Johnny Davis (minors01)
John Howard Davis
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 3", Weight 215 lb.
Johnny Davis was a three-time All-Star in the Negro Leagues, had the winning hit in the 1946 Negro World Series, was MVP of the Puerto Rican Winter League in 1947-48 and set the Florida International League home run record in 1953. A broken ankle in 1952 deprived him of a possible chance in the major leagues.
Davis grew up in orphanages and foster homes and spent six years in the Catholic Protectory, where he served as an altar boy. He frequently ran away but would be returned by the police. He finished 9th grade at the Pretectory before being placed at another foster home as a 17-year-old. He considered working as a longshoreman but gave a false age and joined the merchant marine instead. He was in the merchant marine for four years despite bouts of seaiskcness.
1940-1942: Early baseball career
Davis met with Al Campanis, who arranged for Johnny to play for the Mohawk Giants while working for the American Locomotive Company. He got into legal trouble, though, and was jailed in a New York penitentiary. Newark Eagles owner Abe Manley arranged his release so that he could join Newark in 1941. As Davis was on parole, he could only play in games in New York State (where two of the six Negro National League teams were based). He hit .221 in a reserve role that year. In 1942, under similar restrictions, he batted .333.
1943-50: Eagles star
John became a regular in 1943 and became a popular and successful performer. He batted .286 then followed with a .353 season, just missing the top 5 in the NNL. On the mound, he was 1-1 in 1943 and 3-3 in 1944. He started in center field for the East in the 1944 East-West Game, batting sixth behind Josh Gibson and going 2 for 3 with a walk. In the Puerto Rican Winter League in 1944, he led the league in strikeouts as a pitcher and threw a no-hitter. In 1945, "Chief" led Newark in average (.354) and was again an All-Star. He hit cleanup for the East and started in left field, going 0 for 2 in the 1945 East-West Game. He went 3 for 4 in exhibitions that winter against white major league pitchers. He was 7-4 in the Puerto Rican League that winter. In '46, the 28-year-old hit .301 for the champion Eagles and his 7 homers tied him for third in the NNL; as a pitcher, he was 1-1. Larry Doby and Monte Irvin were the stars but Davis played a key supporting role. In the 1946 Negro World Series, Davis went 7 for 24. In game one, he drove in Newark's only run with a hit off of Satchel Paige to tie the game 1-1 before they lost, 2-1. In game seven, with the Kansas City Monarchs ahead 2 to 1 and Doby and Irvin aboard, Davis doubled them in to win it. In the off-season, Johnny played on the Paige All-Stars against the Bob Feller All-Stars and went 6 for 23 with a 3-run homer against Spud Chandler to win game 9 of thw 12-game Series. In 1946-47, he played in the Cuban Federation, batting .238 for the Matanzas team.
In 1947, John hit .263 and belted 13 homers, one behind NNL co-leaders Doby and Irvin and 3 ahead of Luke Easter. He also tied for third with 17 doubles. He was 2-2 on the mound. In the 1947-48 Puerto Rican Winter League, he hit 11 homers, third-most and went 12-7 on the mound for the #2 record behind Ford Smith. His 3.22 ERA was third and his 100 strikeouts led the league, nine ahead of Jose Santiago. It was his MVP season.
In his last year in Newark, he struck out 15 batters while pitchihng one game. Davis represented Puerto Rico in the 1949 Caribbean Series with the Mayaguez Indians. He was 2 for 9 with two doubles, thee runs and two RBI. On the mound, he lost his lone decision, walking six in 7 innings, fanning five and allowing three hits. John followed the Eagles to Houston in 1949 and made his third East-West Game appearance. Backing up Pedro Formental in center for the West, Davis was 0 for 2 off the bench in the 1949 East-West Game.
1950-1954: More winter stardom and four years in Organized Baseball
Johnny hit .381 in the 1950-51 Venezuelan Winter League and then batted .278/~.536/.333 in the 1951 Caribbean Series, leading the Series with 10 walks and scoring six runs, most on the Navegantes del Magallanes in the tournament. In the spring of '51, Davis played in the Provincial League, a home for many former Negro Leaguers too old to be considered prospects. He hit .347 (second in the league) with 106 runs (leading the league), 31 homers (second to minor league star Frank Gravino and 116 RBI (second to Gravino) while playing for the Drummondville Cubs. in 1951-52, Johnny led the Puerto Rican Winter League in home runs and got married there. In 1952, Davis batted .263/~.369/.437 and was error-free with the San Diego Padres. The Chicago White Sox planned to sign him but Davis broke his ankle while sliding one game and would not get to the majors.
In 1953, Davis had a big year for the Fort Lauderdale Lions, hitting .321/~.434/.574, scoring 117, driving in 136, homering 35 times and drawing 100 walks in the Florida International League, known usually for its pitching. Johnny's home run total is the FIL all-time record. He was third in average, around third in OBP, led in slugging (one of three players over .500), led in runs, led in RBI (44 more than the runner-up), was second in hits (165) and 16 homers ahead of the runner-up. His 24 outfield assists also led the FIL that year. At age 36, John slipped to .263 with 8 HR in 40 games for the 1954 Montgomery Rebels in his last season in baseball.
Davis was considered somewhat of a loner. He liked to drive the team bus while with Newark. Once, his teammates pulled a prank on him, moving the bus while he was in a restaurant. John was a pull hitter who excelled against fastballs but struggled with the curveball and was once hit in the head by a curve from Dan Bankhead.
The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues by James Riley, The Complete Book of Baseball's Negro Leagues by John Holway, 1953 and 1954 Baseball Guides, Black Baseball's National Showcase by Larry Lester, Pat Doyle's Professional Baseball Player Database, Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History by Jorge Figueredo