The Angels ended their long-standing free-agent freeze-out Tuesday when they reached a one-year agreement with outfielder Chili Davis, the Giant who wanted to come in from the cold.
Having basically sworn off the re-entry market since 1983, when they were burned by the signing of relief pitcher Frank LaCorte, the Angels acknowledged it would take a special set of circumstances to again interest them in any free agent. But in Davis, in the aftermath of a last-place season, the Angels apparently found the right profile.
Chili Davis, in many ways, is the ideal Angel free agent, at least during this, the Mike Port era.
--He's young. (Davis turns 28 next month).
--He's cost-efficient. (It is believed Davis signed for about $850,000, which represents a slight raise from the $815,000 he earned with San Francisco in 1987.)
--He has a short-term contract. (He agreed to one year, which is about as short as it gets).
--He's available in the right year. (As a Type-A free agent, Davis would cost the Angels a first-round draft pick as compensation in most years. But because the Angels placed last in the American League West, Davis will cost them just a second-round choice.)
--He fills a need. (Davis is a power-hitting outfielder with speed. Before Tuesday, the Angels only had one of those--Devon White.)
--He wants to play in Anaheim.
Or, maybe more accurately, he wanted out of San Francisco. Davis' chilly relationship with Candlestick Park, and the fans who sometimes inhabit it, is near-legend around the Bay Area, climaxing with his infamous 1986 remark about the Candlestick crowd: "We have about 6,000 hardcore fans who root for us and all the rest are . . . ." Davis' actual quote was somewhat more colorful.
Giant fans really responded to such commentary and immediately christened Davis a San Francisco anti-hero, bringing out the bed sheet banners in force. Although the feud cooled in 1987--all was forgiven during the Giants' championship season--Davis still wanted badly to blow out of Candlestick.
"I did not want to play in San Francisco any longer and the biggest reason is the ballpark," Davis said via a conference telephone call from his home in Belmont, Calif. "I've always disliked Candlestick Park. It's just not suited for me.
"I'm a switch-hitter, but I'm not a dead pull-hitter from either side of the plate. I'm not a weak hitter, but I've crushed balls there--where I truly believed they were out of the park--and then the wind blows in and they're caught on the warning track."
In six seasons with the Giants, Davis hit 101 home runs. Last season, he hit a career-high 24, along with 76 RBIs and a .250 batting average, but believes better numbers can be found in warmer, less windy climes.
"Playing for the Angels in Anaheim is an ideal place for me," Davis said. "Anaheim Stadium should enhance my abilities as a hitter."
Davis is a career .267 hitter, who enjoyed his best all-around season in 1984, when hit .315 with 21 home runs and 81 RBIs.
"I've always been a great admirer of Chili Davis," said Gene Mauch, the Angel manager. "I think he can play, I think he can hit.
"He has the potential to hit 20 or more home runs and bat .300 for us. He's done both before."
In San Francisco, Davis was also caught up in a numbers game in the outfield, splitting time in center field with Mike Aldrete and Eddie Milner, and in right with Candy Maldonado. Jeff Leonard, Joel Youngblood and Kevin Mitchell also play outfield for the Giants and Tuesday, the club added Brett Butler to the crowd when San Francisco signed the Cleveland Indians free agent to a two-year, $1.9-million contract.
"Last year, I didn't play as much as I expected to," Davis said. "I want to play everyday; I became a switch-hitter for that purpose. This coming year, it didn't look like they (the Giants) could give me the playing time I wanted. I'm not ready to be a platoon player or a bench player yet."
Port said the Angels had also considered the possibility of signing Butler but opted for Davis' power potential over Butler's defense and base-stealing abilities.
"We had come to know Brett Butler to be a superb leadoff man, but we felt Chili Davis could help us more," Port said. "He's more of a run-producer and he gives us some power."
Butler also wanted a two-year contract. According to Port, a key to the Davis signing was the free agent's willingness to accept a one-year deal.
A 1977 graduate of Los Angeles' Dorsey High, Davis wanted to return to Southern California, which is why he said he could accept a one-year contract.
"I sort of hoped we could work out a multiyear deal with the Angels," Davis said, "but length of contract and money are not the only reasons for signing. I was raised in Southern California and I wanted to come back here. The Angels, the Padres and the Dodgers were my choices--in that order, 1-2-3. I've always thought the Angels were a class organization and I told Tom that the Angels were my top choice."
Davis represents the Angels' first free-agent signee of significance since Reggie Jackson in 1982. After LaCorte bombed in 1983, the club steered clear of the market, adding just one re-entry player (Ruppert Jones in 1985) over that span.
The addition of Davis, along with the forthcoming Johnny Ray-in-left field experiment, figures to make Gary Pettis (.208 with 124 strikeouts) expendable. Port said that if the Angels were opening their season today, Ray would be in left, White in center and Davis in right.
Davis has spent most of his career in center field, but he says right field sounds all right to him--provided it's in Anaheim.
"I've played all three of (the outfield positions)," he said. "I'd probably prefer right field, although if Devon White likes it there, I can play center. If necessary, I can play anywhere.
"If you can play center field in Candlestick, I can't think of anything tougher than that. If you can do that, you can play anywhere."