Tommy Davis—Two-time NL Batting Champ and former Caguas Criollos Star: Rest in Peace

Tommy Davis

Herman Thomas “Tommy” Davis, who won 1962 and 1963 National League (NL) batting crowns, passed away Sunday night, April 3, 2022, in Phoenix, Arizona, at age 83. https://www.si.com/mlb/2022/04/04/tommy-davis-two-time-batting-champion-dodgers-dies-age-83  He wore number 12 for the Dodgers from his late-season (1959) debut through 1966, prior to being traded to the New York Mets. Davis had many admirers and fans including John “Dusty” Baker, who grew up in Northern California—Sacramento area.

Why did Dusty Baker wear #12?

When Baker was completing seventh grade/starting the eighth grade (April-October 1962), Davis set the all-time Los Angeles Dodgers single-season record of 230 hits and 153 RBI and won his first NL batting title (.346). Baker later (February 2016) told writer Bill Ladson: “He [Tommy Davis] could run, he led the league in hitting twice and he wasn’t a real big home run hitter. He was one of my heroes. He was even more of a hero when I met him. Sometimes when you meet your heroes, you are disappointed. Tommy Davis, man, he was something.” https://www.mlb.com/news/nationals-manager-baker-on-why-he-wears-no-12-c165080182

Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente connection to Davis

Jackie Robinson

The New York Yankees thought they had Davis signed, spring 1956, when a Jackie Robinson phone call changed everything. Davis was a superb basketball, baseball and track & field athlete at Brooklyn’s Boys High School. In a 2019 interview, Davis recalled that Jackie Robinson was in his final [1956] season with Brooklyn, when he phoned Davis’ Brooklyn house. (Dodgers scouting director Al Campanis knew Davis’ mother, who gave birth to Tommy, March 21, 1939, was an avid Dodgers fan.)

“My mother wondered who was calling,” Davis said in 2019. “I pointed to the receiver and mouthed the words, ‘It’s Jackie Robinson!” I couldn’t believe I was speaking to one of my heroes, although I don’t remember doing much talking.” The Dodgers gave Davis a $4,000 signing bonus and didn’t have to keep him on their big-league roster. Davis improved via the Dodgers farm system, 1956-1959, unlike Roberto Clemente, who received a $10,000 signing bonus, February 1954, and $5,000 to play for the 1954 Montreal Royals, the Dodgers top farm club. Clemente was available in the Minor League Rule 5 draft, November 22, 1954, and signed by Pittsburgh. Under different circumstances, Clemente and Tommy Davis could have been Dodgers teammates, instead of big-league opponents.

Roberto Clemente and Tommy Davis

Spokane to Los Angeles to Caguas in Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL)

Davis hit over .300 in every minor league stop, including eight hits in 26 AB for the 1958 Montreal Royals, International League. In 1959, he pulverized Pacific Coast League pitching with a .345/.384/.515 slash line and .899 OPS for 77-77 Spokane, a club with power (Steve Bilko and Frank Howard), and speed (Maury Wills—25 SB in 48 games). Bilko’s slash line was .305/.393/.523, and .916 OPS, versus Howard’s .319/.362/.559, and .921 OPS. Bobby Bragan managed 1959 Spokane, and previously managed the Almendares Blues, Cuban Winter League, 1952-55, and 1957-58.

Davis’ big-league debut came at a Busch Stadium night game, September 22, 1959, when he pinch-hit for Clem Labine in the fourth. He struck out swinging versus lefty Marshall Bridges, a native of Jackson, Mississippi. Bridges pitched seven strong innings, in relief, to earn the 11-10 win. Sandy Koufax started for Los Angeles, but only pitched two-thirds of an inning, allowing four earned runs on two hits and two walks. Frank Howard’s three-run pinch-hit homer in the ninth closed the gap. Howard wintered in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, with the 1959-60 Escogido Lions. Davis played for the 1959-60 Caguas Criollos, managed by Vic Power, who won seven straight American League (AL) Gold Gloves at 1B, 1958-1964.

