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.

19 Responses

  1. Hank Aarons Teammate

    Not sure Davis was the best player in 1987, but certainly very close if not the best. He certainly had a (relatively) ordinary second half of the season after being otherwordly in the first half.

    One of the larger jokes in my lifetime was Andre Dawson winning MVP in 1987. Just ridiculous.

    Davis was the best base stealer I’ve ever seen. He was the second fastest player I’ve ever seen, behind Bo Jackson.

  2. Eric the Red

    As you can see from my user name, I’m kind of a fan. Thanks for this.

  3. pinson343

    Even in 1987, Eric was plagued by injuries, limited to 129 games. After an amazing April and May, Eric seemed on his way to a season for the ages. For one thing, having the first 40/40 HR/SB season seemed easily in reach. But injuries slowed him to a crawl by September.

    Most of the injuries were due to diving catches on artificial turf.

    He was never the same after lacerating his kidney in the 1990 WS. But in 1996, after he had only played a small handful of games for 3 years, he rejoined the Reds and hit .287/.394/.523 in 496 ABs. In 1998, for the Orioles, he hit .327/.388/.582 in 508 ABs.

    But perhaps most remarkably, in 1997 he hit a post season HR for the Orioles while still under treatment for colon cancer.

    • greenmtred

      @pinson343: Watching him play in the 1990 WS after the injury–a game but hurting shadow of himself–was painful enough to dull the euphoria of that wonderful (otherwise) series.

  4. Eric the Red

    Bottom line: he was an astonishing combination of speed, power, and defense. I haven’t seen enough of Trout to know if he could be in ED’s league, but not many people ever have been.

    • Hank Aarons Teammate

      @Eric the Red: He was. If he hadn’t gotten hurt all the time, I think he’d have been in the HOF.

      As it is, I think Trout’s a better player, though.

  5. Eric the Red

    The Cardinals just scored 7 runs in the 3rd vs Matt Cain. They had 10 plate appearances with RISP, and got seven hits. One of the three “failures” was a sac bunt by the pitcher, and another was when the pitcher made the final out of the inning. It was like Homer’s inning the other day, only worse.

    • Hank Aarons Teammate

      @Eric the Red: Shelby Miller’s of course throwing a shutout. If Carpenter were healthy, he’d be in the rotation, probably posting a 3.5 ERA, while Miller’d be in the pen. As it is, the Cards saved nearly 2 earned runs per game because of an injury.

      It’s just scary: Wacha, Miller, Martinez, Wainwright are going to next year be their 1-4 starters in no particular order. That means that in the mix for the FIFTH starter is Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn….good lord.


    Having seen all of the great Reds starting with Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson, I have never been more amazed than when watching Eric Davis. I remain a Reds fan after moving to the San Francisco area in the late 70’s. My opportunities to see the Reds are limited to a few games each year, but the two most amazing plays I have ever seen involved the Reds and Eric Davis.

    In 1987 he scored from first base on a 10th inning pickoff throw that missed Jack Clark. The ball did not go very far, but when Clark recovered he seemed startled to see that the throw was to third instead of second… but it was already too late, and by the time he got his bearings for a throw home Davis was safe in a sliding blur.

    I think it was the next year when the Reds and Giants were tied in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded. The Reds infield was looking for an inning ending double play, but the batter singled up the middle. Davis charged the ball hard and kept running all the way to step on second base for the force. He wheeled to throw to first, but no one was covering the bag. The first basement (Esasky?) was just staring at the play with the same dumbstruck expression I was wearing.

    • RES

      @PMWEBER: I remember Davis trying to make that double play, and I remember him saying he had long planned for such an opportunity.

  7. KyleDKushner

    Off topic, but I love when FSO shows the Crew games instead of a big weekend Reds road series. If only the MLS would have been shut down years ago. Oh well. I digress.

    • renbutler

      @KyleDKushner: It’s not FSO’s choice. FOX picked it up as part of their regional package this evening. Sadly, here in Indy we’re saddled with the Cubs. Dammit.

  8. Chris DeBlois

    They used to say that if a game went long enough Tony Perez would figure out a way to win it. I was just a kid when Doggie was in his prime, but Eric Davis had some of that same character. I’ve never lived in Cincinnati or even Ohio, so I haven’t been to many home Reds games, but I do remember a game in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s when E won it in extra innings with an opposite field walk-off bomb. And we all knew it was coming eventually.

    I also loved watching Eric Davis prowl center field, to the point that after my own baseball days were over and I had turned to competitive softball (yes, a bit of an oxymoron), I would slap my left leg with the glove as I settled under a fly ball.

    Hats off to one of the great Reds of all time, and one of the most exciting players I’ve ever had the privilege to watch in person!

  9. renbutler

    Eric Davis is the primary reason why I became a Reds fan in a house full of *shudder* Cubs fans.

    I was a child of the ’80s, and Eric was unbelievably cool in every measureable way.

    He was to baseball what Barry Sanders was to the NFL. Loved them both.

  10. MarvinBakerDustyLewis

    So far’ Leake is getting the job done..

  11. RES

    I started following the Reds in their pennant-winning season of 1961, and Davis is one of the few players in all that time who had the ability to command attention when he walked to the plate. You just could not not watch Davis bat.