Davalillo in 1968
July 31, 1936 |
Cabimas, Zulia, Venezuela
|April 9, 1963, for the Cleveland Indians|
|Last MLB appearance|
|October 6, 1980, for the Los Angeles Dodgers|
|Runs batted in||329|
|Career highlights and awards|
Víctor José Davalillo Romero [da-va-LEE-yo] (born July 31, 1936) is a Venezuelan former professional baseball player. He played in Major League Baseball as an outfielder for the Cleveland Indians (1963–68), California Angels (1968–69), St. Louis Cardinals (1969–70), Pittsburgh Pirates (1971–73), Oakland Athletics (1973–74) and Los Angeles Dodgers (1977–80). Davalillo batted and threw left-handed.
Davalillo was a leadoff hitter known for his speedy baserunning and capable defensive ability. Later in his career, he became a valuable utility player and a record-setting pinch hitter. Davalillo also had an exceptional career in the Venezuelan Winter League where he is the all-time leader in total base hits and in career batting average.
Minor League career
Although many baseball references show Davalillo's birthplace as Cabimas, Venezuela, in 2006, he told a biographer that he was actually born in Churuguara, Falcón. His family moved to Cabimas a few days after he was born where he grew up in Venezuela's oil producing region on the eastern shores of Lake Maracaibo. His older brother, Pompeyo Davalillo played briefly for the Washington Senators in 1953. Davalillo began his professional baseball career as a pitcher when he signed a contract as an amateur free agent with the Cincinnati Reds in 1958. He was sold to the Indians organisation in 1961 where he quickly moved up the ladder to their Triple-A club in Jacksonville. Davalillo won the first batting title in the Jacksonville Suns history with a .346 batting average in 1962.
Major league career
Davalillo became the eighth Venezuelan to play in Major League Baseball when he joined the Indians in 1963 as their leadoff hitter and center fielder. By mid-June, he was hitting for a .304 batting average and was receiving consideration for the American League Rookie of the Year Award when, he was hit by a pitch by Hank Aguirre and suffered a broken wrist. He returned from the injury to lead the Indians in hitting with a .292 along with a career-high 7 home runs in 90 games however, after the injury, he was never the same hitter against left handed pitching. In October, he was named to the 1963 Topps All-Star Rookie Team. The following season, Davalillo finished second in the league in fielding percentage among center fielders and was named as a recipient of the 1964 American League Gold Glove Award.
In 1965, Davalillo led the league in batting at mid-season with a .345 batting average, earning him a place as the starting center fielder for the American League team in the 1965 All-Star Game. He ended the 1965 season with a .301 batting average, third-best in the American League behind Tony Oliva and Carl Yastrzemski, the only other players to break the .300 mark that year. Davalillo had an off year in 1966, and the Indians began to use him in a platoon role, playing him when they faced right handed pitchers. In 1967, he hit for a .302 average against right handed pitchers but, only managed a .188 average against left handers, for a .287 average overall. A detailed account of Davalillo's tenure with the Indians appears in the book "Portrait of a Franchise: An Intimate Look at Cleveland Indians Baseball During the Rockin' Sixties" by Doug Kurkul.
Davalillo had dipped to a .239 average on June 15, 1968 when, the Indians traded him to the California Angels for former All-Star Jimmie Hall. He rebounded to lead the Angels with a .298 batting average after the trade, finishing the season with a .277 average overall, the sixth highest average in the American League. In an era dominated by pitching, Yastrzemski was the only player in the American League to hit for an average higher than .300 in 1968.
In January 1969, Davalillo suffered a nervous breakdown while he was in Venezuela to play in the Venezuelan Winter League. He began the 1969 season hitting for only a .155 average in 33 games and on May 30, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Jim Hicks. In his first National League at bat on June 1, 1969, Davalillo hit a three-run home run. He also made two appearances as a relief pitcher for the Cardinals in 1969 but, failed to retire any batters. Davalillo became a utility player and highly effective pinch hitter with the Cardinals in 1970. His 24 pinch hits in 1970 broke the National League single-season record for pinch hits at the time, and tied the Major League record set by Dave Philley in 1961. One of the previous National League record holders was also his manager in 1970: Red Schoendienst. Davalillo ended the season with a .311 average and 33 runs batted in.
