Eric Davis was the type of player that scouts drool over. In the case of a guy like Ruben Rivera, it's unfounded. But in the case of Eric Davis, it was quite well deserved. Davis was a phenomenal athlete with a good glove, a lot of power, and in his younger days, blazing speed. He spent just two seasons (one injury-filled) with the Orioles, but I still have a fondness for Davis.
Davis was born on May 29, 1962, in Los Angeles. Two months and 17 days earlier, Darryl Strawberry had been born in Los Angeles. Strawberry attended Crenshaw High School and Davis was at Fremont High, but they were childhood friends whose lives have eerily mirrored one another. Bill James mapped this out in The New Historical Baseball Abstract:
*Were both born in the spring of 1962
*Were both born and raised in Los Angeles
*Were childhood friends
*Were both drafted in 1980
*Both struck out a great deal
*Did not hit for good average, but
*Are 8th and 9th among all listed outfielders in secondary average, because of the walks, stolen bases, and power
*Have both been injured and out of the lineup for long periods of time in many seasons, but
*Are both among the 50 best players at their position, despite the career interruptions, and
*Are both cancer survivors
After being drafted, Davis hammered the ball in the minors and had cups of coffee with the Reds in 1984 and 1985, then became a regular in '86, when he hit .277/.378/.523 with 27 homers and 80 steals. In 1990, he was a major part of Cincinnati's surprising World Series championship team. He was a fixture for the Reds through the 1991 season, which was more injury-plagued than any he had had until that point. He went to the Dodgers in 1992, one year after Strawberry had left the Mets for LA. Strawberry and Davis should have made the Dodgers a damn good team in the early 90s, but it didn't work out that way. Strawberry was gone after 1993, missing the majority of 1992 and that season, and Davis struggled badly when he was healthy, then was traded to Detroit in exchange for John DeSilva on August 31, 1993.
Davis found his power stroke in the 23 games he played for the Tigers in 1993 (.533 SLG), but played in only 37 games in 1994. He missed all of the strike-shortened 1995 season, having retired due to a herniated disk in his neck. But Davis returned in 1996, offered a non-roster contract with the Reds and invited to spring training. Davis said of the situation, "(Manager) Ray Knight didn't have any intention of me making the team. They thought I'd show everyone I couldn't play anymore." Instead, Davis hit .287/.394/.523 with 26 homers and 23 stolen bases, and won the Comeback Player of the Year award.
On December 19, 1996, Davis signed as a free agent with the O's. It was a two-year, $4.7 million contract. Unfortunately, Davis battled colon cancer in 1997 and missed the majority of the year, playing in just 42 games. When he did play, he was electric, hitting .304/.358/.525 with eight homers in 158 at-bats. Davis, again, appeared to be finished.
And, again, instead, he came back in 1998 and won the Comeback Player of the Year award, hitting .327/.388/.582 with 28 homers in 131 games. He was the best player on the 1998 Orioles when he was healthy (Rafael Palmeiro played all 162 games so was of more value to the team, but Davis was just as good when he was in the lineup). After the 1998 season, he signed a two-year deal with the Cardinals, where he again wasn't healthy, and then played 74 games in 2001 with the Giants, struggling in what would be his final season at age 39.
For his career, Davis hit .269/.359/.482 with 282 homers, 934 RBI and 349 stolen bases. He was a very good outfielder for the majority of his career. Had Eric Davis had better luck or health or whatever, he would have been a Hall of Famer without any debate. Talent-wise, Davis was among the very cream of the crop of his generation.
And not only was he a good player, Eric Davis is a legitimately good human being and loves the game of baseball like very few players do. Davis was respected by his peers for every reason one could be respected by one's peers. If you want a good article on that aspect of Eric Davis, read this from USA Today in 2001. Davis was/is a voice that a lot of fans would agree with. Here are some of my favorite excerpts from the article:
Davis, who perhaps is more respected among his peers than anyone in the game, simply cannot understand all of this complaining.
"I hate it when these guys say it's not about the money," Davis says. "If it's not about the money, then what is it? Of course it's about the money.
"I remember in 1990, there were five of us (Rickey Henderson, Kirby Puckett, Joe Carter, Mark Davis and Eric Davis) making $3 million a year. When guys passed us, we didn't cry. Why would we cry? You didn't get mad when someone got $6 million. Or $8 million.
"It's like, now you're actually complaining because you're making $9 million and guys are making more? If it makes you that upset, quit. Leave the game. Go home then and try finding another job that's going to pay you that."
"Baseball never advertises the game like the other sports," Davis says. "Come on, Willie Mays has to go on a Coors Light commercial to be on TV? Ted Williams is never promoted? It's a disgrace.
"That's why the mentality is so messed up now. A lot of our young players don't know anything about history. We're in St. Louis last year when Frank Robinson comes into the clubhouse, and this guy says to me, 'Who's that?'
"'Who's that? That's Frank Robinson. That's one of the greatest players to ever lace 'em up. You'd better go shake his hand and say thank you. That's who that is.'
"We've got to start promoting this game 'cause right now, the only people promoting it are ESPN and Fox."
Davis said in that article that he'd like to be a coach or a front office guy after his playing days ended. I hope he does that. I hope he's successful. Davis was only an Oriole for a short time, but he's one of my favorites. A hell of a guy and a hell of a player. His career didn't go exactly like it could or should have, but he was a memorable, exciting baseball player that a lot of people won't soon forget, even if history does.