Earlier this week David Schoenfield wrote about eight amazing Major League Baseball seasons that could happen only in the 1980’s at ESPN. The premise is incorrect, of course, as the seasons could happen in any era outside of the deadball era – but it was still a fun exercise. Of course, one of the seasons he looks at wasn’t even a season – it was just a 162-game span of time between the 1986 and 1987 seasons. Of course you already know that it was Eric Davis, because you clearly saw the headline of this article.

You may have heard of this stretch before – it’s not the first time someone has brought it up or talked about it – but let’s take a dive into it. From June 11th, 1986 through July 4th, 1987, Eric Davis played 162 games for the Cincinnati Reds and he hit .308/.406/.622. That stretch also saw him steal 98 bases, score 149 runs, and he drove in 123. “Eric the Red” was on a different planet at that time in baseball.

Prior to the start of this stretch, Davis was in a big slump for the Reds. He had played in 36 games, starting 23 of them, and was hitting .198/.297/.365. Luck wasn’t on his side – he had a .208 batting average on balls in play. But the signs were there that he was ready to bust out – his walk rate was strong and his strikeout rate was at a good spot. He had already stolen 15 bases on the season, too.

The 162-game stretch started out on June 11th in an unmemorable manner. Davis entered the game against the Dodgers in the 8th inning and went 1-1. The Reds were off on the 12th before returning to the east coast and taking on the Braves in Atlanta. Davis wasn’t in the starting lineup that night, though, entering in the 9th inning as a pinch runner for Dave Parker and stealing second base – but he was left stranded in a 1-run loss. The next night, again, saw Davis not in the lineup. He would take over in the bottom of the 6th inning in left field for Nick Esasky and go 1-1 with a run and a steal that night.

It was from that point forward that things started to really go the right way for Davis and the Reds. In the 94 games that followed, Eric the Red hit .299/.400/.569 with 64 steals, 13 doubles, two triples, and 23 home runs.

If you don’t remember the 1987 season, and yours truly doesn’t have actual memories from the season, let me remind you that there was something weird happening that season. Offense was up across the board in a big way that season. The OPS for MLB jumped up 26 points from 1986, and in 1988 it dropped off 51 points.

Eric Davis took full advantage of whatever was leading to an offensive explosion that year. In the first two weeks of the season he hit .469/.519/.898 and stole eight bases. That was a pace that no one could keep up with, of course, but he didn’t fall off much, posting an OPS of 1.246 in May before starting to cool off in June and through July 4th when he “only” hit .265/.402/.506. When July 4th ended in 1987, he was hitting .318/.413/.690 with 24 home runs and 33 stolen bases. It was the end of a 162-game stretch that is one of the more incredible spans in the last half-century.

16 Responses

  1. Gonzo Reds

    After Johnny Bench my favorite Reds player. His #44 should be retired and not be worn by Aquino and others…

    • jazzmanbbfan

      Eric the Red and Vada Pinson: my two favorites. I’m not even sure why Vada but as a young child growing up in the hinterlands of west-central NY, there was something about him I just liked.

      On the other hand, I had moved to Cincinnati in July 1985 and from the time I first saw Eric Davis, I knew I was seeing a superstar. Even if his light shone brightly for only a short time, he was well worth the money to watch him play.

      • MK

        Maybe your lifetime Vada but hard to overlook Hall of Famer Edd Roush. Two time batting Champ, plus a double and triple champ in 12 seasons. I know you are a little biased but the nod has to go to Edd.

      • Doug Gray

        My man, you need to take a deep breath and take a step back with the whole “Redleg Nation prints false information” stuff. My goodness, there was an accidental failure to mention a player who accumulated a total of zero plate appearances in a fictional simulation of a video game. And we corrected it within like 3 hours.

      • Doug Gray

        Well I’m just going to have to be more unprofessional and block you from commenting. Take care, Vada. I’m not going to continue dealing with this ridiculousness over a video game simulation that you are taking as a personal vendetta.

  2. Melvin

    That’s interesting. Thanks for that. I always said that he was the best all around player I ever saw play when completely healthy. I think artificial turf hindered him greatly as his body couldn’t take it although crashing in to walls didn’t help either. lol

    • Michael Smith

      @melvin, god awful turf hurt so many good players. Dave Parkers knees were destroyed over time playing on turf, Davis’s body fell apart and I am sure there are a lot of other guys that I cant remember.

    • Dewey Roberts

      Melvin, Davis’ career was really hurt when he had that fall in the World Series that damaged his kidney. He was a special player and certainly one of my favorites. He could literally do it all. He wasn’t just a 5 tool player. He was great at all 5 tools.

  3. Sliotar

    Agree with all the comments above, especially about jersey being retired.

    Not just because he is a former Reds player … but, IMO, he is one of the great “what ifs” and is under-appreciated because of the era he played in.

    If he was in his prime, playing home games at GABP, with FanGraphs and MLB.TV and national games on every night … he would be better recognized for the unique talent he was.

  4. KYPodman

    A few years ago I had the honor of sitting next to Mr. Davis on a flight from Cincy to LA. He was the nicest person and I enjoyed listening to his stories and will always remember the conversation we had. He could have just sat there and stayed to himself, but, he was extremely outgoing, offering me some of his food that he brought on board, asking questions about me (I had a son that played baseball at the time), and asking all sorts of questions about my son and how is baseball was progressing. He provided tips on hitting instructors (who to go with and choose), etc. The flight seemed to take 30 mins instead of 3 to 4 hours.

  5. MikeD

    Eric is my second favorite Red of all-time (#5 being my favorite). He was an incredibly talented baseball player and would have loved to see how he would have performed without the injuries. Stupid AstroTurf! He set the tone in game one of the 1990 world series with a homer off Dave Stewart. His number should be retired and he should be in the Reds HOF.

    Nice job Doug, thanks for the memories!

    • CFD3000

      Mike – Eric Davis, Eric the Red was inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in 2005. And deservedly so.

  6. redfan4life

    Eric Davis was the best all around Reds player I have ever saw. That is taking nothing away from Vada Pinson or any others that I never saw play.
    I still remember Reds fans booing Eric. When he was coming back from missing several games and struck out three times that game.
    Votto is not appreciated he is the best hitter in Reds history and Eric was not appreciated either. And I am not talking about folks on here. But many Reds fans never appreciate great Reds players. But they think Rose is some sort of a GOD.

  7. Wendell

    I remember the day Eric hit the sign to win a fan a brand new truck, what an amazing day!