Vic Davalillo

Vic Davalillo

CF, LF, OF, RF, 1B, P, DH
July 31, 1936
5' 7"
150 lbs
Major League Debut:
4-09-1963 with CLE
Allstar Selections:
1964 GG

Víctor José Davalillo Romero [da-va-LEE-yo] (July 31, 1936 in Cabimas, Zulia), is a former Venezuelan 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. He 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 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 Cinncinnati 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.

Cleveland Indians

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.

California Angels

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.

St. Louis Cardinals

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.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Cardinals traded Davalillo along with Nelson Briles to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Matty Alou and George Brunet in January 1971. Following the 1970 National League Championship Series, Joe L. Brown and Danny Murtaugh decided both Al Oliver and Bob Robertson needed to be in the lineup everyday, making Matty Alou, their .300 hitting centerfielder, expendable.  The two realized they needed to add to the pitching staff and would also need to add someone who could back up the regulars since the two young hitters would now be playing regularly.  Just prior to spring training, Brown traded his former batting champion to the Cardinals for Nellie Briles, a right-handed pitcher with a winning track record, and Vic Davalillo, an outfielder with many of the same skills as Alou, but not as much consistency.

Davalillo had been a gold glove centerfielder with Cleveland in 1964 and an All-Star in ’65.  While his skills never progressed as had been hoped by the Indians, he had become one the premiere reserve players in baseball and in 1970 had tied the major league record with 24 pinch hits.  The lefty batter was a slap hitter, but Davalillo could occasionally turn on the ball and among his pinch-hits in ’70 were a record eight doubles and three triples.  He could still run, especially down the line and was an excellent drag bunter, even though he batted with an exaggeratedly high leg kick, perhaps the most noted since Giants’ great, Mel Ott.

The Venezuelan performed his role expertly in the Pirates’ pennant drive of 1971.  He was the team’s number one pinch hitter, batting .333 in that role and .285 overall and he stole 10 bases while going to bat 295 times.  Vic also contributed a pinch-hit in the World Series, but Frank Robinson took advantage of his arm to set up and score the decisive run in Game 6.

When Robertson didn’t hit in 1972 and Stargell’s knees forced him to first base, Davalillo platooned in leftfield with Gene Clines.  His average skyrocketed to .360 before cooling off to .318, still one of the highest marks in the National League, although Davalillo did not have enough at bats to qualify for the title.  The veteran also led the club with 14 stolen bases.  Bill Virdon decided to play Rennie Stennett in left, however, during the NLCS and although there was an opening in the Pirates outfield following Roberto Clemente’s death on New Year’s Eve, the manager made it known early he preferred to keep Davalillo as his ace off the bench, given his proven success as a pinch hitter. 

Oakland Athletics

Davalillo got off to a poor start in ’73 and was hitting only .181 when the Pirates, in order to keep phenom Dave Parker on the roster for the pennant stretch, released him.  He caught on with Oakland and while he did not hit much better the rest of the year, Davalillo enjoyed an excellent ALCS, going five for eight and contributing a key triple in the decisive game.  After a poor start in 1974, the A’s also released him.  Davalillo, at least officially nearing 35 years of age (some said he was older), decided he still had baseball in his blood and signed to play in the Mexican League.

Los Angeles Dodgers

In 1977, the Los Angeles Dodgers brought him back to the majors after he challenged .400 south of the border that season.  The 5’7” speedster helped LA to two strait World Series, batting .313 and .312, appearing mostly as a pinch hitter.  After that, Davalillo bounced back and forth between Los Angeles and Mexico through 1980 when he last appeared in the majors, but he continued to play professionally in Latin America for a few years after that.

Former Pirate catcher and coach remembered Davalillo well.  “He had to have more hits in professional baseball than any other player,” Leppert said.  “He was playing in the minors when I broke in the 50’s and I managed him in Winter Ball in 1983.  He played winter ball every year.  He was some kind of hitter.” 

Leppert also remembered Davalillo enjoyed the nightlife.  It is said that once while playing for St. Louis, Davalillo was recovering from an all night party when his manager, Red Schoendienst, against the advice of a coach who had seen the condition Davalillo was in, sent him up to pinch-hit.  Davalillo went into his high leg kick and landed on his backside.  Schoendienst then sent up another hitter.

Davalillo, though, is still a cagey individual when it comes to baseball.  A few years ago he pointed out that a ball he had been asked to sign had been left outside by the fact that it weighed more than another he had been handed.

Career statistics

In a 16 year 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, 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).

Between 1957 and 1987, Davalillo played in the Venezuelan Winter League for the Leones del Caracas (1957–74, 1987), Portuguesa (1975) and Tigres de Aragua (1976–85). He set lifetime league records that still stand in batting average (.325), hits (1505), games played (1280), at-bat (4633), runs (668), doubles (196) and career seasons (30). Beside this, he won two batting titles and set record in hits (100) in a season. Davalillo retired at 50 years of age.

Davalillo was inducted into the Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003.

Nine Other Players Who Debuted in 1963

Pete Rose
Rusty Staub
Joe Morgan
Willie Horton
Jose Cardenal
Jimmy Wynn
Dick Allen
Tommy John
Mickey Lolich

Post-Season Appearances

1971 National League Championship Series
1971 World Series
1972 National League Championship Series
1973 American League Championship Series
1973 World Series
1977 National League Championship Series
1977 World Series
1978 World Series

Awards and Honors

1964 AL Gold Glove

All-Star Selections

1965 AL

Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia

1971 NLCS, 1971 World Series, 1972 NLCS, 1973 ALCS, 1977 NLCS, 1977 World Series, 1978 World Series, All-Star, California Angels, Cleveland Indians, Gold Glove, Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, The Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia, Vic Davalillo
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