May 28, 2023

Tommy Davis Was “A Magician With The Bat”

April 9, 2022 by · Leave a Comment 

Tommy DavisBaltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver called Tommy Davis “a magician with the bat.”

In 1973, former Orioles third baseman and 10-time All-Star George Kell said, “Tommy is one of the game’s few remaining pure natural hitters.”

Kell admired Davis’ ability to hit to all fields, torment both lefties and righties and adjust to situations.

The two-time National League batting champ served as the Orioles’ primary designated hitter from 1973 to 1975.

The Orioles obtained the veteran hitter in mid-August 1972 from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Elrod Hendricks. It was one of the best deals the Orioles ever made.

Before the designated hitter was adopted for the 1973 season, the much-traveled Davis considered retiring. By the time he put on an Orioles uniform, he had played in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago (for both the White Sox and Cubs), Seattle, Houston, and Oakland.

“Playing DH was my cup of tea,” he said. “It gave my career a shot in the arm. I loved playing the outfield, but I wasn’t a Paul Blair. But I loved to hit more than anything. Getting four at-bats as the DH without playing the outfield was a great deal to me.”

Davis studied pitchers, analyzed situations, and consistently made contact. He loved to hit with men on base and late in the game.

He prided himself in being an RBI man. “Like a lot of hitters, I concentrate better with men on base. Driving in runs is how you make money in the major leagues,” he said.

As a DH for the Orioles from 1973 to 1975, he led the club in RBI twice. In 1973, he batted .306 while driving in 89 runs.

The right-handed hitter recorded one of baseball’s most productive seasons in 1962 when he tallied 153 RBI for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He is the only player from 1950 to 1995 to reach the 150-RBI plateau. That year, he also led the league in hits (230) and batting average (.346).

He won the batting title again in 1963 with a .326 mark. It looked like he was going to be one of baseball’s greatest players. His career, however, was dealt a devastating blow in May 1965 when his spikes caught in the dirt while sliding into second base. He suffered a potentially career-ending compound fracture of his right ankle.

The 26-year-old missed most of the 1965 season but returned to play 100 games and bat .313 in 1966. During the off-season, the Dodgers traded Davis to the New York Mets. He never forgave the organization for the decision.

As a designated hitter, Davis was comfortable retreating to the clubhouse in between at-bats. Sometimes, he would watch the opposing pitchers on the television monitors. Or, he might shave or make a phone call.

Once he was talking on the phone in the clubhouse when it was his turn at bat. Trainer Pat Santarone rushed into the clubhouse to get Davis’ attention, telling him he was up. Davis told the person on the other end to hold the line. He went out and delivered a clutch RBI single, then returned to continue his conversation.

“I enjoyed playing in Baltimore. We had a good group of players and I felt like I contributed. We won the Eastern Division twice and finished second once in my three full seasons there,” said Davis, who collected his 2,000th hit and 1,000th RBI with the club.

“Earl Weaver was a great manager. He had a reason for doing everything. I’ll never forget, one time I went 6-for-9 over two games. I came to the clubhouse and noticed my name wasn’t in the lineup.

“I went to Earl’s office and said good-naturedly, “Six-for-nine, Skip, six-for-nine,” recalled Davis, swinging an imaginary bat as he had when he walked into Weaver’s office. “Six-for-nine and I’m not in the lineup?”

Weaver asked me, “Who’s pitching today?”

“Luis Tiant,” I replied.

“Weaver then started shuffling through his box of index cards. A few seconds he pulled out a card and barked, ‘0-for-two seasons, Tommy, 0-for-two seasons.’

“He had me, and I couldn’t help but laugh. Do you know who Weaver started that day? Tom Shopay. The guy was batting .125.

“What did he do against Tiant? Went 1-for-3,” chuckled Davis.

The Orioles released Davis at the end of the 1975 season due to his age (almost 37), high salary, and decreased production. Although he batted .283 in 1975, he drove in just 57 runs.

He concluded his 18-year career in 1976, splitting the season between the California Angels and the Kansas City Royals. He finished with a .296 lifetime batting average.

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