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Potential Never Was Realized

Outstanding outfielder, native Angeleno and getaway driver 5 1/2 weeks ago in the Vince Coleman caper, Eric Davis was on the telephone Tuesday, not knowing or at least not guessing what had prompted Fred Claire and the Dodgers to dump him.

“I have no idea,” he said. “Ask Fred.”

No theory?

“I have no theory,” Davis said. “It was the furthest thing from my mind.”

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The decision to trade Davis comes 21 months after what now amounts to one of the Dodgers’ worst deals ever. He cost them pitchers Tim Belcher and John Wetteland, but soon all they will have is an unidentified player from Detroit, preferably not Kirk Gibson.

To watch Davis play baseball is to see a complete player who can run, hit and catch, but the cold statistical truth argues that he is hardly a superstar. Davis has never hit .300. He is pushing his 32nd birthday and isn’t even close to 1,000 hits.

Disappointing?

“I don’t have anything to be disappointed about,” Davis said.

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At leaving?

“No,” he insisted. “I don’t have any remorse about coming back to my hometown, just as I don’t have any remorse about leaving.”

OK, then. Easy come, easy go.

The Dodgers took a calculated gamble on Davis, but they calculated poorly. About their only solace is that Cincinnati’s management was too foolish to appreciate what they had in Belcher and Wetteland.

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Had the Dodgers hung on in their 1991 divisional race against Atlanta, maybe it wouldn’t have mattered as much a season later when Davis toiled in only 76 games, with a somewhat less than whopping total of 14 extra-base hits.

As a Red, Davis led the team in runs batted in, four years in a row.

As a Dodger, Davis was a bust.

In halves of two seasons, he hit .228 and .234. He has fewer hits this season than Jody Reed, who missed several weeks with an injury. He is hitting nearly 100 points lower than a rookie catcher and 200 points lower than a skinny pitcher.

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How come?

Could be physical. Davis made several references Tuesday to the “triple surgery” he experienced in the past year. Everything has gone kaput inside and out, from knees to kidneys.

Or it could be mental. Several weeks were wasted this season as Davis made adjustments in his swing--once one of the most beautiful in the game.

As he put it, “It put me in a dramatic hole. I tinkered with it for a month and a half and it got me nowhere.”

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Adding injury to ineptitude was the night of July 24, when two New York Mets were passengers in Davis’ car and one of them, Coleman, pulled a prank that blew up in the faces of three innocent bystanders. Although he took no active role in this incident other than to drive away from the scene, Davis clearly did not endear himself to Dodger management that day.

This team had enough problems.

Chances are, though, Tuesday’s trade expresses nothing more than the Dodgers’ confirmation of continuing a youth movement. The rookie seasons of Eric Karros and Mike Piazza should have been sufficient to put a ’91 contending club over the top, but instead the Dodgers have twice been out of the race by the All-Star break.

No sense keeping expensive veterans if they can’t get you any higher than fourth place.

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Talk about a dramatic hole.

Together, Davis and Darryl Strawberry were supposed to breathe life into the city of their birth. Instead, over the 1992-93 seasons, Davis and Strawberry have combined for exactly 200 hits. Meanwhile, expensive acquisitions made by San Francisco (Barry Bonds) and Atlanta (Greg Maddux) have distanced those clubs from L.A.

What hurts Davis is: “I haven’t felt this good since ’90, when we (Cincinnati) won the championship. That’s kind of why it’s difficult to understand why this would happen now.”

On the contrary, it is not difficult at all.

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Any time there is a pennant race--and Detroit is in one--trades are going to be made for the stretch drive, but only for players in sound condition. And the Dodgers were hardly going to deal Davis to anybody back in May or June, particularly with Strawberry unable to swing a bat.

In Detroit, Davis gets to take aim at an inviting left field fence, as well as bat behind another Los Angeles native son, Cecil Fielder.

Maybe he can take the Tigers to a pennant.

He didn’t take the Dodgers any place but down.

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