You will see him take the mound for the Oakland Athletics Sunday night to start Game 2 of the World Series, and you will wonder: Is this a pitcher or a piece of glassware?
He will not stomp. He will not snarl. He will not write a libelous sports column. If the Dodgers place him in peril, he will exhibit all the panic of a sunbather.
You will look at him twice and you will think, what a dumb nickname.
George Earl (Storm) Davis. Right. Are you sure that’s not Breeze Davis? Maybe Summer Day Davis.
Don’t kid yourself. Some of the Baltimore Orioles once did. Many of the San Diego Padres once did.
The Oakland A’s haven’t, and Storm Davis has thanked them for it by having the summer of his life.
“Tough?” Davis asks. “I may not look it, but after all I’ve gone through, I am. I definitely am.”
What he went through included 5 seasons in Baltimore of trying so hard to live up to the image of Jim Palmer, he nearly drove himself crazy. That was followed by 6 months worth of nightmare in San Diego, where he thought he could count his friends on split fingers, where he felt as out of place as a football.
But then came Oakland, where last Aug. 31 he was greeted with the strangest feeling of all.
“I came here, and they told me to be myself,” Davis said.
Funny how that works. When allowed to be himself, man often finds out just how good he is. So it was with Davis, 26, who this season set career highs in wins (16-7), starts (33) and strikeouts (127). He put together a 10-game win streak, equaling the major league high. He led the team to 22 wins in his 33 starts.
Then he capped it off in his one playoff start by not allowing the Boston Red Sox an earned run in 6 innings in Game 2, and eventual 4-3 win.
“All we care about here is one thing, the bottom line,” A’s pitching coach Dave Duncan said. “Storm has given us the bottom line.”
For Davis, the bottom line has always been the easy part. It’s that fine print above that line that has always messed him up.
“Trying to just be me,” Davis said, “has never been real easy.”
Like in Baltimore, where he made the big-league club in 1982 after just 4 minor league seasons. There, he was supposed to be Jim Palmer.
“That’s who everyone said I looked like, who they all said I should act like,” said Davis, who was even stuck with a Jim Palmer-related nickname, Cy Clone.
“In my mind, I made that too much of a big deal,” he said. “It was easy to say I was going to just going to try to be Storm Davis, but it was another thing to do it. I’d get out on the mound and worry about not living up to expectations. I would get all nervous. Subconsciously, this would effect the way I threw. I was always so worried about failing.”
After parts of 5 seasons there he was 54-40, so while there wasn’t failure, there was also never really success. He went 9-12 in 1986 and was promptly shipped off to San Diego for catcher Terry Kennedy.
But in San Diego, last summer, now there was failure. Instead of expected to be Palmer, he was joining an established team where he was expected to be something even more difficult. One of the Guys.
“That was where I reached rock bottom,” Davis said of a partial season in which he went 2-7 with a 6.18 ERA. “I wasn’t their style, I wasn’t a country-music listen, hillbilly type of of guy. I don’t go out at night. I don’t drink.
“They are great guys, but I think some of them wanted to change me.”
Of particular worry to Davis, a “born-again” Christian, was the feeling that those who attended the club’s weekly chapel sessions weren’t accepted.
Davis understandably took these perceptions out on the mound.
The worse he pitched, the more he went into an off-the field shell, until one night Larry Bowa, then the Padre manager, said, “He thinks the ‘SD’ on our cap stands for Storm Davis.”
“That hurt the worst,” Davis said. “Not to knife Larry, but I just had to consider the source.”
He was traded shortly thereafter to Oakland for pitcher Dave Leiper and first baseman Rob Nelson. Once there, with other new players, his uniform finally fit.
Feeling better emotionally, last winter he worked on his physical side. He gained 20 pounds through weight lifting, and relearned a breathing technique from his pregnant wife’s Lamaze class that he uses to relax on the mound.
Davis summed up: “I don’t want to say it’s just the team that’s different. I know I might be different, too. I know that what I’m doing can work. I know that I can succeed by being me.”