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A Look Back at Chili Davis

By Sal Maiorana

February 2024

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Sal Maiorana, a friend of the site, shares some of his thoughts on the Yankees.


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Even though baseball was a thriving, wildly popular sport on the nearby Caribbean islands of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico, the game was merely a curiosity in Jamaica when Chili Davis was a young boy growing up in the capital city of Kingston. You either played cricket or, like future Olympic champion sprinter Usain Bolt, you ran track.


Born in 1960, Davis knew hardly anything about baseball until his family moved to Los Angeles in 1970 and Davis decided to give Little League a try. Instantly, he took to the game.


“I played baseball when I came to the United States because I absolutely fell in love with the game,” Davis said in a 2008 story in Yankees Magazine. “I’ve never fallen in love with anything else, I mean, besides my kids. It was so fascinating to me - a kid that grew up in Jamaica, that never played baseball, didn’t even hear of baseball, didn’t know who Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays were, none of those guys when I came to the States. And the first time I saw that game played, I went, ‘Wow, I want to do that.’”


And Davis went on to do it very well while also sporting a new name. His given name is Charles, but that became Chili when he was 12. “My dad gave me a haircut … and it wasn’t a very good one,” he said. “When I went out of the house, my friends got on my case and said it looked like someone put a chili bowl over my head and cut around it.” His friends cut out the bowl part and just started calling him Chili.


Growing up in Los Angeles, Chili played high school ball against future MLB stars Daryl Strawberry and Eric Davis, and he became an 11th-round draft pick of the Giants in 1977 right out of Fremont High School. After the scout who signed him convinced his parents that, yes, their son could make a living playing this strange game, they gave the OK and four years later he was in San Francisco, getting into eight games in 1981 before sticking for good in 1982 and finishing fourth in the NL rookie of the year balloting.


He also made history when he made his debut with the Giants as he became the first Jamaican-born player to reach MLB, and there have been only three others since, most prominently Devon White.


Across 19 seasons with the Giants, Angels, Twins, Royals and Yankees, Davis hit 350 home runs, the seventh-most in MLB history for a switch-hitter. He also drove in 1,372 runs, stole 142 bases, had a slash line of .274/.360/.451 and an OPS of .811.


By the time Davis made it to the Bronx he was 38 years old and at the tail end of his career.


He missed most of 1998 with injuries but was back in time for the stretch run and was the primary DH in the postseason, hitting .259 with seven RBI in 10 games as the Yankees finished the winningest season in MLB history.


Then in 1999 he went out in a blaze of glory as he played 146 games (almost all as the DH) and even at his advanced age he had an OPS of .812 with 19 homers and 78 RBI. In that postseason he struggled, going 2-for-18, but the Yankees hardly needed him as they won 11 of 12 games including a four-game sweep of the Braves in the World Series, giving Davis his third ring (he had also won one in 1991 with the Twins).


His brief time with the Yankees had an impact on him, too. When he retired, he said, “I got to put on the pinstripes, I got to sit in the Yankee clubhouse, and I got to play as a Yankee. And the thing that never left was the urgency to perform. You don’t get to wear this uniform and be a part of this here and not perform.”


Since his retirement, Davis has bounced around the coaching ranks, serving as hitting coach for the A’s, Red Sox, Cubs and Mets.

3 Comments


Lincoln Mitchell
Lincoln Mitchell
Feb 09

When Chili Davis first came up with the Giants he was an enormously hyped prospect. One of many outfielders with speed and power produced by the Giants during the period from about 1968-1984 who were described by some as the next Willie Mays. Others were Bobby Bonds, George Foster, Gary Mathews and Garry Maddox. Chili was not the next Willie Mays but he was an excellent and very well-liked player for several years for the Giants. 1984-1985 were terrible years for the Giants and Chili was one of the few reasons to spend an evening shivering at the 'Stick. I was glad to see him sign with the Yankees and end his career with World Series wins in 1998 an…

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Jeff Korell
Jeff Korell
Feb 09

Fun fact: Chili Davis, then with the Giants, wore CHILI on his jersey in the 1986 MLB All-Star Game. It's the only time he ever wore his nickname on his jersey.

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Melfman1
Melfman1
Feb 08

Chili was a class act, very glad that he joined the club in his later years and enjoyed his time here.

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