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Baseball '90 PREVIEW : Chili Davis Proves He's Worth His High Production Values : Dependable: Outfielder comes through in clutch, and doesn't seem to mind that his reputation fails to match his achievements.

April 09, 1990|JOHN WEYLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

L et's talk run production.

Chili Davis led the Angels in runs batted in again last year, becoming only the fourth player in club history to lead that category for two consecutive seasons with 90 or more each year.

How about clutch hitting?

More than one-third of Davis' RBIs either tied the game or put the Angels ahead. Seven of his team-high 22 home runs were three-run shots.

Recognition? Fame? Glory?

Call Don Mattingly.

Claudell Washington says of Davis: "My brother does not get his due." General Manager Mike Port, with a bent for elocution, feels pretty much the same.

"Other fellows, for whatever reason, are more frequently acknowledged as being tough in the clutch or get more notoriety given similar RBI production," Port said. "But this is a guy who enjoys playing and gives you a lot of effort and time out on the field, very productive time at that.

"He very quietly drives in 90 runs a year. It's also the manner of the man, though. You're not going to find Chili soliciting a lot of attention."

Davis is in the second year of a three-year contract that pays him $1.375 million for this season and $1.45 in 1991, so it's obvious Port isn't one of those who have overlooked Davis' contributions. And that, Davis says smiling, is the kind of notability he values most.

"I'm not looking for recognition . . . just money," he says with a laugh. "Anyway, I don't think I've done anything all that great to be plastered on the cover of Sports Illustrated every week.

"Ever since I came into this game, I've been in that slot where you're going to come up to bat a lot with runners on base. And you're supposed to drive those runs in because that's what you're being paid for. Some guys are paid to get on base and score a lot of runs. Some guys are paid for defense. Pitchers are paid to get guys out. I'm paid to drive in runs."

But don't let Davis' a-day's-work-for-a-day's-pay spiel fool you. He may project a cavalier image, but he's not the type to take the money and run. Or even take the money and jog out a ground ball, for that matter.

Davis' determination to win surfaces when he least expects it, such as when he dismisses his run production with another "just-doing-my-job" routine.

"Anyway, it's not the runs that you drive in that you think about," he said. "It's the ones you miss. If you finish a year with 150 RBIs, you'd still think about the 50 you missed."

That attitude was an important factor in the Angels' decision to shell out $4.1 million and give Davis a three-year contract. They like the way he bats, but they admire the way he battles even more.

"The single most important thing for Chili is winning," Port said. "He will call me several times over the course of the winter, wanting to know what's on tap to improve the club. And every time he sees me, he flicks his fingers. He wants a World Series ring. That's his No. 1 priority."

Actually, that's his No. 1 dream. His top priority is to maintain his self-esteem and enjoy the game . . . while it lasts.

"As long as I'm playing and I'm not cheating myself, not dogging it, I'm happy," Davis said. "What disappoints people is if you're not giving the 100% you owe yourself, the organization and the fans every time you go out there. If you goof up giving 100%, well, it's going to happen. But if you goof up giving 50%, then people aren't going to accept it. And you shouldn't accept it."

Chili knows goofing up. In 1988, he set the team record for errors by an outfielder with 19. Port says that season of defensive discontent was an aberration. After being switched from right field to left field last year, Davis made just six errors.

But the images of that infamous, early-1988 string of miscues--often the highlights of the evening news sports segments--don't easily fade from memory. And Port thinks the defensive lapse is still robbing Davis of deserved renown.

"The only rationale that I can offer is that maybe some of what Chili Davis is as a man and what he means to this club is a tad overshadowed by what people recall from two years ago, when he was in right field, when he struggled defensively and was off to a slow start with the bat.

"Perhaps, as is human nature, people formulated opinions then and have overlooked the fact that he has meant a lot to this club."

Davis seems genuinely unaffected, however, and he's certainly not going to waste any time pouting over a lack of attention.

"I'm only going to play so long and when it's over, it's over. I started out in center field, moved to right and then moved to left. Probably, a couple of years down the line, I'll DH. And before you know it, I'll be riding around the field in a golf cart."

By that time, the Angels hope their Davis has more rings than Sammy Davis Jr. And, considering the apparent strength of the American League West again this season, they'll need another healthy dash of Chili power if they hope to cook up a trip to the World Series.

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