Certainly the ability to switch-hit in baseball can come in handy, paving the way for a batter to place himself in an advantageous situation against any pitcher they step in the box to face.
Chili Davis and his lifetime numbers of 350 home runs and 1,372 RBI spread over 19 big league seasons seemingly back up such a claim. Among switch-hitters, only Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray and Chipper Jones have slugged more career homers than Davis. That’s selective company since Mantle and Murray already have plaques hanging in the Hall of Fame while Jones is a shoo-in to reach Cooperstown upon calling it a career.
To Greg Gagne, Davis’ teammate with the Minnesota Twins in the early 90s, being able to differentiate pitches from either side of the plate could have been the decisive factor in the Red Sox naming Davis as the next hitting coach for the Pawtucket Red Sox.
The formal announcement came Monday afternoon that Davis would succeed Gerald Perry, who in October left to become the hitting coach for the Oakland Athletics.
“I thought it was hard enough hitting from one side of the plate. (To hit from both) means you have to be pretty talented and know what you’re doing,” said Gagne, the former head baseball coach at Bishop Feehan High. “I think Chili has a lot to offer and there’s no question he has a lot of knowledge to share.”
Davis figures to have an eclectic group of pupils to work with in 2011, the list of expected PawSox including lefties Ryan Kalish, Lars Anderson, Bubba Bell and Josh Reddick and righties Mark Wagner, Yamaico Navaro and Aaron Bates. One player who figures to benefit immensely from Davis’ tutelage is Daniel Nava, a switch hitter himself. In his time with the BoSox in 2010, Nava hit a respectable .250 against right-handed pitching. The same could not be said in the limited turns he received against southpaws (6-for-29, .207 mark).
“There are a lot of things he can teach the youngsters coming up,” revealed Gagne about Davis, whose career batting numbers were comparable regardless if he selected to hit right (.270 with a .453 slugging percentage) or left (.277 while slugging at a .450 clip). “I think he has a heart for baseball and knows what he’s doing.”
If the fact Davis thrived as a switch hitter doesn’t impress the PawSox hitters, perhaps the fact he was a three-time All-Star and won World Series titles with the Twins (1991) and Yankees (1998, ’99) will. He broke in with the San Francisco Giants in 1981 and played in the Bay Area through 1987 before moving on to the California Angels (1988-90, 1993-96), Twins (1991-92) and Kansas City Royals (1997) before winding up in the Bronx (1998-99).
Around New England Davis is probably remembered as the lone Yankee hitter to touch Pedro Martinez in otherwise lauded as the greatest game the former Boston ace ever pitched. Davis victimized Martinez for a solo home run in a September 1999 game at the old Yankee Stadium, a game that witnessed Martinez fire a one-hitter with 17 strikeouts. Davis wound up being one of six Yankees who Martinez fanned two or more times.
Gagne witnessed up-close one of Davis’ finer seasons in 1991 while with the Twins. Serving as Minnesota’s designated hitter, Davis formed a fierce middle-of-the-lineup with the late Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek and led the team in doubles (34), home runs (29) and RBI (93).
“He was a laid-back guy who was focused and went about his job,” recalled Gagne. “I thought he was a big part of our team.”
Following his playing days, Davis took on a few informal jobs in baseball so that he could watch his children grow. One of the roles he undertook was that of special advisor for Australia’s entry in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Most recently, Davis had been working in the Dodgers’ system, serving as the hitting coach for their instructional league team during the 2010 Arizona Fall League. The move was believed to be an indicator that Davis would fill the same void on Don Mattingly’s staff in L.A., but the gig instead went to Jeff Pentland.
Boston director of player personnel Mike Hazen noted the organization had plenty of sources right under their nose when it came to seeking out opinions about Davis. Ex-Red Sox employees John Farrell and Torey Lovullo were on the same Angels’ squads as Davis while with the Angels while Tom Goodwin, currently the outfield and baserunning coordinator in the Sox' farm system, knew Davis from their tenure together with the Royals.
“He came very highly recommended from a lot of baseball sources, ex-teammates and people in the game,” said Hazen. “Everyone came back with the same universal opinion, and you kind of weigh that stuff pretty heavily.”
EXTRA BASES: Besides Davis the Red Sox divulged Monday that former catcher Rich Gedman was named the hitting coach for Lowell. The last six seasons saw Gedman manage the Worcester Tornadoes of the Can-Am League. … Also Cumberland native Mike Roose will return for his second season as Pawtucket’s strength coach.