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Ron Davis’ Story Is a Tear-Jerker : It Took a Cry for Twins’ Reliever to Gain Fan Acceptance

Times Staff Writer

Ron Davis knows exactly why he has had such a stormy relationship with the fans in Minnesota. It’s the media’s fault. They keep printing what he says.

It all started when the New York Yankees traded him to the Twins in 1982 and Davis said, “It’s the owner (then Calvin Griffith) who should be traded . . . or put in an old folks’ home. I don’t want to be here.”

He still doesn’t understand why the Twins’ faithful took offense.

“I didn’t say I wasn’t happy to be in Minnesota,” Davis said before Thursday night’s 4-1 victory by the Twins at Anaheim Stadium. “I was just saying what everyone else said about Mr. Griffith trading away all his good players.

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“You see, the press can make you whatever they want. It’s sort of like professional wrestling. They’re all real nice guys, but somebody has to be a hero and somebody has to be a villain.”

Griffith, for his part, seemed to know who the villain was. After Davis was awarded $475,000 in an arbitration settlement in 1983, Griffith said: “When I heard he won, I wanted to puke.”

It was clear that Davis wasn’t going to vie with Prince for the Most Popular Man in Minnesota award. At one point, he said, he considered changing his name to “Boo Davis, so I could pretend they were cheering me at home.”

But Davis--the only pitcher other than Kansas City’s Dan Quisenberry to average more than 26 saves a season over the last four years--is feeling most welcome in the Metrodome these days, owing to a few days last spring that he calls the worst week of his life.

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On May 10, Davis gave up a game-losing home run in the ninth inning at Baltimore. On May 11, it happened again. And two days later in New York, it happened again .

After his third loss in four days, Davis cried--with the cameras rolling and those dreaded members of the media crowded around.

“I wouldn’t say I broke down,” Davis objected, “but there were tears in my eyes. I felt like I’d let everyone down.”

Two days later, the Twins returned home. Davis had stayed up much of the night talking with teammate Tom Brunansky about how he would handle the jeers he would surely receive.

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But when Davis was summoned to the mound, he couldn’t believe his ears. The 21,030 in attendance were standing and applauding. And it went on for several minutes.

“That was the turning point,” he said. Davis went home and told his wife that they were buying a house in Minnesota.

Turning point No. 2 came a month later when Ray Miller became the Twin manager. Davis was 1-4 with six saves and an earned-run average hovering around 6.00 in the first 62 games of 1985. In the last 100 under Miller, he was 1-1 with 19 saves and lowered his ERA to 3.48 for the season.

“If I’d lose a game, (former Manager Billy) Gardner would always say something like, ‘He’s supposed to be our stopper. I don’t know why he threw a fastball to that guy,’ to the press,’ ” Davis said. “Now if the same thing happens, Ray will say it’s everyone’s fault we lost. He’ll take the blame. too.”

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Miller, a former minor league relief pitcher, said he didn’t do anything especially unusual. He just started using Davis when there was “a little margin for error” so the big right-hander could regain his confidence.

“The people in the Twin Cities did more for Ron on that one day then I’ve done,” said Miller, who was pitching coach at Baltimore in 1978-1985. “Initially, I picked spots for him where he could give up a hit without losing.

“Short relievers are a special breed. I’ve been there, I know what it’s like and I never question a pitcher’s pitch selection. The first night I brought him out, he said, ‘Skip, what should I throw?’ And I said, ‘How the hell do I know? That’s your job.’ And I turned around and walked away.”

Davis has been doing his job quite admirably ever since. He’s 1-0 with two saves (the Twins have just five wins) and has yet to allow a run this year.

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“R.D.'s mental approach has been great this year,” teammate Bert Blyleven said. “He’s always had the stuff, and now he’s got the confidence, too.”

Not to forget a home in the ‘Dome.


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