Vic Power

“Tommy Davis was a blessing for our Caguas ballclub,” affirmed Power. “He always hustled and got clutch hits for us.” Davis had a .286 BA, six homers, and 31 RBIs. Power’s .347 BA led the league, followed by Mayagüez’s Wito Conde (.336) and San Juan’s Roberto Clemente (.330). Top HR hitters were three Santurce sluggers—Jim McDaniels (10), Al Nagel (10), Orlando Cepeda (9) and Caguas’s Félix Torres (9). The league’s top-run producers were Conde (58), Clemente (42), Mayagüez’s Ray Barker (38), and Charlie Lau (35), plus McDaniels (35).

Caguas was in a tight pennant race with the San Juan Senators, led by player-manager Nino Escalera. San Juan (41-23) edged Caguas (39-24) by 1.5 games. Third place Mayagüez (35-28) and fourth place Santurce (25-37) qualified for the post-season, but fifth-place Ponce (17-45) did not. Caguas bested Santurce, four games-to-two, January 20-25, 1960, behind the pitching of George Brunet, Julio Navarro, Bob Giggie, and 15-game winner Earl Wilson. Davis, listed at 6’2” and 195 pounds, and Félix Mantilla contributed offensively. San Juan fell to Caguas, five games-to-one, in the finals. Brunet bested San Juan, 7-3, on January 26, 1960, followed by a four-hit SHO, 3-0, on January 31.

February 10-15, 1960 Caribbean Series with MVP Tommy Davis

Panamá hosted the February 10-15, 1960, Caribbean Series. Caguas split their first two games, besting Carta Vieja (Panamá), 4-3, behind Santurce reinforcement Juan “Terín” Pizarro, before losing to Cienfuegos Elephants (Cuba), 4-2. Tommy Davis’ two-run homer off Raúl Sánchez in the ninth, motivated skipper Tony Castaño to bring in Pedro Ramos. Brunet pitched a Game Three CG versus Rapiños (Venezuela), losing 6-4, due to teammates’ three miscues. Tommy Davis, Woody Huyke and Félix Torres homered for Caguas, whose catcher was Frank Reveira.

Cienfuegos (6-0) was undefeated, leading Carta Vieja (3-3), Caguas (2-4) and Rapiños (1-5). George Altman of Cienfuegos and Carta Vieja’s Eddie Napoleon went 7-for-16 (.438 BA), short of the required AB to be co-batting champs, per The Sporting News (February 28, 1960). Series MVP Tommy Davis won the batting crown (.409 BA). He had three HR, six RBI, .and .818 SLG, with two stolen bases, to tie teammates Orlando Cepeda and Mantilla; Willie Davis of Rapiños; and Carta Vieja’s Héctor López. Table I lists series BA leaders.

Table I: 1960 Caribbean Series Top 10 BA, 18+ AB

PlayerTeamABHHRRBIBA
Tommy DavisCaguas22936.409
Félix TorresCaguas261035.385
Héctor LópezCarta Vieja2710310.370
Stan PalysCarta Vieja2710212.370
Woody HuykeCaguas20714.350
Rogelio AlvarezCienfuegos248210.333
Camaleón GarcíaRapiños24815.333
Orlando CepedaCaguas24814.333
Willie DavisRapiños27912.333
Henry MitchellCarta Vieja18603.333

Source: Jorge S. Figueredo, Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961, McFarland (2003).

