It’s appropriate that during this hot stove winter, one of the free agents seeking an exorbitant amount of money, yet has very little to show for it in terms of track record, helped remind me of today’s Forgotten Friar, Mark Davis. I’m talking about New York Yankees’ reliever David Robertson. While he was a solid setup man for the great Mariano Rivera, Robertson stumbled in his initial audition as the Yankees’ closer, and then got injured. He lost the job to fellow setup man Rafael Soriano, who never looked back and used that opportunity to sign a nice deal with the Washington Nationals. Sure, Robertson had a very effective first year as a closer, but a Sandman he is not. Hopefully, Mr. Robertson, whose nickname is Houdini, can avoid the same fate as former Padres’ closer, Mark Davis.
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Mark Davis was acquired from the division rival San Francisco Giants during the 1987 season, in a seven-player deal that was highlighted by future MVP Kevin Mitchell heading up the California coast. Someone should do some research and find out the last time a future Cy Young winner and league MVP were dealt for one another and both winning their respective awards in the same season. Davis became the Padres closer in 1988, and saved 28 games, with an ERA of 2.01 in just under 100 frames. He was setting the stage for a magical season in 1989.
By the time the 1989 season opened, the Padres were expected to compete with both the defending World Series champion Dodgers and the Giants for NL West supremacy. It simply didn’t pan out. The addition of Jack Clark, while impactful, easn’t enough to overcome the Will Clark/Matt Williams/Kevin Mitchell triumvirate that dominated the National League that summer. It didn’t stop Mark Davis from having his career best season, en route to the 1989 National League Cy Young award, his second All-Star nod, and the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year award. To top things off, he was heading into free agency, meaning a big pay day was around the corner.
During his epic 1989 campaign, David recorded 44 saves in 92 2/3 innings, and retired a remarkable 19 straight inherited runners over 25 frames in the month of September to finish the season: one of the most dominating periods of relief pitching in modern history. His control was out of this world, walking only 31 (1 intentional), while striking out 92 hitters. Davis was the head and shoulders dominant force in baseball as a closer.
Mandatory Credit: thebaseballpage.com
The Padres sought to keep their All-Star, and offered a four-year, $12 million deal to keep Davis in San Diego. Although he and his agent, Randy Hendricks claimed their first choice was to remain with the Padres, it’s unknown how much of a legitimate shot they truly had to keep him. Davis instead, spurned multiple offers, and while seeking a five-year commitment, signed a four-year, $13 million deal with the Kansas City Royals. Padres GM Jack McKeon at the time had this to say about Davis’ jump to the American League: ”We played poker, and they lost.”
Some took offense to the parting shots that Davis made to the media when introduced after signing with the Royals, as a knock towards the people and city of San Diego:
"“Other teams offered more money and more years. But I picked Kansas City because of the pitching staff and the situation it offered me, and because the community offers things I want for my family.”(h/t, Joseph Durso, NY Times)"
In reality, the non-signing of Mark Davis by the Padres probably turned out to be a bullet dodged by the franchise. Davis never regained his former Cy Young form, and eventually lost his closer’s role to Jeff Montgomery in Kansas City. Davis never had an ERA under 4.45 during his time with the Royals, and he only saved 7 games over the next three seasons.
Following his failures in Kansas City, Davis moved on to Atlanta, Philidelphia, and was briefly out of baseball before one last boot licking session with the Padres in 1993 and 1994 that produced a 4-save, 3.52 ERA season in ’93. The wheels came off once again in 1994, as Davis tossed only 16 1/3 innings, posting an ERA of 8.81 before calling it a career.
Mark Davis, the latest in our Friars On Base series of Forgotten Friars!