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Willie Davis

Willie Davis

Position(s):
CF, OF, RF, LF, DH
Nicknames:
3-Dog
Born:
May 15, 1940
Bats:
Left
Throws:
Left
Height:
6' 2"
Weight:
180 lbs
Major League Debut:
9-08-1960 with LAN
Allstar Selections:
1971 GG, 1972 GG, 1973 GG
"I used to love to watch Willie run the bases... He took a lot of pride in his baserunning. He was a good man and a good ballplayer. I had a great deal of respect for him." - Manny Mota

 

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.

Best known for his speed and defense, Willie Davis was a star of the 1960s and 1970s who played eighteen years in the majors, mostly with the Los Angeles Dodgers. A two-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner, he also led the National League in triples twice during his career.

Signed by the Dodgers in 1958, Davis hit .352 with 15 home runs and 16 triples with the Reno Silver Sox in 1959 to win the California League Most Valuable Player award. The following summer, 1960, with the Spokane Indians, he hit .346 with 12 homers, 26 triples, and 30 stolen bases and captured the Pacific Coast League MVP as well as The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year award. That season, he also played in 22 late-season games with the Dodgers, as a 20 year old, hitting .318.

Davis won the center field job with the Dodgers in 1961 after three players (Don Demeter, Duke Snider, and Tommy Davis) had shared it the previous year, and in 1962, he paced the NL with 10 triples.

While Davis was with the Dodgers, they reached the World Series three times, but he struggled in the postseason. In the 1963 World Series, the Dodgers swept the New York Yankees, but Davis managed to hit just .167 and struck out six times in the postseason that year. Two years later, in 1965 World Series, he hit .231 and did not drive in a run as his team defeated the Minnesota Twins in seven games. He hit only .063 in 1966 World Series and committed three errors in the fifth inning of Game Two, as the Dodgers went down in defeat to the Baltimore Orioles in four games.

Despite his struggles in the postseason, Davis remained a solid competitor for Los Angeles. In 1969, he hit a career-best .311 and put together a 31 game hitting streak, the longest in the NL since Tommy Holmes hit in 37 straight games in 1945 and the longest in franchise history, including the team's years in Brooklyn.

The Hitting Streak

On the morning of August 1, 1969, Willie Davis was hitting .260, and the Dodgers were two games behind the Braves in the National League West race. That night against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, Davis went 1-for-4 in a loss, but a hitting streak had begun. The next two games against the Cardinals, Davis was 2-for-4, and against Pittsburgh on the 5th, 6th and 8th, he enjoyed three-hit games. He was 15-for-his-last-27. His tear continued as he racked up two multiple-hit games against the Cards in LA, one at Montreal, two at Philadelphia, three straight in Shea against the Mets, and two more against the Expos in Dodger Stadium. When his streak reached 26 games on August 29 against the Phillies, Davis had banged out multiple-hit games in 16 of the games. On September 2, he was 1-for-5 off the Mets, running the batting streak to 30 games, only the 26th time that had occurred in history. Davis extended the string to 31 games the next night, and was stopped on September 4 at San Diego by Dick Kelley and Gary Ross. The next night he took out his revenge, slashing four hits off Joe Niekro, and raising his batting average to .319.

In the 31 games, Davis hit a blistering .435 (54-for-124), raising his season mark 56 points in the process. He scored 20 runs, drove in 23, and stole 11 bases. The Dodgers were 18-13 during Willie's streak, but were able to gain just one game in the standings. At season's end, Willie finished at .311 (seventh in the NL), and the Dodgers came in eight games back of the Braves.

The next summer, he hit .305 while leading the NL with a career-best 16 triples. In 1971, he hit .309, won the first of three straight Gold Gloves, and was selected to his first All-Star Game. On May 24th, 1973, he recorded six hits in a contest against the New York Mets, and that season, he was an NL All-Star for the second time.

Following the 1973 season, the Dodgers traded Davis to the Montreal Expos for relief pitcher Mike Marshall. He was the Expos' Player of the Year in 1974, but was traded after the season when the team went on a youth movement. Over the next three seasons, he played for four different teams until he was released by the San Diego Padres in 1977. Not finished yet, he went on to play two years in Japan for the Chunichi Dragons in 1977 (.306, 25 HR) and the Crown Lighter Lions in 1978 (.293, 18 HRs). He then came back to play one final season for the California Angels in 1979 made two pinch hitting appearances in the American League Championship Series before retiring.

Davis had 2,561 hits lifetime in the majors, putting him at # 82 on the all-time list (all rankings are as of 2010). He is also # 68 on the all-time list of base-stealers, with 398. He led the league twice in triples, and is # 66 on the all-time list. He is # 37 on the all-time list for sacrifice flies. He had some power, with nearly 200 home runs in his career, and as a result is # 47 on the all-time list for Power/Speed Number. He had excellent range in the outfield at a time when ballparks sometimes had bigger center fields than today.

Willie's stats are more impressive when it is remembered that he played in a pitcher's park during the second dead-ball era. He not infrequently batted third in the lineup. In 1964, his 77 RBI were second on the team. In 1968, when he hit .250, the team hit .230. In 1972, his 19 home runs tied for the team lead.

One Hall of Famer, Enos Slaughter, is on the list of the ten most similar players to Davis. Another player on the list of most similar players is his contemporary Vada Pinson.

Finishing up with baseball and moving on

A convert to Buddhism, Davis constantly fingered his prayer beads and chanted before games.

Records(broken) and Feats:

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.

Willie 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.

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Tagged:
1963 World Series, 1965 World Series, 1966 World Series, California Angels, Chunichi Dragons, Crown Lighter Lions, Don Demeter, Duke Snider, Longest Hitting Streaks, Los Angeles Dodgers, Nippon Professional Baseball, Pacific Coast League MVP, Reno Silver Sox, Spokane Indians, The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year award, Tommy Davis, Willie Davis

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