Full Throttle in Center

 

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Willie Davis

For nearly the entire 1960s, center field in Dodger Stadium was patrolled by one of the fastest men in baseball during that decade, Willie Davis. Replacing Hall of Famer Duke Snider in 1961, Davis played 14 seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers (out of an 18-season major league career) and, by the time he retired, held more than a handful of Dodger records, with both his bat and his glove.

Willie Davis collected more base hits than any Dodger since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958. He retired with a .279 career batting average.

Willie Davis collected more base hits than any Dodger since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958. He retired with a .279 career batting average.

Davis was a three-sport athlete in high school when he was signed by the Dodgers in 1958. He made his debut with the Dodgers in 1960 and had taken over the center field position from Snider by the end of 1961. In his first full season as a starter, Davis hit .285 for the Dodgers in 1962, with 21 home runs and 85 RBIs. He batted a combined .279 in his 14 seasons with the Dodgers.

Davis made full use of his tremendous speed both at the plate and in the outfield. He led the National League in triples in 1962 (10) and in 1970 (16). Teamed with shortstop Maury Wills at the top of the Dodger batting order, he gave middle-of-the-lineup hitters such as Tommy Davis, Frank Howard and Ron Fairly plenty of RBI opportunities, and was capable of driving in runs himself, recording a career high of 93 RBIs in 1970. While Wills was the Dodgers’ premier base stealer during the 1960s, Davis was no slouch in the “theft” department, and was a better all-around hitter than Wills. Davis stole 20 or more bases in a season 13 times in his career, with a career best of 42 in 1964.

The 1960s featured an abundance of outstanding defensive center fielders, and Davis was one of the best of the best. He led all National League outfielders in total putouts in 1964 (400) and in 1971 (404). He finished in the top five in that category 12 times in his career. He remains fourth all-time in career putouts as a center fielder (5,278).

Willie Davis stole 20 or more bases 13 times in his 18-year career.

Willie Davis stole 20 or more bases 13 times in his 18-year career.

In December of 1973, the Dodgers traded Davis to the Montreal Expos for pitcher Mike Marshall. Davis hit .295 in his only season in Montreal, and then was traded to the Texas Rangers for Pete Mackanin and Don Stanhouse. He played for only two months with the Rangers, and in June of 1975 was shipped to the St. Louis Cardinals for Ed Brinkman and Tommy Moore. He also made brief stops with the San Diego Padres and the California Angels before closing out his playing career in Japan.

Davis retired with 2,561 hits and a career batting average of .279. He has more hits than any Dodger since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958, and his 31-game hitting streak in 1969 remains the franchise record. During his career, Davis won three Gold Gloves and was an All-Star twice.

 

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