Willie Davis (baseball)
April 15, 1940|
Mineral Springs, Arkansas
|Died: March 9, 2010
|September 8, 1960 for the Los Angeles Dodgers|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 30, 1979 for the California Angels|
|Runs batted in||1,053|
|Career highlights and awards|
William Henry Davis (April 15, 1940, Mineral Springs, Arkansas – March 9, 2010, Burbank, California) was a center fielder in Major League Baseball who played most of his career for the Los Angeles Dodgers. At the end of his career he ranked seventh in major league history in putouts (5449) and total chances (5719) in the outfield, and third in games in center field (2237); he was also ninth in National League history in total outfield games (2274), and won Gold Glove Awards from 1971 to 1973. He had 13 seasons of 20 or more stolen bases, led the NL in triples twice, and retired with the fourth most triples (138) by any major leaguer since 1945. He holds Los Angeles club records (1958–present) for career hits (2091), runs (1004), triples (110), at bats (7495), total bases (3094) and extra base hits (585). His 31-game hitting streak in 1969 remains the longest by a Dodger. At one point during the streak, when the team was playing at home, the big message board at Dodger Stadium quoted a message from a telegram sent to Davis and the team from Zack Wheat, the team's former record holder, at his home in Missouri.
As a youngster, Davis moved to Los Angeles, California, where he was a three-sport standout in baseball, basketball, and track & field at Theodore Roosevelt High School. He once ran a 9.5-second 100-yard dash, and set a city record in the long jump of 25 feet 5 inches (7.75 m). Discovered by the Dodgers scout, Kenny Myers, Davis signed with the ballclub upon graduating from Roosevelt in 1958. While playing for Reno, he scored from first base on a single nine times in one season.
Davis played his first game with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1960. The following season he replaced the former All-Star Duke Snider in center field, where Davis stayed for 13 years. Widely considered to be one of the fastest baseball players of the 1960s, Davis had 20 or more stolen bases in eleven consecutive seasons. Davis's career-high in stolen bases was 42 in 1964. Along with Maury Wills, Davis put a lot of footspeed at the top of Dodgers' lineup, and this helped them to either win or tie for the National League title in 1962, '63, '65, and '66. Also, in 1962, these two players "set the table" for teammate Tommy Davis to lead the National League with 153 runs batted in (RBI) -- the only time that a Los Angeles Dodger has ever accumulated 150 or more RBI in one season.
In 1962, Davis batted .285 with 85 runs batted in, and he posted career highs in home runs (21), runs (103), and hits (171). In that same season, Davis and Wills set a National League record for stolen bases by two teammates in season with 136 (Wills with 104 and Davis with 32).
Davis batted a career-high .311 in 1969. His 31-game hitting streak that year, from August 1 to September 3, was the longest one in the major leagues since Dom DiMaggio hit in 34 straight games in 1949, and it broke Zack Wheat's franchise record of 29, set in 1916. He was named NL Player of the Month in August with a .459 batting average; his season average climbed from .260 at the beginning of the streak to .316 at the end. In 1970, Davis batted .305, and he had another hitting streak of 25 games in 1971, ending with a 0.309 batting average and in double figures in doubles, 33; triples, 10;, home runs, 10; and stolen bases, 20. Davis also led the NL in triples in 1962 and 1970.
Davis was selected for the National League All-Star teams in 1971 and in 1973, batting a combined 3-for-3, with a home run off Nolan Ryan. Davis won a Gold Glove each year from 1971 to 1973. In the 1965 World Series, Davis set a record (since broken) of three stolen bases (including one during which he stumbled and fell, the pitcher hesitated throwing to first base, and Davis literally crawled into second base safely) in a single game. He led the league in put-outs twice, but also twice led the league in errors. Unfortunately for him, Davis committed an all-time World Series record of three errors on two consecutive plays in the fifth inning of Game Two of the 1966 World Series (the final game of Sandy Koufax's great pitching career), first by losing Paul Blair's fly ball in the sun for a two-base error, then by dropping Andy Etchebarren's fly ball one batter later and overthrowing third base, allowing Boog Powell and Blair to score. When questioned after the game, he said, "It's not my wife; it's not my life. It's just a game." The Dodgers did not score any runs in that game nor the last two games of the World Series, as they were swept by the Orioles.
