Apr 14, 2015

Two Time Batting Champ & One Time Mets Outfielder: Tommy Davis (1967)

Herman Thomas Davis was born in Brooklyn, New York on March 21, 1939. He was a star basketball player & long jumper at Brooklyn’s Boys High School. He almost signed with the AL New York team but got a phone call from Jackie Robinson who convinced him to sign with the Brooklyn Dodgers. By the time Davis was brought up to the major’s the Dodgers had moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. 

The six foot two, right hand hitting Davis hit over .300 every year in the minors including a .346 mark at AAA Spokane in 1959 earning him a call up to the majors for one game that season. In 1960 Davis took over the Dodger center field spot from Dom Demeter who had taken over for Duke Snider who moved over to right field at the end of his career. 

Davis hit .276 with 11 HRs 18 doubles six stolen bases & 44 RBIs coming in fifth, in the Rookie of the Year voting. Davis got better & no one imagined the year he would have in 1962. That season he batted .346 winning the first of two straight batting titles. His .346 average was a Dodger record until broken by Mike Piazza in 1997. Davis also led the league with 230 hits & an incredible 156 RBIs. This was at a time when not as many runs were being scored. His 156 RBIs were the highest totals from the years 1950 through 1997. He broke the Dodger single season RBI total held by Roy Campanella (153) & still holds the mark today.  


Along with that he hit 27 HRs with 27 doubles, nine triples (5th most in the NL) & 18 stolen bases (7th most in the NL). That year Davis made his first All Star team, & was second in the league’s MVP voting behind team mate Maury Wills, who stole a record at that time 104 bases. His outfield play was also good, he posted a .975 fielding% (third among left fielders) with nine assists (also third most in the league) & he was second in put outs (221). 

In 1963 Davis won his second straight batting title, hitting .326, coming in eighth in the MVP voting leading the Dodgers hitting to the NL Pennant. That season he didn't get over the .300 mark until the end of May & then went on a tear from there. He had 181 hits (tenth in the NL), with 16 HRs, 88 RBIs a .359 on base % (9th in the NL) & 15 stolen bases, making his second All Star team. 

 Post Season: In the 1963 World Series sweep of the AL New York club, he hit .400 batting fourth in the lineup as the Dodgers cleanup hitter. In Game #2 he hit two triples and drove in a run in the Dodgers 4-1 victory. In Game #3 he drove in the only run of game with one of four Dodger hits, helping Don Drysdale to a three hit shutout. In the Series Sandy Koufax won two games & was the Series MVP allowing just three runs on 12 hits in 18 innings pitched. 




 Davis average fell off to .275 in 1964 although he still drove in 86 runs, with 20 doubles, 5 triples & 11 steals, but he was still considered in the MVP voting. The next season he suffered a broken ankle & missed most of the season. He did not play in the World Series as the Dodgers & Sandy Koufax beat the Minnesota Twins for the Championship. 

He batted .313 in 1966, missing some time due to injury playing in just 100 games as the Dodgers won their third straight pennant. In the 1966 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles he only started in two of the four games , batting .250 as the Baltimore Orioles swept the Dodgers. In 1967 Davis was traded to the New York Mets for former Met All Star Ron Hunt & Jim Hickman. 

When Davis was acquired he was already an established hitter and arguably their biggest acquisition for the Mets up to that point in their history. It was a big trade on two levels, although Davis was a top player, the Mets had given away the very popular Ron Hunt & the fans weren't happy. 


Davis debuted in New York, batting clean up & playing left field on Opening Day 1967. In his first Mets at bat he singled to centerfield scoring Don Bosch with the first Mets run of the year. He added another hit later in the 6-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Davis soon had a seven game hit streak with four multi hit games finishing the month of April batting .315. 

On May 9th he hit a walk off HR against Mel Queen to beat the Cincinnati Reds helping Jack Fisher & the Mets to a 3-2 win at Shea Stadium. During the week of May 10th through the 17th he had three separate three hit games & drove in runs in three straight games. On May 28th, he hit HRs in bpth ends of a double header split with the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium. In the first game, Davis had a four hit game hitting two doubles, with a HR, while driving in five runs in a 6-3 Mets win. In the night cap he added two more hits & hit a HR off Denny LeMaster in the 7-3 Met loss. He closed out the month hitting in ten of twelve games and batting .343 up to that point of the season. 

