For a baseball person, few characters elicit as much pathos as Crash Davis. In the 1988 film Bull Durham, Crash Davis was the patron saint of the baseball lost cause. Though he once had a cup of coffee in The Show, he is the epitome of a career minor leaguer. Crash is a font of all baseball knowledge—a journeyman extending his career one more year under no auspices that he is even remotely on the radar of the big club. In fact, he was only brought in to play Mr. Miyagi to the “Million Dollar arm; 5 cent brain” of hotshot young pitcher Nuke LaLoosh. Following LaLoosh’s promotion to the Majors, Crash is promptly cut from the Durham Bulls, and faces the ignominy of setting the minor league record for most career home runs under no fanfare as a member of The Asheville Tourists.
We want so much for Crash to be cosmically rewarded for his hard work and mentorship, but there’s a hot young catching prospect in the low minors the club is more invested in. For players like Crash Davis, there is always a younger, more talented guy who takes your job because the team believes in his potential. Life’s not a Disney movie, and minor league baseball is littered with the figurative corpses of “AAAA players.” Life is filled with such anti-climactic moments, and hard work isn’t always rewarded. He did get Annie Savoy, though.
...and yet, sometimes, against all odds, the Hollywood ending does happen for those who deserve it.
Before we get into that, it’s important to realize that Crash Davis was a real person, and a real ballplayer. From Wikipedia:
Born in Canon, Georgia, and raised in Gastonia, North Carolina, Davis earned the nickname “Crash” at age 14 when he collided with a teammate when chasing down a fly ball. Davis excelled as a middle infielder at Duke University, where he was the captain of the baseball team and a member of the Chi Phi Fraternity until he graduated in 1940.
After graduating from Duke, Davis played three seasons for the Philadelphia Athletics, batting .230 in 148 games. He was drafted into the United States Navy in 1942 amid World War II, and was assigned to Harvard Universitywhere he helped run the ROTC program. Davis also coached Harvard’s baseball and squash teams.
When he was discharged from the Navy in 1946, Davis returned to Durham to begin graduate school at Duke and play for the Durham Bulls, then a part of the Carolina League. Davis would play in the minor leagues, with teams including the Reidsville Luckies and the Raleigh Capitals, until 1952.
A baker’s dozen years ago, another real life Crash Davis wasn’t just pushed to the dustbin of minor league history like Costner’s film character. In 2008, this one got a damned ring, too.
In 1995, at 22 years old, Fargo, North Dakota’s catcher Chris Coste began his minor league career in Brainerd, MN in the Independent North Central League. He was about as far off the radar from Major League teams as you can be, having played his college ball at a Division II JuCo—Kishwaukee Community College—and then Division III’s Concordia College in Moorhead, MN, where he was a three time Division III All-American.
Coste’s story could quite easily have ended there, as the North Central League folded during the season. Coste, like Crash before him, did not pack it in, and found another home in The Prairie League with the Brandon Grey Owls.
In 11 seasons, Coste played for in 12 different teams in 9 different leagues, including Ciudad Obregon in Sonora, Mexico of the Mexican Pacific Winter League before finally being called up to The Philadelphia Phillies on May 26, 2006, at the age of 33.
Once he made it, he clung on like grim death, and served as the back-up catcher to all star Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz for the better part of four years, before finishing up his career in 2009 with the Houston Astros. He caught three post-season games, and even got a hit against the Dodgers in the NLCS during the Phillies 2008 World Champion season.
On March 23rd, the Baltimore Orioles traded LF Mike Yastrzemski to San Francisco Giants for RHP Tyler Herb, where he was assigned to the AAA Sacramento River Cats, and hit .316/.414/.676 with 11 2Bs and 12 HRs. Today, the former Vanderbilt legend got the call, ending his 7 year journey in the minor leagues, which spanned 2 organizations, 6 teams, and 6 leagues. Now, he fights to stay.
Mike Yastrzemski called up by Giants. Good start to the day— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) May 25, 2019
Hat tip to Yaz. You’ve earned it.