This stocky curveballer spent five seasons with the Giants, split between the bullpen and the starting
rotation, before he blossomed as a relief stopper with the Padres
in 1988. Originally signed by the Phillies, Davis was the Eastern League MVP in his
second pro season (19-6, 2.47 at Reading in 1980) and was traded to the Giants with
Mike Krukow for Joe Morgan and Al Holland before the 1983 season.
Davis never found
his niche in San Francisco. He was exclusively a starter in 1983 and was the Giants'
Opening Day starter in 1984, but he spent almost all of 1985-86 in the bullpen, where
he struck out over a batter an inning but saved only 11 games in two years. In a
game against the Mets in 1985 he threw 23 straight curveballs.
Davis rejoined the
Giants' rotation in 1987 before he was traded to San Diego in July, part of a seven-player
deal that included Kevin Mitchell, Craig Lefferts, Dave Dravecky, and Chris Brown.
Handed the stopper role for the first time in his career, Davis emerged as an overpowering
reliever in 1988. He was the Padres' lone All-Star, recording 28 saves, a sterling
2.01 ERA, and 102 strikeouts in 98.1 innings.
Those numbers however, would prove merely a prelude to his magnificent 1989 campaign, which saw him lead the NL with 44 saves while posting a 1.85 ERA and allowing just 66 hits in 92 2/3 innings. His efforts earned him the National League Cy Young Award, just the fourth time in league history (following Mike Marshall in 1974, Bruce Sutter in 1979 and Steve Bedrosian in 1987) that the honor had been bestowed upon a reliever.
Incredibly, after saving 72 games over the previous two seasons, Davis would manage as many as six saves just once more for the remainder of his career. His downward spiral began when he parlayed his award-winning season into a four-year $14 million free-agent contract with the Kansas City Royals (coupled with KC ace Bret Saberhagen's 1989 AL Cy Young, the Royals became the first team in history to own both defending Cy Young winners) in December 1989. Davis' success in the Senior Circuit would not translate into the American League, as he suffered a miserable 2-7 season with a bloated 5.11 ERA. Kansas City eventually removed him from the stopper job, and even tried putting him into the starting rotation.
The remainder of his tenure with the Royals turned out little better, and the deal was often cited as one of the biggest busts of the free-agent era. After showing promise as a starter at the tail end of 1991, he spent the next three seasons bouncing from Kansas City to Atlanta to Philadelphia and finally back to San Diego. His career was essentially over when the player's strike prematurely ended the 1994 season, although he did resurface for one final tour of duty with Milwaukee in 1997.
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FROM THE BASEBALL CHRONOLOGY
»January 9, 1979: In the January draft - secondary phase, the Phils take Mark Davis with the top pick while the pick Nattie George, who will go unsigned. The Reds don't sign the 3rd pick, P Bill Bordley.
»September 19, 1989: San Diego's Mark Davis becomes the 7th pitcher ever to save 40 games in a season by nailing down the Padres' 5–1 win over the Reds. He will finish the season with 44 saves, one shy of Bruce Sutter's National League record.