The Cardinals traded Davalillo along with Nelson Briles to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Matty Alou and George Brunet in January 1971. He continued in his role as a utility player, facing mostly right handed pitchers and playing all three outfield positions and as a first baseman. Davalillo ended the year with a .285 batting average, helping the Pirates clinch the National League Eastern Division title. The Pirates went on to defeat the San Francisco Giants in the 1971 National League Championship Series before winning the 1971 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles. In 1972, he continued to be a valuable role player, hitting for a career-high .318 batting average in 117 games, helping the Pirates win the Eastern Division pennant, before they lost to the Cincinnati Reds in the 1972 National League Championship Series.
In July 1973, the Pirates sold Davalillo to the Oakland Athletics who were in the midst of a pennant race with the Kansas City Royals. The Athletics eventually won the American League West Division and faced the Baltimore Orioles in the 1973 American League Championship Series. Davalillo had 5 hits in 8 at-bats for a .625 batting average during the championship series, including a crucial RBI triple in the deciding Game 5. The Athletics then went on to defeat the New York Mets in the 1973 World Series. After appearing in 17 games for the Athletics in the 1974 season, Davalillo was released on May 30.
Afterwards, Davalillo played three seasons in the Mexican League where, he was a lifetime .300 hitter. Davalillo was the league's top hitter with a .384 batting average in 1977, when he was called up by the Los Angeles Dodgers in August. As a pinch hitter and a defensive substitute, he posted a .313 batting average in 24 games for the Dodgers in 1977, helping them win the National League West Division crown. Davalillo is remembered for his clutch, pinch hit performance against the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 3 of the 1977 National League Championship Series. Trailing the Phillies 5–3 with 2 outs in the 9th inning, he spearheaded a 3-run rally, when he surprised the Phillies by executing a two-strike drag bunt and beating the throw to first base. Manny Mota drove Davalillo home with a double, then scored on a single by Davey Lopes to tie the game. The Dodgers eventually won the game and went on to win Game 4 to clinch the National League championship. In the 1977 World Series against the New York Yankees, Davalillo made three pinch hit appearances, driving home one run with a single as the Dodgers lost the series in six games.
At the age of 41 in 1978, Davalillo hit for a .312 average as a pinch hitter for the Dodgers as they once again claimed the National League pennant before, losing to the New York Yankees for a second consecutive year in the 1978 World Series. Davalillo finished out his major league career as a utility player and pinch hitter for the Dodgers. For the last four seasons of his career, he was the oldest player in the National League until retiring at the end of the 1980 season at the age of 43. Davalillo returned to play in the Mexican League well into his late 40s.
In a sixteen-year major league career, Davalillo played in 1,458 games, accumulating 1,122 hits in 4,017 at bats for a .279 career batting average along with 36 home runs, 329 runs batted in, a .315 on-base percentage, 509 runs, 160 doubles, 37 triples, and 125 stolen bases. He finished his career with a .984 fielding percentage, ranking him 49th among major league center fielders since 1954.
Davalillo's record for pinch hits in a season was broken in 1976 by José Morales. He was a fan favorite during his years with the Indians, and became a valuable role player later in his career. Davalillo played in four World Series and was the first major league player to play for three different teams in the League Championship Series (Pittsburgh Pirates in 1971-1972, Oakland Athletics in 1973 and the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1977).
Winter League career
Between 1957 and 1987, Davalillo played in the Venezuelan Winter League for the Leones del Caracas (1957–74, 1987), Portuguesa (1975) and the Tigres de Aragua (1976–85). He set lifetime league records that still stand in batting average (.325), hits (1505), games played (1280), at-bats (4633), runs (668), doubles (196), runs batted in (483) and career seasons (30). Beside this, he won four batting titles and set record in hits (100) in a season. Davalillo retired at 50 years of age after appearing in the 1987 Caribbean Series.
- List of players from Venezuela in Major League Baseball
- List of Gold Glove Award winners at outfield
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