Glancing Back, and Remembering Tommy Davis
In many ways, Tommy Davis is remembered – if at all – as one of the most over-rated hitters of the 1960s. It’s not only unfortunate, but grossly unfair. Few players in baseball history can match the offensive numbers that Davis put up, on either an individual season or career basis.
In fact, most of the players who can at least match Tommy’s hitting statistics have a place of honor in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
While Davis may not have the numbers to qualify for Cooperstown, his outstanding career was, in fact, tempered only by the extraordinary expectations he created with his own outstanding performance at the beginning of his career.
Davis was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956 and made his debut with the club as a pinch hitter in 1960. By 1961 Davis was a reserve player for the Los Angeles Dodgers, hitting .276 his rookie year. He became the Dodgers’ everyday left fielder in 1961, batting .278 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs.
Nothing prior to 1962 suggested the kind of hitting monster Davis was to become that season. He won the National League batting title with a .346 average and led the major leagues in hits (236) and RBIs (153). He also achieved what would be career highs in runs (120), doubles (27), home runs (27) and slugging percentage (.535).
A single-season fluke? Davis proved otherwise in 1963 when he claimed his second consecutive batting championship, hitting .326 with 16 home runs and 88 RBIs. Yet it seemed like a “down” season compared to his output in 1962. And in 1964 his offensive numbers slipped further, to 16 home runs, 86 RBIs and a .275 batting average.
His productivity came to a crushing halt in 1965 when an aggressive slide into second base resulted in a fractured ankle. While never known for basepath speed, the injury nevertheless hurt his career. Davis was never the same player after it.
He rebounded in 1966 to hit .313, but it would be his last season in Dodger blue. The Dodgers traded Davis and Darrell Griffith to the New York Mets for Ron Hunt and Jim Hickman. Davis extended his comeback by hitting .302 for a full season in New York, with 16 home runs and 73 RBIs. But he was traded again after the 1967 season, this time to the Chicago White Sox in a six-player deal that brought Tommie Agee and Al Weis to the Mets. Davis led the White Sox in hitting (.268), and was promptly drafted by the expansion Seattle Pilots, his fourth team in four years.
Tommy Davis lasted 18 years in the major leagues, playing for 10 different teams and compiling a .294 career batting average. He hit .300 or better six times.
Davis hit .271 for the Pilots in 123 games before being traded to the Houston Astros. Less than a year later, Davis was purchased by the Oakland Athletics, and then sold to the Chicago Cubs two months after that. In all, he played for 10 different teams from 1966 to 1976, his last year in the majors. His longest stop was with the Baltimore Orioles from 1972 through 1975.
Despite his travels, Davis never really stopped hitting until the end of his playing career. He batted .324 for the A’s in 1971 and .306 for the Orioles in 1973, when he drove in 89 runs for the O’s. Altogether, Davis played 18 seasons in the big leagues and tallied 2,121 hits for a .294 career average.
Heady numbers for an “under” achiever.
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