Altman recalled his 1959-60 regular season with Cienfuegos, with 14 HR, before getting hurt. He remained in Cuba and helped Cienfuegos win the Caribbean Series. Eddie Napoleón noted: “We were [always] the underdogs in the Caribbean Series. I homered off Pizarro in our [February 13, 1960, 8-7] win over Caguas. That was special.” Tommy Davis cracked a two-run homer off Humberto Robinson in the first inning, for his third series HR. Pizarro led pitchers with 16 strikeouts while Camilo Pascual (2-0, 15 strikeouts) posted a series-best 1.10 ERA for Cienfuegos, including his 4-0 SHO over Caguas, on February 14, 1960. Félix Torres connected Caguas’ only hit, one of three balls hit out of the infield. Pascual threw 88 pitches. From April 1959-February 1960, he hurled 410 innings with the Washington Senators and Cienfuegos. His composite W-L record was 34-15 (17-10 for Washington; 17-5 with Cienfuegos), including two Caribbean Series victories. He fanned 363 hitters in 410 combined innings.

Stan Palys led 1960 Caribbean Series hitters with 12 RBI. He homered in the final game against Cienfuegos, a 10-7 Elephants win. Palys recalled that Carta Vieja “put up a good fight.” He led the Panamá Winter League with 10 HR and 30 RBI. Héctor López, .370-3-10, also produced for Carta Vieja, to tie Tommy Davis and Félix Torres for most series homers.  Willie Davis (.333 BA, .593 SLG), Luis Aparicio (a grand slam) and Camaleón García (.333-1-5) contributed to Rapiños. Table II includes the Series All-Star Team, based on voting tallies by 50 sportswriters.

Table II: 1960 Caribbean Series All-Star Team

PlayerTeamPos
Dutch DottererCienfuegosC
Rogelio AlvarezCienfuegos1B
José A. PagánCaguas2B
Héctor LópezCarta Vieja3B
Lee TateCarta ViejaSS
Stan PalysCarta ViejaLF
Tommy DavisCaguasCF
George AltmanCienfuegosRF
Camilo PascualCienfuegosRHP
Bob MiloCarta ViejaLHP
Tony CastañoCienfuegosMGR

Source: The Sporting News, February 28, 1960, p. 28.

Table III highlights the performances of five PRWL MVPs, Phase I, Caribbean Series (1949-1960). Davis was the only MVP of these five on a non-title winning team.

Table III: PRWL MVP Recipients, Phase I, Caribbean Series, 1949-1960

PlayerTeamSeriesABRH2BHRRBISBBASLG
Luis R. Olmo#Santurce1951246101390.417.833
Willard BrownSanturce19532481034130.4171.042
Jim RiveraCaguas195420391040.450.500
Don ZimmerSanturce1955266102340.385.808
Tommy DavisCaguas196022790362.409.818

#Olmo, Caguas player-manager, 1950-51 season, reinforced Santurce in this series. Source: Jorge S. Figueredo, Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961, McFarland (2003).

Selected MLB Highlights (1960-1976)

In 1962, Davis’ NL stats included:

  • 6.3 Offensive WAR (Wins Above Replacement), 4th, behind Frank Robinson (8.4), Willie Mays (8.3), and Hank Aaron (7.9)
  • 665 AB (third)
  • 120 runs (third)
  • 230 hits (first)
  • .346 BA (first)
  • 10 triples (tied for first with John Callison, Bill Virdon, and Maury Wills)
  • 153 RBIs (first)
  • .374 OBP (tenth)
  • .535 SLG (fifth)
  • .910 OPS (tenth)
  • 8 sacrifice flies (tied for third with Willie Davis).

In 1963, Davis’ .326 BA surpassed Clemente’s .320. Davis went 6-for-15, series-leading .400 BA, 1963 Fall Classic against the 104-57 New York Yankees, with a Game 3 RBI single versus Jim Bouton, to account for the game’s only run. The entire Dodgers starting line-up had played winter ball throughout the Caribbean. Ron Fairly, who saw limited action in each of the four 1963 Fall Classic games, didn’t play winter ball, but starred for the 1958 College World Series champions—University of Southern California Trojans—with teammate Don Buford. Dodgers 1963 World Series starters Johnny Podres (Game 2) and Don Drysdale (Game 3) did not pitch in winter ball, but Sandy Koufax (Games 1 and 4) did. So, 10 of 13 Dodgers in the 1963 World Series were winter ball veterans.

