Born in Cohoes, New York, Davis started playing professional ball in Albany in 1889. Purchased by the Cleveland Spiders the following year, Davis patrolled center field for the first two seasons of his career, leading the National League in outfield assists with 35 in 1890. Davis's strong throws ultimately led the team to move him to third base in 1892, a position he would call home for the next five seasons.
The Spiders traded Davis to the New York Giants for aging star Buck Ewing shortly before the 1893 season, and Davis blossomed in New York. With league rules moving the pitcher's mound back to 60 feet, 6 inches that season, offensive totals jumped across the league, and Davis was at the forefront of the surge. He compiled a .355 batting average and set career highs with 27 triples and 11 home runs. He also collected 22 doubles and 37 stolen bases, while scoring 112 runs and driving in 119. He became the first player to hit a triple and a home run in the same inning.
The bizarre behavior of owner Andrew Freedman hampered the team's performance in subsequent seasons, but Davis continued to perform at an elite level throughout the 1890s, regularly ranking among the league leaders in doubles, triples, RBI, and stolen bases. He became the team's regular shortstop in 1897 and quickly demonstrated an aptitude for the position, ultimately leading the league in double plays and fielding percentage four times each.
George Davis baseball card (1909-1911)
The formation of the American League provided new financial opportunities to ballplayers, and induced by a $4,000 salary, Davis jumped to the Chicago White Sox in 1902. He attempted a return to the Giants the following season for a further raise to $6,700 (the second-highest figure in the league, after that of Nap Lajoie), but was prevented by the implementation of a peace agreement between the warring leagues. Davis sat out the bulk of the 1903 season before returning to the White Sox, with whom he spent the remainder of his career. His raw offensive statistics from this time pale before those of his earlier career, but when properly compared to a drastic league-wide decline in offense, they remain impressive. His decline began for real in 1907, though, and he retired after the 1909 season. His career totals in several statistical categories rank in the top 100 players all-time, including games played, at bats, hits, runs, doubles, triples, RBI and stolen bases.
During his playing career, Davis enjoyed a reputation as an intelligent and hard-working player who did not participate in the dirty play then practiced by many of his contemporaries. His public image was also enhanced by his actions on April 26, 1900. On their way to practice at the Polo Grounds, Davis and teammates Kid Gleason and Mike Grady stumbled upon a raging tenement fire. The ballplayers rushed into the burning building and rescued two women and a three-year-old child from a blaze that ultimately left 45 families homeless. Davis said, "I didn't do much. I just went up the ladder the same as the rest of the boys and helped to carry down women and children... I didn't do half as much as Grady and Gleason." His face blistered from the heat, Davis helped his team earn a 10–10 tie with the Boston Beaneaters that evening.
Davis vanished into obscurity after his retirement. He worked in baseball as a coach, scout, and manager, while also working at a variety of other jobs that included stints as a professional bowler and an automobile salesman. The circumstances of his death remained a mystery until baseball historian Lee Allen discovered its details through a campaign to track down historical baseball players, run in part in The Sporting News. He died in Philadelphia of paresis due to tertiary syphilis.