The Cincinnati Reds have had a lot of great baseball players in their long and storied history. We all know the names here at the Nation. We all know what they did.
We had the greatest catcher in the history of baseball with Johnny Bench. We had one of the greatest sluggers in baseball history with Frank Robinson. We had back to back ace pitchers in Bucky Walters and Paul Derringer. And I haven’t even touched on the accomplishments of players like Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, and Tony Perez.
But the best all-around baseball player I ever saw with the Cincinnati Reds was Eric Davis. This is a tired and old cliché, but Eric Davis could do it all.
Eric the Red just turned 51 this week and I felt old when I saw that. And he was just 21 when the Reds brought him up on May 19, 1984. It’s hard to actually describe in print the kind of player Eric Davis was to those who were not fortunate enough to watch him play. He was the fastest player on the Reds, if not in all of baseball. He had power, he played centerfield like LeBron James.
In May 1987, Eric Davis was the best player in baseball, without a doubt. He was named Player of the Month for both April and May of that year. If he wasn’t hitting home runs or stealing bases, he was robbing opponents of home runs. One night at Riverfront Stadium, Jack Clark of the Cardinals hit a ball deep to left center. Davis leaped, caught the ball but the top of the wall tore his glove off. Clark got a homer but the ball was still in Davis’ glove on the other side of the wall.
Everything Eric Davis did on the baseball field was effortless. Or at least, it looked that way. The home runs, the stolen bases, the stand-up triples, the chasing down of long fly balls. Davis’ Achilles heel, of course, was injuries. The most games he ever played in a year was 135. In 1987, he played 129 games and still put up the following numbers: 37 home runs, 129 RBI’s, 50 stolen bases and a .293 batting average. Injuries would plague him during his entire career.
It was Davis’ home run in Game 1 of the 1990 World Series that powered the Reds to a four game sweep of Oakland. Ironically, it was his diving catch in Game 4 of that Series that lacerated his kidney and forced him out of the game.
The Reds eventually traded Davis to the Dodgers in 1992 where injuries bothered him further. He retired, then came back to the Reds and had a solid season in 1996 before finishing his career with the Orioles, Cardinals and Giants.
He’s justifiably in the Reds Hall of Fame and is still a part of the Reds organization. He remains one of the most popular Reds players with the fans. When Eric Davis watched Billy Hamilton, our erstwhile speedster at Class AAA Louisville, last season, it didn’t surprise me a bit when I heard about Davis’ reaction. Davis saw him play, watched him run the bases and concluded quickly that it was no contest. He was faster than Billy Hamilton.
I have no doubt that Eric Davis is right about that.