  • John Roseboro (C), 1956-58 Caracas Lions, .320 BA, .537 SLG; Roseboro played in the February 1957 Caribbean Series in Havana, Cuba, and batted .278-1-3.
  • Bill Skowron (1B), 1950-51 Ponce Lions, managed by Rogers Hornsby, .302 BA.
  • Dick Tracewski (2B), Colombia and Panamá.
  • Jim Gilliam (3B), 1948-49 Aguadilla Sharks and 1950-53 Santurce Crabbers, including stellar play, February 1951 and February 1953 Caribbean Series–.383 BA and .617 SLG. https://beisbol101.com/jim-gilliam-baltimore-elite-giants-aguadilla-almendares-minors-and-santurce-part-i/
  • Maury Wills (SS), Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. He led the PRWL with 25 SB for the 1957-58 Mayagüez Indians.
  • Tommy Davis (LF), 1959-60 Caguas Criollos.
  • Willie Davis (CF) posted a .303 BA in 1959-60 for Cabimas and Pastora, Venezuela’s Occidental League, pre-1960 Caribbean Series with Rapiños.
  • Frank Howard (RF), .307 with 9 HR and 46 RBI for 1959-60 Escogido Lions, Dominican Winter League. Then, a .300 BA, 28 HR, 84 RBI, in two (1960-62) seasons with Caguas. Howard’s 536-foot HR was hit off Jack Fisher, in the 1960-61 finals. Howard was an advocate of Stateside players getting valuable experience in winter ball.
  • Sandy Koufax (2-0, 1963 World Series), 1956-57 Caguas Criollos.
  • Ron Perranoski, ace reliever, pitched for the 1960-61 Criollos, after going 5-3, 2.51 ERA for 1960-61 Caracas Lions. Retiring hitters like Orlando Cepeda and Roberto Clemente gave Perranoski needed confidence in the NL.

In 1967, Tommy Davis batted .302 for the New York Mets. Two years later (1969), he and Jim Bouton were Seattle Pilots teammates. Bouton had a favorable impression of Davis in Ball Four.

Tommy Davis, 1969 Seattle Pilots. Photo credit: www.thisgreatgame.com.

Paul Hartzell’s April 5, 2022 e-mail to the author

Paul Hartzell

Hartzell, a 22-year-old rookie RHP with the 1976 Angels, has fond memories of his 37-year old teammate, Tommy Davis, who was a full-time DH, 1973-1975 Baltimore Orioles. It is June 6, 1976, and Davis is the Angels DH. Here is Hartzell’s e-mail.

“On June 4, 1976, I pitched 5.1 innings in relief in a game we won 5-4. It was my first appearance at Fenway Park (the second and last time my father who had driven from Bloomsburg, PA) saw me pitch. Because of that outing, I sat in the dugout instead of the bullpen. Tommy had just joined the team a few days before this. We immediately enjoyed talking with each other as he knew that I had pitched for Walter Youse for the [National Champion] amateur team in Baltimore in 1973. Tommy was the DH for all three games of that series. He had four hits in 13 at-bats and hit a home run. In the third inning, he came to me on the bench and quietly said, “Hey, kid, are you hungry?” Truth be told, I was starving so I said yes, thinking perhaps he was going to get something from the concession stands at Fenway. He said “I’ll come back for you in the 5th inning. I ordered Chinese food to be delivered to the clubhouse.”

