One of the most memorable and significant moments in the history of baseball was set up by a walk. One of the truly universally known World Series finishes would have been a shrug if a slumping player did not look at 4 pitches thrown by a former teammate.
And that same player helped put one of the most unlikely World Series results in history on ice when he swung his bat.
By all reasonable metrics, Mike Davis was a terrible signing by the Los Angeles Dodgers. And yet, he delivered twice in ways that put him in Dodger lore for all time and part of the great baseball narrative.
Davis was drafted by the Oakland A’s out of Herbert Hoover High School in San Diego during the 1977 draft. The A’s were a newly ruined franchise and players like Davis picked into the system were the nuggets of hope for the bleak Oakland future.
Right away, he played well at Medicine Hat in his first year in the minor leagues. He put up huge numbers at Single A Modesto in 1979, earning a promotion to Double A. He split both 1980 and 1981 between Triple A and Oakland, finding it hard to fit into the starting lineup for Billy Martin with an outfield of Dwayne Murphy, Tony Armas and Rickey Henderson. He did get an at bat in the 1981 playoffs for Oakland. By 1983, Davis was in the majors for good.
Right away he showed his stolen base prowess, swiping 32 bags in 1983 along side Rickey Henderson. By 1985, he added power to his bag of tricks. With Henderson traded, Davis played 154 games in 1985 for the A’s, hitting 24 homers, batting .287 and posting an OPS of .832. He added 24 stolen bases for good measure.
When Tony LaRussa had taken over the team in 1986, Davis was a consistent producer, worth 20 homers and 20 steals a year as a left handed hitter.
By 1987, the face of the A’s was forming. Canseco and McGwire were slugging, Carney Lansford was a solid hitter along with Terry Steinbach with Dave Stewart as the ace and Dennis Eckersley was getting a shot to close.
Davis was part of that club but with his contract up, his time with Oakland looked like it was wrapping up as well. His agent, Louis Burrell (yes, related to MC Hammer) got him a multiyear, multimillion dollar contract to go to the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team that going into 1988 looked like a odd mix of veterans and youth after a few losing seasons.
The A’s and Dodgers made a big deal that sent Bob Welch to Oakland and Alfredo Griffin and Jay Howell to LA. Davis probably almost felt at home.
Kirk Gibson also joined the team and the demeanor of the club changed with the transaction.
The Dodgers had a surprising 1988, but it was in spite of Davis. He batted .197 for the first half with a single homer and 11 RBI for the first half, slugging an unheard of .250.
The second half wasn’t much better, batting .194 with 1 homer and an OPS of .564. The totals, an .196 average and a disastrous .530 OPS with 2 homers and 17 RBI, pointed towards the title of Bust.
In the NLCS, he made 4 pinch hit appearances but did not look like he was going to be a factor, even when the Dodgers won the pennant.
With Kirk Gibson injured for the World Series, it did not open a spot for Davis in the starting lineup. Manager Tommy Lasorda opted to go with Mickey Hatcher, a right handed batter, over Davis’ non productive left handed bat.
In Game 1, Lasorda pushed the right button with Hatcher, who hit a 2 run homer in the first off of Dave Stewart. When Jose Canseco hit a grand slam off of the centerfield camera, the A’s took a 4-2 lead. The score was 4-3 going into the 9th when Dennis Eckersley, the impervious A’s closer took the mound.
Mike Scioscia and Jeff Hamilton made quick outs. Two outs. Nobody on. Down by 1 run. Everyone remembers that Kirk Gibson was taking swings in the clubhouse. But Lasorda did not call for Gibson.
Alfredo Griffin was up next. Instead Lasorda called for Davis. Why? I am not 100% sure. Griffin couldn’t hit but neither could Davis. And if Davis made an out, as his .530 OPS suggested was not an uncommon event, then the whole “Gibson was available to pinch hit but Lasorda chose Davis” would have become an urban myth quickly dismissed. “If Gibson was available, then why would he have batted Davis with 2 outs.”
Dave Anderson was on deck as Eckersley nibbled around Davis, who pulled off the walk.
The walk put the winning run at the plate. The walk made what happened afterwards possible. Gibson came up and eventually Davis stole second, making only a single necessary to tie the game.
Well, we all know what happened. Yes, Gibson’s homer would have only been a game tying shot without Davis. But then again there is no Gibson shot if Davis hadn’t been on base. The A’s would win that game and in all probability the World Series.
With the DH in effect in Oakland and facing only right handed starters, Davis was rewarded for his walk by starting Games 3, 4 and 5. In the potential clinching Game 5, Davis rewarded Lasorda and management.
Orel Hershiser was pitching for LA in hoping to clinch. He allowed a run in the third inning to make the score 2-1. With 2 outs in the 4th and a runner on first, Mike Davis came up against Storm Davis. On a 3-1 pitch, he launched a home run into the Oakland stands, like he had done so many times as an Athletic.
Now with a 4-1 lead, Hershiser made the clinching all but a formality, completing the 5-2 final and the title, with a little help from Mike Davis.
Mike Davis played one more season with the Dodgers but his big league career was over. But his place as being one of the sparks for one of baseball’s greatest moments remains secure.