Image credit: Cody Decker (Photo by Zachary Lucy/Four Seam)
“From Phenom to the Farm” releases new episodes every other Tuesday featuring players whose experiences vary across the professional baseball spectrum. Players will discuss their personal experiences going from high school graduation to the life of a professional baseball player.
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Cody Decker wasn’t the first minor leaguer to garner the “real-life Crash Davis” moniker, and he won’t be the last.
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Davis, the fictional minor league journeyman catcher depicted in Ron Shelton’s 1988 masterpiece Bull Durham, has become the go-to comparison for any long toiling minor leaguer still holding on for a taste of the show. In the film, Davis, much like Decker, traveled from one small minor league town to another, year after year, hitting homers and watching other players get the call to the big leagues.
Decker played in 1,033 minor league games for six different organizations over the course of an eleven-year career. He brought a right-handed power bat wherever he went, finishing his career with 204 minor league home runs and a career .857 OPS.
If you’re to look at his big league line, there’s decidedly less to see. Eight games for the 2015 Padres. Just twelve plate appearances, one RBI. In his eleven long years in professional baseball, Decker spent about 20 days in the show, a place where— as Davis famously said—you never handle your own luggage and the ballparks are like cathedrals. The association to the famous character came early and often for Decker, especially when it came to their big league service time.
“I started getting Crash Davis comparisons early in my career, I think my second year of Double-A,” said Decker. “Getting to the big leagues only really amplified the Crash Davis thing, because just like Crash Davis I had my 20 days in the show.”
But when you think about the onscreen persona that endeared Davis to audiences thirty years ago, there might not be a minor leaguer who was a better present-day example of that than Decker. It’s not a stretch to say that Decker pseudo-inherited the character’s spirit in the sense of embracing what could be wonderful about life in the minors, even when the road to the show seems paved for other players.
Just like Crash Davis was beloved by film-going audiences for being the quintessential ballplayer just hanging on in the minor leagues, Cody Decker was equally as revered by the fanbases in each minor league town he stopped in. Fans in cities like Tuscon, Reno, and especially El Paso were treated to a player who greatly appreciated them, and vice-versa. Any organization that gave Decker a jersey and a roster spot—starting with the Padres as their 22nd round pick in 2009—received home runs and a gregarious personality.
“I would stay after games and sign autographs for an hour. I would talk to anybody who wanted me to talk to them before the games,” said Decker.
Decker made it his mission to look for the fun aspects of his baseball career, even while enduring the difficulties of minor league life and frustration that years knocking on the big league door with no one answering could bring. One could imagine that an after-tax bonus of less than $1,000 dollars and regular paychecks that left him in financial straits so dire that he once spent a two-week stretch living in his car in a stadium parking lot might’ve broken his spirit, but through it all Decker still found joy in his career.
“Playing in El Paso, for those fans-as dark as my career was financially and how much it was wreaking havoc on my personal life—every day I came to that ballpark it made me feel like every minute was worth it…because look at the joy it’s bringing these fans,” said Decker.
It wasn’t just fan appreciation that likened Decker to Davis. While Decker never broke into a stadium with a six-pack of beer, baseball bat and a few inebriated teammates to create his own rainout, he arguably did one better in terms of off-field mischief by convincing longtime big leaguer Jeff Francoeur that a teammate was deaf for over a month—just one in a series of many comedic enterprises that he undertook as a part of his Antihero Baseball/Daylight Films productions on YouTube.
Perhaps most importantly, and most similar to the character of Crash Davis, Decker made himself into an indispensable positive presence in the clubhouse; someone who could lead but also keep things light. Even in times when his typically strong offensive output faltered —like in 2016 with Double-A Portland-Decker was still an invaluable part of a ballclub.
“I tried to make sure I was the clubhouse guy…I made sure our bus trips were the funnest trips we could have,” said Decker. “A front office guy came into town and he said ‘you’re not going anywhere—you could go 0 for your next 100—what you’ve done in this clubhouse with these guys, you’re not going anywhere.’”
On the latest episode of ‘From Phenom to the Farm’, former big leaguer Cody Decker joins to discuss his career, from UCLA to retirement. He will walk us through how he embraced the fun in baseball throughout the highs and lows of the minor leagues. He’ll talk bad paychecks, waiting for a call that might never come, and perhaps the greatest prank of all-time.