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Willie Davis

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William Henry Davis
(3-dog; Comet)

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"I used to love to watch Willie run the bases... He took a lot of pride in his baserunning. He was a good man and a good ballplayer. I had a great deal of respect for him." - Manny Mota

Best known for his speed and defense, centerfielder Willie Davis was a star of the 1960s and 1970s who played eighteen years in the majors, mostly with the Los Angeles Dodgers. A two-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner, he also led the National League in triples twice during his career.

Signed by the Dodgers in 1958, Davis hit .352 with 15 home runs and 16 triples with the Reno Silver Sox in 1959 to win the California League Most Valuable Player award. The following summer, 1960, with the Spokane Indians, he hit .346 with 12 homers, 26 triples, and 30 stolen bases and captured the Pacific Coast League MVP as well as The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year award. That season, he also played in 22 late-season games with the Dodgers, as a 20 year old, hitting .318.

Davis won the center field job with the Dodgers in 1961 after three players (Don Demeter, Duke Snider, and Tommy Davis) had shared it the previous year, and in 1962, he paced the NL with 10 triples.

While Davis was with the Dodgers, they reached the World Series three times, his bat was the deciding factor in game 2 of the '63 Series with 2 doubles as he knocked in two runs that beat Al Downing 4-1 and in game 4 his sacrifice fly scored the winning run to complete the sweep. The club swept the New York Yankees, but Davis managed to hit just .167 and struck out six times in the postseason that year. Two years later, in 1965, he hit .231 and did not drive in a run but stole 3 bases in one game to tie an all-time World Series record. His team defeated the Minnesota Twins in seven games. He hit only .063 in 1966 and committed three errors in the fifth inning of Game Two, as the Dodgers went down in defeat to the Baltimore Orioles in four games. In game 3 of the '66 World Series, Willie made one of the greatest catches in World Series history off a long drive from Boog Powell; Willie leaped nearly 4 feet in the air and took a home run away from Powell as he already began to circle the bases.

Davis remained a solid competitor for Los Angeles. In 1969, he hit a career-best .311 and put together a 31 game hitting streak, the longest in the NL since Tommy Holmes hit in 37 straight games in 1945 and the longest in franchise history, including the team's years in Brooklyn. The next summer, he hit .305 while leading the NL with a career-best 16 triples. In 1971, he hit .309, won the first of three straight Gold Gloves, and was selected to his first All-Star Game. On May 24th, 1973, he recorded six hits in a contest against the New York Mets, and that season, he was an NL All-Star for the second time.

Following the 1973 season, the Dodgers traded Davis to the Montreal Expos for relief pitcher Mike Marshall. He was the Expos Player of the Year in 1974, but was traded after the season when the team went on a youth movement. Over the next three seasons, he played for four different teams until he was released by the San Diego Padres in 1977. Not finished yet, he went on to play two years in Japan for the Chunichi Dragons in 1977 (.306, 25 HR) and the Crown Lighter Lions in 1978 (.293, 18 HRs). He then came back to play one final season for the California Angels in 1979.

Davis had 2,561 hits lifetime in the majors, putting him at # 82 on the all-time list (all rankings are as of 2010). He is also # 68 on the all-time list of base-stealers, with 398. He led the league twice in triples, and is # 66 on the all-time list. He is # 37 on the all-time list for sacrifice flies. He had some power, with nearly 200 home runs in his career, and as a result is # 47 on the all-time list for Power/Speed Number. He had excellent range in the outfield at a time when ballparks sometimes had bigger center fields than today.

Willie's stats are more impressive when it is remembered that he played in a pitcher's park during the second dead-ball era. He not infrequently batted third in the lineup. In 1964, his 77 RBI were second on the team. In 1968, when he hit .250, the team hit .230. In 1972, his 19 home runs tied for the team lead.

One Hall of Famer, Enos Slaughter, is on the list of the ten most similar players to Davis. Another player on the list of most similar players is his contemporary Vada Pinson.

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