Any player/Any era: Eric Davis

What he did: In 1997, the Baltimore Orioles signed Eric Davis, but he appeared in just 42 games because he was diagnosed with colon cancer. However, he beat the odds and returned that year, eventually hitting the game winning homer in game five of the ALCS (let’s avoid what happened in game six). It was one of his two hits that series.

The Orioles brought him back in 1998 and he batted .327/.388/.582 and recorded a hit in 30 consecutive games (tied for the 29th longest streak in MLB history). He also went 35/37 in SB attempts, the 27th highest SB percentage in a season since 1951 (min. 20 SBs). He was the lone bright spot for a losing team with every regular over 30 that was fresh off a fantastic 90 win season. In reality, 1998 might be the last season there was optimism in Baltimore.

That’s why I remember Davis. You should remember Davis for many more reasons.

There have been 17 seasons in MLB history during which a player hit 20 HRs and stole 50 bases. Davis owns two of them. He also has the fourth highest stolen base success percentage in MLB history (min. 100 steals). His percentage, 84.1%, is behind Tim Raines, Pokey Reese and Carlos Beltran.

Davis burst on the scene in 1986 as a 24-year-old, batting .277/.378/.523 with 27 HRs and 80 SBs. From 1986-1990, Davis averaged a .277/.371/.527 line with 30 HRs and 41 SBs.

In 1990, he homered off Dave Stewart in his first World Series at bat. He also made a diving attempt at a ball in game four. The dive resulted in a lacerated kidney. He had surgery on that and his knee that off-season.

He appeared in 89 games the following season, which began an injury plagued trend.

Davis was so beaten down by injuries that he briefly retired after the 1994 season. He eventually made it back to the bigs and had that last gasp of brilliance for the Orioles in 1998 before retiring a few years later.

Era he might have thrived in: Davis could play in any era, but he would absolutely dominate the 1960s. Specifically, the St. Louis Cardinals had a glaring hole in right field and the need for someone to take the baton from Stan Musial.

Why: With Stan the Man in the twilight of his career, the Cardinals would need someone to bolster the offense. Adding Davis to a potent mix of Ken Boyer, Curt Flood, Tim McCarver, Lou Brock, Orlando Cepeda and others to replace the weak hitting Mike Shannon would be a boon to a team that perennially finished around .500.

If you normalize the career of Eric Davis to the 1962 Cardinals, he hits .283/.375/.506 with 305 HRs and 386 SBs. Putting his peak years during that era would provide 34 HRs and 50 SBs on average a season.

Having Davis in the fold would also likely stop them from trading for Roger Maris in 1966, who batted just .258/.330/.392 with an 111 OPS+ in his two seasons there.

Of course this assumes Davis wouldn’t need to benefit from modern medicine like he did in the late 90s. At the least, his peak would soften the blow for Cardinals fans when Stan Musial retired.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Others in this series: Al SimmonsAlbert PujolsBabe RuthBad News RockiesBarry BondsBilly BeaneBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBob WatsonBobby VeachCarl MaysCesar CedenoCharles Victory FaustChris von der AheDenny McLainDom DiMaggioDon DrysdaleDoug GlanvilleEddie LopatElmer FlickFrank HowardFritz MaiselGary CarterGavvy CravathGene TenaceGeorge W. Bush (as commissioner)George CaseGeorge WeissHarmon KillebrewHarry WalkerHome Run BakerHonus WagnerHugh CaseyIchiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jack MorrisJackie Robinson, Jim AbbottJimmy WynnJoe DiMaggioJoe PosnanskiJohnny AntonelliJohnny FrederickJosh GibsonJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Lefty GroveLefty O’DoulMajor League (1989 film),Mark FidrychMatty AlouMichael JordanMonte IrvinNate ColbertOllie CarnegiePaul DerringerPedro GuerreroPedro MartinezPee Wee ReesePete RosePrince FielderRalph KinerRick AnkielRickey HendersonRoberto ClementeRogers HornsbySam CrawfordSam ThompsonSandy Koufax Satchel Paige, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Spud ChandlerStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTony PhillipsTy CobbVada PinsonWally BunkerWes FerrellWill ClarkWillie Mays

2 Replies to “Any player/Any era: Eric Davis”

  1. Eric Davis was a stellar player. Sadly his many injuries prevented him from having the career he might have had. Thanks for writing about him. Indeed he was a very courageous man and an exciting player to watch.
    I don’t know if I would agree with a few of your points though. I don’t know how much more dominant Davis would have been in what is now known as the second dead ball era– the decade of the 60’s versus his own era. While you tout the dominance Davis might have had in the 1960’s you only calculate a possible uptick in his stats for the 1952 (unless that was a typo?) Cardinals which was a very different era from the 1960’s. It’s tough to say as well if Davis would have gone for steals as much in those days.
    I also would like to point out that Roger Maris was considered to be an extremely valuable player by his Cardinal teammates in 67-68. Sure by then he could no longer hit for power. But his clutch hitting, excellent fielding, willingness to do whatever it took to win, quiet leadership and his experience at fighting for and winning pennants and world series made him far more important to his team than any stats could explain.
    The other thought it about steals. Joe Posnanski in a blog called “14 Crazy Baseball Facts” stated as follows:
    “I’d argue that stolen base numbers, perhaps more than any other, are a product of the era. Jackie Robinson was a great base stealer — one of the best of all time — and yet he never stole more than 37 in a season. Another Dodgers second baseman, Steve Sax, was a DREADFUL base stealer, especially in his younger days, but he stole as many as 56 in a season (getting caught an almost impossible-to-believe 30 times that year). That’s a difference in the times. Jackie Robinson on the right team in the 1970s might have stolen 100 bases in a year.

    Willie Mays led the league in stolen bases four years in a row — from 1956 through ’59. But in those days 27 steals could lead the league (and did in 1959). Had Mays played in another era, he might have stolen 60 in a year. He might have been the first and only 50-50 player of all time. But he played in the era when he played, and was plenty good anyway.”

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