boston's Mike Easier. "He's just got to settle down, not force things."
Unfortunately, Davis did force things in 1984. He batted .230, an improvement over his .198 figure at the All-Star break. And he made 12 errors in the outfield, tying Detroit's Kirk Gibson for most in that category. "He was Pel�-ing everything," says his close friend, centerfielder Murphy. On one play against Seattle, Davis ran to the fence in pursuit of a fly—leaped high—and the ball hit him on the foot. Off the field, even simple tasks gave Davis trouble; e.g., one day he left a curl relaxer on his hair too long. "For about a month," says his wife, Sandra, "people were walking up to him and doing imitations of James Brown."
Reflecting on '84, Davis says, "The more I pressed, the worse it got. And the worse it got, the more I pressed." Moore, who replaced Steve Boros early in the season, tried batting Davis in different spots in the order. "I even benched him, hoping he would take it out on me," says Moore. "Nothing seemed to work."