 In June he drove in ten runs over the stretch from June 9th through June 16th. He began with back to back HR games at Wrigley Field & then drove in three of the Mets four runs in a 4-0 Bob Shaw shut out at Shea. Davis had a ten game hit streak, hitting safely in 23 of 27 games in June while driving in over a dozen runs. He would remain a hot hitter all summer, having another ten game hit streak in July, getting his average back over .300. On July 17th he hit a grand slam HR at Shea Stadium helping rookie Tom Seaver to a 7-2 win over the Houston Astros. 


 On August 12th Davis hit a pair of HRs against the Pittsburgh Pirates Woody Fryman, helping Kal Koonce & the Mets to a 6-1 win. The next day he contributed to a five run Mets 8th inning rally, with a sac fly putting the Mets ahead for good in the 11-8 win. On August 17th he drove in the Mets insurance run after Bud Harrelson hit a game winning 8th inning inside the park HR breaking a 4-4 tie against the Pirates. 

In September he began the month on the second, with what turned out to be the game winning hit, in the 5th inning a Mets comeback against the Chicago Cubs. His single scored Bud Harrelson in the four run inning. Davis remained consistent throughout the month continuing to hit well. 

He would finish the year leading the Mets in most hitting categories; batting .302 with 16 HRs 32 doubles, 72 runs scored, 73 RBIs, & 154 games played. Overall, after playing on three prior World Series teams he was unhappy on a losing team & playing in New York as a whole. That season the Mets finished tenth (61-101) under managers Wes Westrum & Salty Parker. After only one season with the Mets he was traded for two major pieces of the Mets 1969 Championship team, Tommie Agee & Al Weis. 


 Davis would never hit like he did in the early sixties, although he did have two more .300 plus seasons later in his career. After the Mets he would play for nine other teams over the next nine years; beginning with the Chicago White Sox in 1968. In 1969 he played for the Seattle Pilots through the end of August in their only year of existence. He hit .271 in 123 games there & was traded to the Houston Astros for Sandy Valdespino & Danny Walton. 

He was basically a journeyman player, although he hit well. This was due to the fact that Davis was known for a lazy style of play which ruined his reputation. But Davis said he was just relaxed on the field, which is what made him such a good hitter. When he got traded, which was often, he would usually get made at the club afterwards for sending him off. At the end of his career he became one of the game’s best pinch hitters with a .320 life time average in that role (63-197). 

In 1970 he signed on as a free agent with the Chicago Cubs but got injured & only played in 11 games. In 1971 he played in 79 games, batting .324 for the AL Western Champion Oakland A's, playing behind Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi & Rick Monday. In 1972 he began the year with the Cubs again, but was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Elrod Hendricks. 


In Baltimore he played three seasons batting over .280 in each time, including a .306 average (third in the league) in 1973. That year he became the team’s first full time designated hitter in the first year the DH rule was used. While playing as a designated hitter with Baltimore, he admitted going in the club house to read & even shave between at bats. 

 Post Season: On a good Orioles team, Davis won two AL Eastern titles, getting to two ALCS but losing both times to the mighty Oakland A's. In the two ALCS Davis batted .276 going 10-36. In Game #1 of the 1973 ALCS he drove home the first run of the series, with a 1st inning double off Vida Blue, in the 6-0 Jim Palmer shut out. That day he gathered up three hits & added two more the next day with another RBI in the 6-3 Orioles loss. 

In the 1974 ALCS he started out with two hits & an RBI off Catfish Hunter in Game #1, the only game in which the Orioles won. He hit .283 with the second place Orioles in 1975 as they lost out to the Boston Red Sox for the AL Eastern crown. 

In 1976 he signed on as a free agent with the California Angels but was released & got picked up by the Kansas City Royals. There he ended his playing career. 


In his 18 year career, playing in 1999 games (227th all time) with 2121 hits (206th all time) & a 294 batting average. He hit 153 HRs with 272 doubles 35 triples 136 stolen bases & 1052 RBIs (237th all time). He had 68 career sac flies (147th all time) & grounded into 219 double plays (63rd all time). 

In left field he played 1103 games (49th all time) with 59 assists there (73rd all time) & making 50 errors (51st all time). 

Retirement: In 1981 he coached for the Seattle Mariners under his old Dodger team mate Maury Wills.

Davis still appears at Dodger functions & honrs for the great Dodger teams of the sixties.

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