About five times a year, one of my fellow Reds-fan friends will bring up the hard-to-believe 1986 and 1987 Eric Davis seasons. The quote is always the same: “27 and eighty and then 37 and fifty!”

When E.D. was 24 years old, he played his first “full” season as a Cincinnati Red. In 132 games, Davis crushed 27 homers, stole 80 bases and hit .277/.378/.523 in that ’86 season. Todd Frazier belted 29 homers in 2014. Can you imagine him stealing eighty bases, too? (He stole 20.)

Then, in 1987, in just 129 games, Eric cracked 37 homers and swiped 50 bases. You figure if he plays in 145 games, he’s the first 40-40 player in baseball history (and he didn’t need steroids to do it.). Billy Hamilton stole 56 bases in 2014. Can you imagine him hitting 37 taters, too? (He hit six.) Or this: Joey Votto knocked 37 HRs in 2010, his MVP season. Can you imagine fifty steals to go with that? (He stole 16.)

Take a look at what Eric the Red did from 1986-90, his first five “full” seasons:

.277/.378/.527
143 OPS+
30 HR/41 SB per year
131 games/year
2 All-Star, 3 Gold Glove, 2 Silver Slugger

Davis was 28 years old, and in the last season of that five-year span when he helped lead the Reds to a World Series sweep over the heavily-favored Oakland A’s. But, as we know, the Los Angeles native damaged his kidney diving for a ball in Game 4. That, combined with a slew of other ailments, forced E.D. to miss hundreds of ballgames the rest of his career, in addition to the games he missed from 1984-90.

This leaves us with a big, fat “What if?”

What if Eric Davis had remained relatively healthy throughout his 17-year career? Would he have a plaque in Cooperstown today?

Keep in mind that Davis, even during his five prime seasons, never approached 162 games played. But let’s figure conservatively and put a healthy Eric Davis at 145 games per season for 17 seasons. Then let’s take his prime numbers and see where that gets us:

557 HR, 780 SB, 2,378 hits with about a .277 batting average. 

That’s more home runs than Mike Schmidt and Mickey Mantle. More than Lou Gehrig, Willie McCovey or Ted Williams. That’s more stolen bases than Vince Coleman, more than Joe Morgan and more than Kenny Lofton. Add another 5 All-Star games, 2 Gold Gloves, 3 Silver Sluggers and most likely, an MVP award to go along with the 1990 World Series ring.

That’s a slam dunk Hall of Fame resume.

Now, most players don’t make it through 17 seasons without missing most of one or two seasons due to major injury, and most players decline toward the end of their careers. So, let’s say Davis never quite gets to the 500 HR mark. We know he wouldn’t have come close to 3,000 hits either. But 500 steals seemed pretty likely with good health. 30 SB/year over 17 seasons gets him to that mark.

So, maybe more realistic numbers for Eric would have been:

455 HR, 520 SB, 2,050 hits with about a .270 batting average plus a ring, 7-10 All-Stars and 5-7 Gold Gloves. 

That’s still more home runs than Hall of Famers Carl Yastrzemski, Al Kaline and Joe DiMaggio. And more swiped bags than Cooperstown residents Roberto Alomar and Paul Molitor.

Hmm, would those stats and accolades be enough to get #44 into the Hall?

36 Responses

  1. THEGAFFER

    Loved him (first local national star of my time as Bench was 5 years early for me). The issue with Davis was that he was 150 lbs! He was never going to hold up, especially given the pounding of stealing and CF.

    He also had a very unorthodox swing which depended on ridiculous bat speed. Once he lost that speed a little, he was in trouble. He re-invented his swing a few years later.

  2. Davis Stuns Goliath

    When I was growing up, he seemed like Superman. His ’90 WS homer was one of the great moments of my childhood, and watching it still gives me chills to this day. I got into baseball before I got into girls, so it’s fair to say that the Dodgers trade was my first heartbreak.

    I am therefore unable to be objective about #44 in any way, shape or form — but I’ve long believed that if GABP was built 15 years sooner and Astroturf didn’t cause so much wear and tear, he’d be a first-ballot HOF lock.

    Ultimately, though, does it matter? I know that asking such questions shakes the foundation of the house of cards, but it’s the same as having a favorite band who never experiences mass success. So what if they aren’t a critical darling that ends up in the Rock and Roll HOF? It’s what they mean to you that counts. In my case, Eric Davis is the main reason I continue to bleed Red 30 years later.

  3. redmountain

    Nice to reminisce and he was a good player, but he isn’t coming out of the dugout anytime soon.

  4. MWest

    When ERic Davis played, magic happened. There was an electricity in the stadium rarely felt in the play by play by play pace. You just didn’t know what was going to happen. Many kids sat up and took notice those years he played for Cincinnati, many kids sat up and realized the excitement the game can bring. Not many players can bring that fire to the game like he did. Special…short-lived…but special.

    • aceistheplace2

      To me Ryan Freel was the excitement at the ball part (I didn’t start getting into the Reds or baseball until about 2000 or so). Absolutly loved watching him make diving stops in the outfield, and making some crazy plays in the infield. I know statistically he was never the greatest defender, but because of him, defense is what I enjoy playing more than anything now.

