Thursday, January 17, 2008

"The Most Exciting Baseball Player I've Ever Seen"

Voros starts to rip into Shaugnessy, but then has a lot more fun remembering Eric Davis:

If you only caught the tail end of his injury and illness played career, you wouldn’t know it, but Eric Davis was far and away the most exciting baseball player I’ve ever seen. There have been guys who can do it all: run, hit for power, hit for average, make spectacular fielding plays. But Davis was something different. Davis was a high wire act that you knew had a chance in ending in
disaster. Davis lacerated his kidney diving for a ball in the World Series, but with Davis that was the norm.

Voros and I are close to the same age, so it is understandable that I agree wholeheartedly with his assessment of Davis. Davis was the gold standard of ballplayers as far as my friends and I were concerned. No one looked like him. No one played like him. He was just a beast. I've always taken the Willie Mays/Andruw Jones thing with a grain of salt -- though he may have been Mays' defensive equal, Andruw has never looked the way I've heard people describe Mays -- but pre-injury Eric Davis felt like the real deal. If I had the power to alter anything in baseball over the past 20 years, seeing what a healthy Davis could have done is near the top of the list.

Not that he was the best player around. Even pre-steroids Bonds was a far more productive hitter. Ken Griffey had many seasons better than Eric the Red's best. Heck, year-in-year out guys like Dale Murphy, Darryl Strawberry, and Tim Raines brought more to the table than Davis. But he was more exciting to watch, partially for the speed/power mix, but mostly for the reckless abandon.

Which has me thinking about the other players I've enjoyed for aesthetic reasons as opposed to merely appreciated due to superior performance. Not thinking too deeply about it, below is my list. Obviously all of these guys aren't going to be the best at what they did -- as is the case with Andruw Jones, hyper-competence can actually be somewhat boring -- but the players whose play I've simply enjoyed. No pitchers -- I thought about them for a minute and realize that, while I tend to like good pitching more than good hitting, it's really more of a formal appreciation as opposed to a pure enjoyment. Maybe I'll deal with pitchers later. In the meantime:

C: Tony Pena. I loved the odd squat behind the plate and the way he'd fling the ball around.

1B: Will Clark. This is mostly for offense -- great swing -- but I loved the way he carried himself on the field. Just seemed like what a ballplayer was supposed to be like. As much as I admire Bonds' accomplishments on an intellectual level, the Giants ceased to be interesting to me when Clark stopped playing for them after 1993.

2B: Craig Biggio. He wasn't necessarily exciting in the way some of these other players were, but since I always thought of him as a catcher -- probably far longer than anyone else did -- I always gave him extra credit when I watched him snag something at second base and probably enjoyed his play more than I should have.

3B: George Brett. Another primarily offensive choice. I may have seen him play in person in Tiger Stadium three times between 1978 and 1984, but my memories of baseball in those years are of George Brett single-handedly beating the Tigers dozens -- no, hundreds of times. I don't know why, but he just looms so much larger in my consciousness than even a player of his considerable stature should. Maybe it was the pine tar game, maybe it was the chase for .400, but as he played, he seemed to be building an almost contemporaneous legend.

SS: Ozzie Smith. The exception to the notion of competence being boring. Of course, calling Smith merely "competent" is an insult on par with calling a normal player putrid. As many have noted, when shortstops dive for balls, it's often because they got a late break. When Smith dove for balls it was because Tommy Herr or Terry Pendelton did.

LF: Rickey Henderson, though I'll admit I never really thought of him as a Hall of Fame type player during his prime. Not because he wasn't -- he obviously was -- but because I didn't yet appreciate OBP or the uniqueness of his power from the leadoff position (Lou Whitaker hit homers for my Tigers, so I assumed all leadoff hitters did). So no, it wasn't quite appreciation for him as it was enjoyment of his speed and his showboating, and his interview skills. I'd watch a whole team of Rickeys even if he was a hacker.

CF: Davis, for reasons stated.

RF: A tie between Ichiro and Dave Parker. Radically different players, obviously, but both had great arms. What I liked about them the most, though, is not the arm strength itself, but the deception. You never expect a guy Ichiro's size to have a cannon like he does. Parker, on the other hand always seemed to lope around in a rather haphazard fashion, but once he got to the ball and let loose, the results were most impressive (almost as if he were striking; like some kind of snake; maybe someone ought to have given him a nickname in that vein . . )

OK, I suppose this list may have been a little best-ever heavy, but there you go.

Excited yet?

UPDATE: Neyer asks how I could put this list together and not include Bo Jackson. Good question, but I have a (sorta) defensible answer. Jackson saw his first real playing time in 1987, but didn't really become HOLY CRAP THIS IS BO JACKSON until 88 or 89. One thing you'll note about this list is that it's basically devoid of post-1985 AL players (I got hooked on Henderson in the early 80s). There's a reason for this, and that reason is that I lived in West Virginia from 1985 through 1991 and saw damn little American League ball during those years. Yes, I saw the Jackson highlights on SportsCenter, and yes, I saw his legendary All Star Game performance, but I really didn't see much of the guy and thus don't have the same level of appreciation for him as many do.

But even if I did -- I have to wonder whether I'd still not rather watch Rickey in left.


Mike said...

