Wednesday, March 10, 2010
I never knew you, Willie
One of the few cards that I remember having that year before I threw out all of them at the end of the season, was Willie Davis.
It was Davis' final card as a Dodger, the team with which he spent 14 years.
I never saw Davis play. I was too young. But I got the gist of what Davis brought to the game from that single card. It seemed to convey excitement. And from everything I've ever read about Davis, he was exciting.
This is what I've read:
Davis was fast. One of the fastest ballplayers in the history of the game. He joined the Dodgers immediately out of high school, and two years later replaced Duke Snider in center field.
He was nicknamed "3-Dog," after a trip to the greyhound track. Davis' uniform number was 3, and he was quick like a greyhound.
He helped the Dodgers to two World Series titles, and he famously made three errors in one inning during the 1966 World Series.
He holds Dodger records for career at-bats, runs, hits, extra-base hits, triples, total bases, and has the longest hitting streak in Dodger history at 31 games.
Davis was one of those players who opponents feared because he could run, hit for power, hit for average and run some more. He was graceful in the field. The game came naturally to him. It seemed almost effortless.
He was a gregarious guy, who loved to converse with teammates or opponents. He was a convert to Buddism. In a famous Sports Illustrated account on Japanese baseball, Davis was portrayed as an eccentric whose Buddist chanting, outgoing personality and flashy clothing drove his Japanese teammates crazy when Davis played in Japan after his major league career.
Davis endured substance-abuse problems after his career and was arrested in 1996 for threatening his parents with a samurai sword and ninja-style throwing stars, saying he'd burn their house down if they didn't give him money. His mother said he'd carry a sword around in a holster. He later would speak out against the dangers of drug abuse.
Former Dodgers general manager Buzzie Bavasi once said of Davis: "He could have been a Hall of Famer, but he had million-dollar legs and a 10-cent head."
Davis, in the few interviews I've seen him do, had a definite zen vibe about him. Personally, I couldn't figure out half of what he said in some of them. But I couldn't help but like him.
What I do know is the guy seemed like he was crazy good, and absolutely 100 percent worth spending money on to watch play the game.
Unfortunately, I never got to see him play.
Willie Davis died Tuesday in Burbank, Calif. He was 69.