  5. RiverCity Redleg

    ED is probably my favorite player of all time. It broke my heart the way Marge Schott treated him after the world series. Wouldn’t even fly him back home b/c he was in the hospital when the rest of the team flew back. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s in the Hall if he had stayed realatively healthy.

  6. lwblogger2

    Eric Davis, in his prime, was easily one of the best players I’ve ever seen. I mean historically great. Had he been able to stay healthy, there was no doubt he would have been a slam dunk Hall of Famer. He was an extraordinary talent.

  7. RiverCity Redleg

    FWIW, I believe that the above shown 2-run dinger was the main reason we won the series. Going into that game literally no one gave the Reds a chance in haities to win. Hitting that shot off the “unhittable Dave Stewart” told the team for the first time, “Hey guys! We can win this!”

    • THEGAFFER

      3 run, but I agree.

      Dont forget though that Rijo *who the As traded to us 2 years earlier for Dave Parker* shut out the “bash brothers”.

  8. JRS1972

    His legs and knees were victims of the awful playing surface at old Riverfront Stadium too.

  9. wvredlegs

    One of my favorite Reds of all time. Very excited to see him again on the upcoming Reds Caravan. For the most part, the Reds LF has remained vacant since ED left, over two decades ago.

    • Tom Diesman

      Well, first, I’d say Davis should be remembered as a CF with the Reds:

      OF Games played by Davis With Reds
      LF 182
      CF 769
      RF 39

      Then as for LF being mostly vacant since he left, I’d have to say it’s been mostly covered pretty well. Only 1996-1997, and 2009-2014 barring the one good year from Ludwick has been bad. That’s 7 of 23 years. Mostly vacant since Dunn would be right on spot however. Below is the primary LF for the Reds each year since ED left before 1992, I included his 1996 return since he played CF mostly that year. We’ve really gotten a lot of good production from LF since then.

      Year LF AVG OPS SLG OPS OPS+
      1992 Bip Roberts .323 .393 .432 .826 131
      1993 Kevin Mitchell .341 .385 .601 .986 160
      1994 Kevin Mitchell .326 .429 .681 1.110 185
      1995 Ron Gant .276 .386 .554 .940 146
      1996 Eric Owens .200 .281 .229 .511 37
      1997 Chris Stynes .348 .394 .485 .879 128
      1998 Dmitri Young .310 .364 .481 .846 119
      1999 Greg Vaughn .245 .347 .535 .881 117
      2000 Dmitri Young .303 .346 .491 .837 107
      2001 Dmitri Young .302 .350 .481 .832 108
      2002 Adam Dunn .249 .400 .454 .854 121
      2003 Adam Dunn .215 .354 .465 .819 116
      2004 Adam Dunn .266 .388 .569 .956 147
      2005 Adam Dunn .247 .387 .540 .927 140
      2006 Adam Dunn .234 .365 .490 .855 114
      2007 Adam Dunn .264 .386 .554 .940 136
      2008 Adam Dunn .233 .373 .528 .901 132
      2009 Laynce Nix .239 .291 .476 .767 99
      2010 Johnny Gomes .266 .327 .431 .758 101
      2011 Johnny Gomes .211 .336 .399 .735 99
      2012 Ryan Ludwick .275 .346 .531 .877 130
      2013 Chris Heisey .237 .279 .415 .694 89
      2014 Ryan Ludwick .244 .308 .375 .683 93

  10. Carl Sayre

    I loved him and hated him at the same time. He is one of my favorite Reds but he was also one of my sons who was just starting to play ball when ED came to the majors. Has anyone tried to correct a young ball players swing when they are emulating their hero? I never did get that kid to quiet his bat down much. LOL

  11. Ted Kindle

    Maybe, maybe not. But he is and always shall be Eric the Red. I have one Jersey with a name on it and it says 44 Davis. He lacerated a kidney diving for a ball in a World Series game. How many others can say that.

  12. gosport474

    Two things I remember about that homer by Eric the Red. First, it set the tone for the entire series. Second, what an awful call on t.v. by Jack Buck. ‘It’s going to . . . go?’

  13. Tom Gray

    As good as ED was, he spent 4 full seasons and parts of 2 others in the minors before sticking with the Reds in 1986. He showed more power in the majors than he did in the minors. Even the best players take some time to develop into major leaguers.

    • MrRed

      Well, ok, but he started out as an 18 year old in the minors and debuted in the majors at 21 and finally stuck with the big league club in his age 23-24 season. That’s not too shabby by any era’s standards and explains why he didn’t hit for as much power in the minors. He was a very young and wiry kid who was still developing. Quite simply, he was one of the most physically gifted players I ever saw. He was fragile but brilliant when healthy.

      • Tom Gray

        And maybe even better as basketball player. ED was a star in LA HS circles but picked baseball over hoop.s

  14. Brian

    I believe it was Barry Larkin that said Eric Davis was the most talenter player he ever played with, or something along those lines. That says it all.