I had never considered this until now, but Davis is the only visiting player I can remember going to a Giants game to see. The most memorable Davis play of that game: With the outfield playing in, a single fell in front of Davis. There was a runner on first, and since Davis' momentum was already going in that direction, he nearly made a force out at second. The hometown crowd booed the close call.

urayoan said...

I'm originally from Boston, so it may be skewed, but FWIW, here's my starting 9:
C - Ivan Rodriguez - cat like behind the plate
1B - Frank Thomas - an absolute monster in his prime
2B - Roberto Alomar
3B - Edgar Martinez - couldn't pick a legit 3B, so he's in because his swing was pretty, despite his dominant position. And I liked ARod more at SS.
SS - Nomar - always felt that something special was going to happen with him at the plate.
OF - Jose Canseco, saw him take BP once at Fenway in 86 or 87 and was hooked. I remember it as if every ball went over the monster.
0F - Bo Jackson - remember when he rann on the OF wall?
0F - Vladdy - seeing him unleash a throw is a sight to behold
P - Pedro

Jason said...

Funny that urayoan said it before I did, but Bo Jackson, hype aside, was as exciting a player to watch, in TWO sports, as ther ever was.

You just had a feeling he could do whatever he willed on the field.

Too bad his sports career ended way too soon.

Don Evans said...

I am too young to remember Bo Jackson play (or at least i didn't pay attention to baseball until after he retired) I always here all this stories about how much fun he was to watch play. I guess he is one those example that a player doesn't need a exceptional stat line to be entertaining to watch. For me personally, back in his astro days, Billy Wager was fun to watch pitch. I can't quite put my finger on it but the ball just looked different coming out of his hand. I know he did throw high 90's but it looked like he was throwing about ... eh 300 miles an hour ;) .... and i think a good post topic might be memorable games ... for me one that always stood out was when Mike Mussina one hit the Red Sox at Fenway. I think it was Sunday nite baseball. Mussina is probably my all time favorite pitcher and he had a no hitter in the bottom of the 9th and two strikes on Carl "I don't believe in Dinosaurs" Everett. Carl dunked a hit into center if i recall correctly and I was sooo ticked off ....

Don Evans said...

wow i just read my last post .... i know i am often pretty sloppy with spelling and grammar, its a weak side of my writing, but that was particularly bad ... couldn't have ANYTHING to do with all this Yellow Tail I've had tonite haha

urayoan said...

Don - I was at that game and Moose actually had a perfect game til Jurrasic Carl blooped a single over Jeter.

Josh said...

Don... I assume (maybe due to the yellowtail) that you didn't see/don't remember Bo Jackson before he was injured... He played until 1994 and I assume (from reading your new blog - which is good by the way) that you were following baseball then...

Don Evans said...

this yellotail is good ....

anyways urayoan that is awesome you were at a game.... what a good game to get to watch, rather than some boring game. I am kind of biased here but I think Mussina has a pretty good hall of game case .... good WARP3, ERA+, decent K rate ... any one else think so ?

Josh - thanks so much for the compliment... I really appreciate it. I started my blog just last wed. and so far I have had a lot of fun and met several friendly and smart fans of the game who have been very helpful. I love intelligent discussion.I am 23 so I was only 10 when Bo retired. I was a late bloomer to MLB ( I loved playing catch in the backyard as long as I can remember)and didn't really follow it untill 1996. The Yankees first WS title in that run, got me hooked......

urayoan said...

While Bo played until '94, he got hurt with the Raiders in January of '91 and he wasn't the same after that. No way he could run on the outfield wall with a replaced hip.

Levi Stahl said...

The Mussina game is a good memory for me because my wife and I happened to be driving back from somewhere far away, and when we find baseball on the radio when we're driving, we listen to it. We picked up in about the third inning and the miles flew by.

Jason said...

Rob Neyer has a major Shyster-crush going on. That's at least three or four links in 2 weeks.

Does he slip you notes during class, too?

I kid, I kid. I'd love to have a fan like Rob any day of the week. Must be cool to have a someone you're a fan of also be a fan of yours.

Members of the Mutual Admiration Society, the meeting will now come to order. Shyster, you complete me.

Shyster said...

No man-crush. It's a purely cash relationship. ;-)

glenn said...

That's because Brett DID kill the tigers back then. Tiger Stadium was his favorite park and it showed. I loved watching him hit but every time the Royals came to the corner you just knew he was going to eat the Tigs pitching alive.

ryan said...

a little late but...

i really don't like the will clark and biggio kind of guys who seem like they practiced the scrappy and/or intense white guy kind of thing.

how about Ugly Otis Nixon circa championship braves days?

thewineguy said...

Great list - Davis was brilliant to watch but he's not on my list I'm a little older so here goes:

C - tie between Pena and Thurman Munson

1B - Clark's a great pick, honorable mention to John Mayberry

2B - Roberto Alomar

3B - "Puffy" Graig Nettles, with apologies to Mike Schmidt

SS - Ozzie Smith backed up by Dave Concepcion

LF - Rickey Henderson

CF - Paul Blair, I told you I was old, with props to Devon White

RF - Ellis Valentine, his arm made Parker and Ichiro look like middle infielders

SP - Nolan Ryan, 'cause you never knew when magic might happen

RP - Mariano Rivera and Goose Gossage