This feature on Jamaican-born baseball slugger Chili Davis appeared in the April 15-30, 2002, issue of The Caribbean Voice.
Longtime Ballplayer Chili Davis Now Coaching for D-Backs
By Ed M. Odeven
Tucson, Ariz. — Chili Davis never expected to be a major leaguer. Now, he’s doing something else he never expected to do: coach up-and-coming baseball players.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1960, Chili moved with his family to Los Angeles as a kid. Baseball was certainly not on his radar screen then.
“I started when I was 12 years old. I was late; most kids start at 5 and 6. I love the game. I loved it, I enjoyed it and I played it hard and played as long as I could,” Davis said.
This spring, he is working for the World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks. As a minor-league hitting instructor, Davis monitors the progress of young hitters, roves between various games at the D-backs’ minor-league training complex and provides pointers to youngsters — knowledge he acquired playing 2,436 games in a big-league career that spanned 19 seasons, starting with the San Francisco Giants in 1981 and concluding with the New York Yankees in 1999.
On a chilly, windy March afternoon, the articulate, engaging Davis discussed the exciting opportunity he has this spring.
“There are a lot of satisfying moments here working with the young guys,” said Davis, a 42-year-old native of Kingston, who relocated with his family to Los Angeles in 1970. “They are eager to listen, they are eager to try things, they are eager to learn. You just hope that something you gave them will click with them, and it’ll help them become a better player.”
Davis subscribes to the philosophy that batters should do what they can to simplify hitting. One of his former hitting coaches, Tom McGraw, helped him understand that concept.
“Tom McGraw told me, ‘Never leave a fastball.’ You always look for the fastball,” Davis said. “And if there are two strikes, go right back to the fastball and adjust to something else, because you can’t hit a fastball looking for a curveball, but you can hit a curveball looking for a fastball. It made a whole lot of sense…”
Now, Davis said he hopes his understanding of the game will rub off on the players.
“Well, you hope they listen to you for who you are first of all,” he said. “Then, you hope they listen to you because what you say makes sense.”
A Successful Career
Davis’ resume speaks for itself: a .274 lifetime batting average, 2,380 hits and 1,372 RBIs. His 350 career home runs is third all-time behind Eddie Murray’s 504 and Mickey Mantle’s 536 among switch-hitters. The three-time All-Star played outfield and designated during a career that included stints with the Giants (1981-87), Angels (88-90), Twins (91-92), Angels (92-96), Royals (1997) and Yankees (1998-99). He hit 20-plus homers in a season 10 times.
Folks might also remember Davis’ two home runs in the classic, seven-game 1991 World Series between the Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves — two teams that completed the improbable mission, going from worst to first in their respective divisions. And he picked up three World Series rings, one with Minnesota in ’91 and two more in the Yanks’ back-to-back triumphs in ’98-’99.
Reflecting on his career, Davis smiled and said, “I never expected to play that long. I never even expected to be in the major leagues. That’s a dream that we all have, but it doesn’t come true for a lot of us. So when I came to the big leagues, it was a dream come true.
“To actually play for over 19 years, I was fortunate to be on some pretty good ballclubs. I had three championship rings and I had a lot of good memories.”
Davis said he still feels confident he can play at the major-league level. Injuries, however, took their toll toward the end of his career.
“I feel I can still hit in the major leagues,” he said. “I’m probably not going to be hitter I was five years ago, but I could still get some hits in the major leagues. … I had my run, and I had a good time at it.”
Since hanging up his spikes after the ’99 season, Davis has spent a lot of time with his family in Phoenix. He has three children and his fiancee also has three kids.
Davis’ oldest child, 16-year-old Charles, shares his father’s delight for baseball. But Chili reminds his son the importance of academics.
“Playing baseball is great, and I tell him that,” Davis said. “But he’s got to be disciplined in other areas of his life, in his school work, in his study habits, because the chances that he’s going to be a major league baseball someday are as good for him as any kid out there.”
Currently, Davis is uncertain if he’ll remain in a coaching capacity with Arizona. He accepted this spring-training job after getting an invitation from Tommy Jones, the D-backs’ director of minor league operations.
“At the end of spring (training) we’ll talk and see if there’s any interest in doing something with the organization,” Davis said.
Editor’s note: In November 2018, Davis was named the New York Mets’ hitting coach. He has held the same position for the Oakland Athletics, Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs in recent years.