Dodgers Sign Mike Davis--Just in Time : It’s a Close Call, but They Beat Yankees to Free-Agent Outfielder

Times Staff Writer

The Dodgers nosed out the New York Yankees Tuesday for Oakland Athletics free agent Mike Davis, whose agent said a locksmith was the key to the deal.

Davis, a power-hitting outfielder, flew to Los Angeles from Florida to attend a press conference at Dodger Stadium Tuesday and signed a two-year contract worth an estimated $1.95 million--slightly better than what the Yankees had offered, according to his agents.

Davis said: “It was so close that when I drive from Orlando to the hotel at Disney World last night, I thought I was a Yankee. Things just didn’t pan out. Praise God for that.”


Davis is a native of San Diego and really didn’t want to play in New York.

Jonathan Moseley, assistant to agent Louis Burrell of Fremont, Calif., said: “If you don’t produce in the Bronx Zoo, they will boo you. Look at Dave Winfield. He’s given them 100 RBIs a year and they still boo him.”

Davis, 28, hit .265 with 22 home runs last season but was at .292 with 20 homers at the All-Star break before he suffered a hyper-extended knee when he kicked a dugout door at Boston’s Fenway Park.

His performance then dropped off because of the injury, he said.

Davis said his knee is fine and explained why he kicked the door.

“I didn’t get a chance to get any vanilla ice cream that morning, but it didn’t hit me until the fourth time I came up to the plate,” he said. “I had a mental lapse.”

While reporters were trying to sort that out, Burrell explained that Davis decided to sign with the Dodgers after Fred Claire, the club’s executive vice president for player personnel, wired a facsimile of the proposed contract to him at about 10 p.m. Monday.

To do that, Claire had to surmount one difficulty.

“We couldn’t get into the (Dodger Stadium) library where the fax machine was,” Claire said. “Publicity usually has the key, but for some reason we couldn’t locate one. We ended up calling a locksmith.”

Burrell said: “That effort convinced us that this was the way to go. We said we’d go ahead and sign a contract rather than give the Yankees a chance to counter. We didn’t want to go through that.”


Moseley said when he talked to Billy Martin last week, the Yankees’ fifth-time manager told him, “I want that kid,” and owner George Steinbrenner had said something similar as recently as Friday.

Meanwhile, Claire had alerted Burrell and Moseley to the Dodgers’ interest before the recent winter meetings in Dallas and indicated that he would follow up afterward.

Then over the weekend, Claire said, he called Burrell and said: “Louis, we’re serious. We like Mike Davis.”

With Pedro Guerrero and Mike Marshall both mentioned in trade rumors, it’s a step toward the Dodgers replacing their outfield. In fact, the Dodgers were doing just that this week--replacing their outfield. During the press conference a crew was rolling out new turf in right field, where Davis may wind up.

Claire said the trade doesn’t necessarily make Marshall and Guerrero more expendable. “I want that depth,” he said, adding that Davis brings the Dodgers “power and one of the best arms in the game. He wants to play every day.

“The same is true of Alfredo Griffin,” Claire said.

Griffin, a shortstop, and relief pitcher Jay Howell also were present Tuesday. They also were acquired from the A’s, in last week’s trade that sent pitchers Bob Welch and Matt Young to Oakland while bringing reliever Jesse Orosco from the Mets, who got pitchers Wally Whitehurst and Kevin Tapani from the A’s and Jack Savage from the Dodgers.

Claire said Griffin was “the premier shortstop available.”

Griffin said: “I don’t know if I’m that great, but I know I can be there for 162 games.”

Griffin wore a cast on his left hand to stabilize a jammed thumb and allow it to heal completely.

Howell had arthroscopic surgery in September to remove bone chips in his right--pitching--elbow but said: “If you have any questions about my arm, don’t worry. I carried my wife’s luggage to the airport. I think you’ll be happy with the trade.”

Davis was happy with his deal.

“I’d like to say thank you to the Oakland A’s,” he said. “They’ve been really nice to me in the seven years I was with the organization. There comes a time in a player’s career when he just needs a change.”

Dodger Notes Alfredo Griffin’s new uniform number, 44, belonged to Ken Landreaux, who is a free agent and is not expected back. Jesse Orosco will wear 47, Jay Howell 50 and Mike Davis 37. . . .

Tom Lasorda said he still has not talked with pitcher Bob Welch since the trade sent him to Oakland. “I must have tried to call him at least 15 times,” Lasorda said.