Hartzell thought Davis was kidding, but in the 5th, Davis came to the runway in the dugout and motioned the rookie to come up to the clubhouse. Fenway had a “drying room” where shoes and uniforms were on shelves and hangars to be cleaned by the clubhouse boys. Per Hartzell, “In the drying room, Tommy set up egg rolls, at least five entrees, fried rice, and potstickers. We both laughed and started eating a lot of food. In the top of the 6th, Tommy steps up to the plate with Bobby Bonds on second and hits a sharp single to right-center. Bobby is thrown out at the plate and while the throw goes home, Tommy—who had very bad knees which slowed him down—goes for second. The dugout jumps to cheer him on, and he slides into second—safe. He immediately jumps up and looks at his left rear pocket with a large stain spreading quickly in his pants. Our trainer sees this and grabs a towel thinking Tommy had somehow cut himself on the side. Someone else in the dugout who also sampled the food in the drying room yells to the trainer, “Don’t worry, it’s only soy sauce!” The entire dugout, including manager Dick Williams, erupts in laughter.”

Hartzell had signed an agreement with Adidas to wear their shoes. He took his Adidas red with white stripes warm-up suit on road trips to wear when jogging in cities. “Tommy had seen me wear it more than once, and on a trip to Chicago, called me in my room and asked if he could borrow it because he was going to some fancy athletic club as a guest,” noted Hartzell, who said, “sure.” Hartzell was “too much a rookie” to ask Davis to return it, so “I [Hartzell] didn’t and he didn’t return it. But, on the last day of that road trip, sitting in my locker at the ballpark, perfectly dry cleaned, pressed, and folded, was my warm-up suit with a note that just said: ‘Thanks kid’ on it. Tommy was a first-class guy!”

Hartzell concluded: “Tommy was such a professional and so nice to me as a rookie that I will never forget helping him stretch before the games and the smile on his face which really was ‘I love this game.’ He was a great athlete, a great hitter, and a nice man. He will be missed by many.”

                                    Paul Hartzell. Photo credit: www.halosheaven.com.

Post-Script

  • Dusty Baker manages the 2022 AL Houston Astros.
  • Don Buford and Tommy Davis were 1972 Baltimore Orioles teammates.
  • Camilo Pascual became Hartzell’s 1979 Minnesota Twins pitching coach.
  • Don Drysdale was a 1973-1979, 1981 radio and TV color man for the California Angels.
  • Ron Fairly retired after the 1978 season, when he was Hartzell’s Angels teammate.
  • The author had lunch with Dick Tracewski in northeastern Pennsylvania, circa 1992; “Dick Tracy” noted he was Sandy Koufax’s 1962-1965 Dodgers roommate.
  • In 1,999 MLB games, Tommy Davis had a .294 BA, 153 homers and 1,052 RBIs. In 20

post-season games (1963 and 1966 World Series; 1971, 1973 and 1974 ALCS), he batted .313 (20-for-67), with five RBIs. His minor-league slash line was .335/.373/.494, and .867 OPS.

  • In December 2021, six former Dodgers were voted  into the inaugural class of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers Hall of Fame: Sandy Koufax (95.6 percent of ballots); Vin Scully (92.7 percent); Don Drysdale (90.0 percent); Jackie Robinson (88.9 percent); Roy Campanella (84.7 percent); and Duke Snider (78.2 percent). Tommy Davis received 17.2 percent of the votes. He is the last Dodger to win a batting title before Trea Turner. The next round of voting takes place at the 2022 All-Star break, with Dodger Stadium hosting the 2022 All-Star Game. https://www.latimes.com/sports/newsletter/2021-12-09/hall-of-fame-dodgers-dugout

Special thanks to Paul Hartzell, for remembrances of Tommy Davis as a 1976 teammate. George Altman, Eddie Napoleón, and Stan Palys shared insights on the February 1960 Caribbean Series. Vic Power furnished feedback as Davis’ 1959-60 PRWL skipper. Frank Howard and Ron Perranoski cited benefits from playing for Caguas. Bryan Goldberg alerted the author to the Dusty Baker-Tommy Davis #12 connection. Jorge Colón Delgado, Official Historian, Puerto Rico Professional Baseball League, did the editing and photo placement.

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