  15. mrredlegz

    Without Eric Davis, I am likely a White Sox fan or, God forbid, a Cubs fan. Wasn’t easy… The Big One is a little scratchy from almost 500 miles away, but I’d dial in every night that I could.

  16. Art Wayne Austin

    Eric stood out defensively with his diving and jumping catches. Who can forget him playing spectator on a successful steal. Most of the time he used a quick, stand-up slide. If he had a glove he could have caught most of the catcher’s throws. I never cared for his swing but he did generate power with it. Vada Pinson and Ewell Blackwell were my favorite Reds. Blackwell completely dominated the hitters in 47 and Pinson had a style of running like Mantle where his spikes didn’t seem to touch the ground.

    • vegastypo

      When you mentioned his ‘jumping catches,’ I suspect that Jack Clark winced.

  17. Earl Nash

    Eric Davis could just whip a bat through the box. He was a totally spring loaded hitter, very kinetic. The guy was built more like a shooting guard in basketball, a very unique athlete in baseball. You really saw that in the field. The biggest remembered plays being the two home runs he brought back from Jack Clark in consecutive games.

    I wish the Reds would have been on TV more back then in Indiana, i would have watched them.

  18. Kathy Bryan (@Kelby59)

    Makes me so happy to see Eric Davis a part of the Reds family again. He was so smooth in the outfield. Looked like no movement wasted, poetry in motion. The cutoff he threw from the outfield to home … extraordinary. Yes, the body was frail. But he maximized its use over a long career. Even fighting cancer at some point. He will always and forever be ERIC THE RED.

  19. JB WV

    One of the greatest talents ever to put on a uniform. When I read or hear his name mentioned I feel a sense of sadness. No doubt first ballot HOf if he could have stayed healthy. Hamilton is very fast, but I think Big E was faster. His SB% was definitely better.

  20. Remdog

    Greatest physical talent I’ve ever seen on a baseball field. I don’t think that even Deion Sanders was faster than ED in his prime, usually simply sliding and standing up before the throw even arrived. And Sanders possessed the greatest “closing speed’ I’ve ever witnessed, obviously the greatest skill a cornerback needs in football. About halfway to the bag, it seemed like he was suddenly just…..there. Davis had that too. He was simply untouchable from ’85-’87. Extremely rare to see, and I don’t even think Hamilton surpasses it.

    Anyway, I’ve mentioned this before on this site and haven’t received a definitive answer, so maybe one of you guys can help me out: It was ’85 or ’86, I believe, and the Reds were playing the Giants at home. I was there that day, and my young memory recalls Davis stealing home in the bottom of the 9th to win the game 1-0.

    Thinking back now, it was probably just my hyperbolic young mind that remembers it this way, but do any of you recall this? I’m assuming it was more likely a passed ball and Davis scored to win the game, but I’m sure his dancing presence along the third base line was more than a little distracting to the pitcher.

    Man, I’d love to see video footage of this. I know I didn’t dream it. I was there! Help?

  21. Matt WI

    Thanks for the trip down ED Lane. An icon of the Reds for me.

  22. Chad Jones

    I loved those teams of the 80’s. I kept waiting for us to break through in 1986, 87, and 88, but our starting pitching was garbage and injuries piled up. We finally got it all together in 90. Just wish Pete had been around.

  23. Redsfanpa

    So glad I got to see him play in person. It is a shame he had to play on the turf at Riverfront. Definitely one of my favorite Reds players. He has given me so many wonderful memories at the ballpark.

  24. cfd3000

    Many great memories of ED, including an extra inning game winning opposite field home run in Riverfront, one of the rare times I saw a game there in person. But my fondest memory is just of him slapping his leg with the glove, announcing that the batter was out before he even made the inevitable catch. So glad he’s back in the Reds family again.

  25. Mack Ashley Potter

    Eric The Red Baby!
    That was my guy. And still is today. My idol growing up as a kid, he was so cool and so good. If he was healthy…hell yes he is a HOFer. Are you kidding me?

  26. dal-lan

    There’s a long line of players who said Eric Davis was the best they ever saw. From Pete, to Barry, to Paul, to Cal. Eric was truly electrifying, and sorry to those who didn’t get to watch him who were younger or not born in the early 80’s to see him be Superman in 1986-1990, and he was good again after injuries in 1992, and after retiring and coming back in 1996 was nearly his old self and should have been an All-Star, and 1997 was on the way to an All-Star season without question, but cancer hit him, and then he amazingly recovered enough from chemo to hit a post-season homer – that video should be played a lot more than it does – and in 1998 – ERIC DAVIS was the true non-PED superstar of the year. He hit higher than Jeter, at .327, had a 30 game hitting streak, and 27 homers with the O’s. That’s why Cal paid him such a compliment. It’s a shame he wasn’t injury free – but – to those of us who watched him – he was a blur, a power hitter, a kind person – I love E D! He would have been 500-500 player barring injury. Still, his 1986 and 1987 seasons with under 500 at-bats are legendary to baseball purists – nobody was better in the late 80’s – no one!