The Long, Hard Road

Name: Davis, Lawrence (Crash)
Position: Catcher
Bats: Both, Throws: Right
Height: 6’1″, Weight: 190 lb.
Born: January 18, 1955 in Lynwood, California, US (Age 57)

Known for his defense and game-calling ability, the 33-year old switch-hitting catcher was moved from the Triple-A Richmond Braves to the Advanced-A Durham Bulls at the beginning of the 1988 season. During his 12 year minor league career, he hit a then-record 247 home runs, the last for the Asheville Tourists of the Single-A Southern Atlantic League, before retiring after the 1988 season. Upon recommendation of the Atlanta Braves organization, he was hired as the manager of the Advanced-A Visalia Oaks, the California League affiliate of the Minnesota Twins.

“This is the toughest job a manager has. But, the organization has decided to make a change. Sorry.”

These are the words of fictional Manager Joe Riggins (Trey Wilson) in the 1988 film Bull Durham. While Riggins and Crash Davis are both characters out of a movie, their roots are in actual players and coaches Writer/Director Ron Shelton met during his five year minor league career. It illustrates the sometimes cold and business-like nature of professional baseball. And at this time of year, variations of this scene are being played out in locker rooms throughout the country.

The scene hits home with the recent release of promising outfielder Ben Klafczynski, but seems to happen every year. The 22-year old lefty was then taken by the Cubs in the 20th round of the 2011 draft. After signing right away, he was sent to Short Season A-Boise where he batted .221 with a home run and 11 RBI in 19 games. He was then promoted to Single A-Peoria and hit .243 in 43 games with another homer and 13 RBI.

Last season, the player in the spotlight was Brandon May. Like Klafczynski, May was an accomplished college ballplayer from the University of Alabama. He struggled with a knee injury in 2010, but still batted .252 with four home runs and 18 RBI in 29 games over three levels. He stayed in Arizona to prepare for 2011, but ended up contracting Valley Fever, which weakened him for the up-coming season. He tried to fight through the illness, but wound up hitting .185 in 32 games for Peoria, and was released. In another similarity to Klafczynski, May was 23-years old at the time and playing Single-A ball.

While each player was promising, the clock was working against them. For many of us, 23 years old still seems young. However, age is everything when you are in the minors.

As Shelton stated about his minor league career, “I was 25. In baseball, you feel 60 if you’re not in the big leagues. I didn’t want to become a Crash Davis”. This came after playing for the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings in 1971. The organization becomes more invested in other players, and they “decide to make a change”.

For whatever reasons, talented athletes are told that their teams no longer need their services. Some of them, like Major League All-Star Raul Ibanez, are able to persevere and rise to the top. Others, like current Cubs starting first baseman Bryan LaHair, struggle to prove themselves. While still others, like rookie league hitting instructor Jason Dubois, pursue that path. Most move on in another direction.

Writer Hunter S. Thompson once said “For every moment of triumph, for every instance of beauty, many souls must be trampled”. Such is the long, hard road to the major leagues.

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  • Richard Hood

    Well wrote Tom. I hope that Ben catches on somewhere

    . Baseball in general no matter what time you get told to hand in your uniform for the last time is a cruel mistress.  But man do you always remember the love of playing the game.

  • GuestG

    Mostly fiction. Explain Elicier Bonne at age 25.

    The young man with the injuries and Valley Fever was a case of physical setbacks, and only managed to play in 68 games from 2009 thru 2011. He was afforded the opportunity of at least one full season, and those setbacks interfered with his progress. He was released in the Fall of 2011.

    As was mentioned here and other places the player arrived to ST in great shape, more muscle, and everyone knows about the athleticism, very strong outfield arm. It has also been mentioned that he came raking and made solid impressions on the instructors.

    The Player was likely penciled for A+ in a corner position, and you never know what a hot start would have led to. All of a sudden, a player raking in A+ at age 23 becomes viable if, the organization doesn’t have invested players being blocked. Who is Bonne?

    This release is not Crash Davis fiction.

    Answer me this. Why didn’t they just cut him Fall of 2011 versus bringing him to Mesa for 2 weeks? The player, from everything known, was lights out solid and then some in ST. If an egg was laid, then it becomes clearer, but the opposite occurred, which makes this saga even more odd and very foggy.

    The other oddity is that the instructors were unaware, which means their daily reports weren’t even considered.

    How about we chalk this up to business because from all indications it has nothing to do with talent.

    • Ripsnorter1

      No question about it: ML baseball players are the elite of the elite. It is very, very difficult to get there, and it is even harder to stay there. 

  • Anthony

    No offense Tom, but the age thing is silly. The fastest release in Cubs draft history?

    Elicier Bonne, age 25, Cuba
    Mayke Reyes, age 24, Cuba

    both signed by………………………a Cuban?

    Welcome to the world of professional baseball.

    These 2 outfielders are in AZPhil depth charts to play somewhere at the A/A+/AA level. These two were really never talked about all winter, and they have large financial investments in them.

    If this was the plan from the end of 2011, then somebody did a great disservice to a quality kid because a Fall release would have been a better timetable to get picked up versus the middle of Spring Training.

    Bad Form

    • paulcatanese

      Agree Anthony, on the other hand players that sign for a bonus and then decide its not for them puts the shoe on the other foot and are looked down upon by the Major League teams. (John Elway) comes to mind.
      I say too bad, the money was to sign, period. A bonus is just that a, signing bonus.
      The players released far outwiegh those, so I feel no mercy should be felt for Major League teams when the opposite happens.

  • paulcatanese

    Good post Tom, and the “crash davis” syndrome happens more often than people think.

  • Redlarczykg

    Labels in baseball and in “normal” life make me sick to my stomach.  Remember Jim Hickman.  Journey man outfielder until the Cubs gave him as chance to play every day.  Jim Hickman became an All Star.  I was labeled a dummy, first one to sit down in spelling bees, pick last on teams or never picked.  My Dad said he would never hire me and my counselors told me I was waisting my time going to College.

    I learned not to let others label me..tell me who I am.

    I proved them all wrong….through hard work.  I know there are a lot of fans pulling for Brian La Hair, the Under Dog.  That’s what Cub Fans have been doing for over a hundred years!  Good luck LaHair and Joe Mather!