Thursday, June 19, 1997
Friendship fits Davis like glove

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Eric Davis
... colon cancer
CLEVELAND - The suit is nearly 10 years old now and several sizes too small. It hasn't fit Lenny Harris for several seasons, but he cannot bear to discard it.

The gray cloth holds too much history and too much sentiment to be cleared from Harris' closet. It was a gift from Eric Davis. "When I got to the big leagues, Eric bought me my first suit," the Reds outfielder recalled Wednesday afternoon. "You don't forget things like that. When we went to New York, he took me to this place and he bought me a whole bunch of stuff: Nice shirts, slacks and my first suit. I cherished that suit. It was a blessing."

When Harris learned Tuesday that his friend and benefactor had undergone surgery for colon cancer, the news would haunt him through the night. He could not sleep, and he could not get the operators at Johns Hopkins Hospital to put his calls through to Davis' room. Harris finally dozed off around 5 a.m. but was awake again an hour later to place another call to Baltimore.

This time, the switchboard put him through, and Harris spoke to Davis shortly before he left the hospital for home. Still groggy himself, Davis was nonetheless able to put Harris' mind at rest.

"He said he was on his on his way home," Harris said, "and that he was doing fine. He said they cleaned him out and everything, but they still want him to go through (chemo)therapy. He sounded real good. He didn't sound like he had surgery. He was up. His momma, she didn't sound good. But Eric said he was doing fine."

'Always there for you'

Ballplayers - even long-time teammates - are not always careful to keep in touch. They drift in and out of each others' lives so quickly and constantly that their friendships are often shallow and ephemeral.

Eric Davis' relationships, however, tend to take root. He has been a friend in need to his fellow players, particularly the young and unpolished.

"You have to get close to him to know the kind of person he is," Orioles catcher Lenny Webster said in Baltimore. "He's a very giving person, always there for you. If you know Eric, you know you can count on him to do whatever it takes to get better."

Eric Davis ought to be due a break about now. His baseball career has been intermittently brilliant, but no ballplayer since maybe Mickey Mantle has lost so much of his potential to injury. Those who saw Davis in the golden summer of 1987 swore they were watching the second coming of Willie Mays. Davis was a slugger with track speed, an outfielder of elegance, a Cooperstown talent cursed with the fragility of a china cup.

"He was one of the best players who ever played the game, and he was not even 100 percent when he went out on the field," Harris said. "It was amazing. He plays hurt and sore and (other) guys still can't play with his ability."

The two players first met at a Cincinnati hotel, and Harris remembers entering Davis' room to find the scent of incense and the glow of a red light bulb.

"I looked at him and I thought he was Superfly," Harris said. "I couldn't believe a baseball player was so cool. He had snake shoes, a snake belt, and I thought I had never seen anything like it. When I first saw him, I knew he was on another level."

Blazing boots

When Harris first reached the Reds in 1988, Davis immediately became his mentor. He bought him clothes, he taught him style, and he tried to shame him out of a pair of cowboy boots Harris had won with a minor-league home run.

"He just grabbed me and said, 'You can't wear those cowboy boots up here,' " Harris said. "I told him, 'These boots mean a lot to me.' He said, 'Well, don't wear them again.' I said, 'I don't have any other shoes to wear.' He said, 'I tell you what: You wear those boots one more time, and I'm going to burn them up.' "

When Harris failed to heed Davis' warning, he returned to the Reds clubhouse one day and detected the smell of gasoline. His boots, he soon discovered, were ablaze.

Before Harris could retaliate, Davis blunted his anger with a box containing four pairs of new shoes. When the smoke cleared, they were both smiling.