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.