When I set out this 2019 Spring Training Baseball Card Challenge for myself (and for you if you’d like to play along), I hoped to accomplish a few things …
- I wanted to capture the feel of hope and new beginnings that Spring Training engenders.
- I wanted to cover, at least in quick-touch fashion, some sets that don’t get much love.
- I wanted to talk about a few obscure players.
As it turns out, my mission for Day 32 of the challenge — talking about a card of a player who only played one season in the Majors — lends itself well to covering all of those, ahem, bases.
But beyond that, I came to realize that there is a whole cadre of players who not only played just one season in the Majors, but who appeared in only one game. Baseball Reference calls these “Cup of Coffee Players” and dedicates two whole pages to them — one for batters and one for pitchers.
One of the neat things about these guys is that many of them who had their moments in the sun in the 1970s or 1980s found their way onto a minor league card or three, which would make for a pretty sweet type set if you ask me.
But at least one of these fellas went one better and snagged a real live Major League Baseball card to commemorate his single Major League appearance.
On July 15, 1989, the New York Yankees were getting trounced by the Kansas City Royals at home buy a 5-1 margin heading into the ninth. With not much left to lose, manager Dallas Green brought in rookie Bob Davidson to close out the debacle, come Hell or high water.
And, well, came Hell.
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Danny Tartabull and Jim Eisenreich followed Wilson into the groundball darkness, but the damage had been done. In one inning of work, Davidson gave up a walk, a hit, and two earned runs, for an ERA of 18.00.
And it never ever budged from that mark again, because Davidson was done in the Majors.
See, at that point, Davidson had been working his way up the Yanks’ minor league system since they drafted him in the 24th round in 1984 out of East Carolina University. He progressed as you might expect, climbing roughly one rung per year, adding another “A” to his team’s level.
But that’s a fairly slow pace for a dude who started at 21, and he was 26 years old when Brett nailed him.
The Yankees were nothing special that season, but Davidson found himself back in Triple-A anyway, with more of the same in 1990. By 1991, he was with the St. Louis Cardinals and spent that summer with their Triple-A club, the Louisville Redbirds.
In between those final stops in the minors, though, Davidson ran right into the rookie card craze, when each company was trying to find ways to shoehorn more and more rooks and maybe-prospects into their products.
For Topps, part of that effort involved a set called “Major League Debut,” which dedicated one card to each of 150 players who made their first Big League appearance during the ’89 season. And there, among big names like Jim Abbott, Albert Belle, and Ken Griffey Jr., you’ll find card #29 of Bobby Davidson.
It’s a hunk of cardboard that does a better job than most of reminding us all about the hope and promise of Spring Training, and just how hard it is to carve out a career in Major League Baseball.
Check out the entire series of 2019 Spring Training Challenge posts here.