After the 1973 season, Davis was traded to the Montreal Expos for relief pitcher Mike Marshall, who would win the Cy Young Award in 1974. Davis batted .295 for Montreal before being traded to the Texas Rangers in December 1974. Davis batted just .249 for the Rangers in 42 games in 1975 before finishing the season with the St. Louis Cardinals, batting .291. In 1976 he batted .268 for the San Diego Padres, and then he spent two years in Japan with the Chunichi Dragons and Crown Lighter Lions.
Finishing up with baseball and moving on
A convert to Buddhism, Davis constantly fingered his prayer beads and chanted before games. He played his final major league season with the California Angels in 1979, making two pinch hitting appearances in the American League Championship Series before retiring. In an 18-year career, Davis accumulated a .279 batting average with 182 home runs and 1053 RBI in 2429 games played. He also collected 2561 hits and 398 stolen bases. His total of 2237 games in center field ranks behind only Willie Mays (2827) and Tris Speaker (2690) in major league history. In addition to the Los Angeles records he retains, his club mark of 1952 games was surpassed by Bill Russell in 1984; Steve Garvey broke his records of 849 RBI and 321 doubles in 1981 and 1982 respectively. Garvey and Ron Cey passed his Los Angeles club record of 154 home runs in 1979; Davis' record for left-handed hitters was broken by Shawn Green in 2004.
Davis also appeared in several TV programs, including Mr. Ed, The Flying Nun, and Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law. He also was a co-star of the Jerry Lewis comedy film from 1970, Which Way to the Front?. In a 1969 episode of Bewitched Samantha, attending a game at Shea Stadium to see the New York Mets host the Dodgers, remarks "Willie Davis just hit a grand slam!" The episode was filmed August 22, 1969, a date when the Mets coincidentally beat the Dodgers at Shea. In reality, Davis went 2 for 4 in the game, but did not hit a grand slam.
Davis was found dead in his home in Burbank, California on March 9, 2010, by a neighbor who sometimes brought him breakfast. Initial indications show that he most likely died of natural causes. Davis is survived by his two sons, Gregory and Casey, and two daughters, Kimberly and Jennifer.
Willie Davis an Arkansas native was voted #21 greatest Arkansas Sports Figure by Sports Illustrated. The list had the football player with the same name of the Packers listed, but he never even lived in Arkansas, this was a mistake and it was supposed to be William Henry Davis of baseball.
- List of major league players with 2,000 hits
- List of Major League Baseball players with 100 triples
- List of Major League Baseball players with 1000 runs
- List of Major League Baseball players with 1000 RBI
- List of Major League Baseball leaders in career stolen bases
- List of Major League Baseball triples champions
- List of Major League Baseball hitters with six hits in one game
- Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia (2000). Kingston, NY: Total/Sports Illustrated. ISBN 1-892129-34-5.
- Crowe, Jerry. "Few players were more exciting than Willie Davis," Los Angeles Times, Wednesday, March 10, 2010.
- "Statement from the Los Angeles Dodgers on the passing of Willie Davis (1940–2010)," Los Angeles Dodgers press release, Tuesday, March 9, 2010.
- Whiting, Robert. "You've Gotta Have 'wa'" Sports Illustrated, Sep 24, 1979.
- Blankstein, Andrew. "Former Dodger Willie Davis found dead in Burbank home", The Los Angeles Times, March 9, 2010.
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube, or Baseball-Reference (Minors)
- BaseballLibrary – profile and career highlights
- The Baseball Page
- Willie Davis at the Internet Movie Database
- Willie Davis, 1970 (The Associated Press photograph) – Los Angeles Times.
- Willie Davis, Sports Illustrated, May 1, 1972 (magazine cover).
|Major League Player of the Month