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12/25/06 10:00 AM ET
Davis on Hall ballot for first time
Injuries the only thing that slowed speedy outfielder
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- Eric Davis never gave up on a play, and he refused to give in on his playing career when his body told him to do so.
This is a man who lacerated a kidney trying to make a catch. He also fought back from early retirement because of injuries and even stared down life-threatening cancer. While those health issues diminished the type of numbers that would have signified a great career, it only increased the level of respect he earned around baseball.
"If you can't get inspired by Eric Davis and what he's been through, something's wrong," former teammate Shawon Dunston once said.
Davis had a 17-year career as an outfielder from 1984-2001 when he hit 282 home runs and drove in 934 runs for the Reds, Dodgers, Tigers, Orioles, Cardinals and Giants. But he never played in more than 135 games during a season.
Had injuries had not kept him out, who knows what was possible?
"If I hadn't lost five years of my career to injuries, I firmly believe I would've been up around 500 home runs," Davis said upon retirement in 2001 with the Giants. "I lost a lot of numbers. But that was just the luck of the draw. I feel very fortunate to have ever had the chance to play Major League Baseball. Everything else was icing on the cake."
Five years later, this is the first year Davis' name is on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot for election to the Hall of Fame. His career numbers likely will not leap from the sheet, but many fond recollections might.
After his first two abbreviated years, Davis hit 27 homers and stole 80 bases while batting .277 for the Reds in 1986 during his first full big-league season. Rickey Henderson was the only other player in history to ever post a "20-80" season.
Drawing comparisons to Willie Mays, Davis was a full-fledged star for Cincinnati by 1987 when he hit .293 with 37 homers, 100 RBIs and 50 steals as a 25-year-old. It also the year he became an All-Star and won the first of his three consecutive National League Gold Glove Awards.
By 1989, Davis had knocked in a career-best 101 RBIs and hit 34 homers in his second and final All-Star season. In 1990 during his first and only World Series, he set the tone for an improbable Reds sweep over the A's with a Game 1 homer in his first at-bat.
Unfortunately for Davis, he missed the celebration because he suffered a lacerated kidney trying to make a diving play in center field at Oakland. He was hospitalized for nearly two weeks. Then he endured a slight from former Reds owner Marge Schott, who refused to pay for his flight home to Cincinnati from the hospital.
"Eric the Red's" first tenure in Cincinnati was finished after the 1991 season. After a short and unfulfilling stay in his native Los Angeles because of injuries, Davis was dealt from the Dodgers to the Tigers in 1993. By the end of 1994, a herniated disk in his neck sent him into retirement.
Following a year of rest, a healthy Davis returned to the Reds in 1996 and hit 26 homers in 129 games. But his body betrayed him again with the Orioles in 1997.
This time, it was a challenge more daunting than any baseball injury. Davis was diagnosed with colon cancer.
In the days before Lance Armstrong's cancer-fighting heroics in cycling, Davis became a beacon of inspiration for many fighting the disease. He returned earlier than scheduled from cancer surgery and underwent chemotherapy while playing. Meanwhile, he helped raise cancer awareness around baseball and his efforts earned him the Roberto Clemente Award following the season.
Davis is among 32 candidates, including 17 first-timers, on the Hall of Fame ballot distributed to members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Candidates must be named on 75 percent of ballots cast to get elected.
Results will be announced Jan. 9, with enshrinement day scheduled in Cooperstown, N.Y., for July 29.