Checking in with Tommy Davis, still the L.A. Dodgers' only batting champion
Tommy Davis was a phenomenon on those great early-’60s Dodgers teams, a hitting machine who seemed almost out of place in an offense spurred by speedsters Maury Wills and Willie Davis.
"We manufactured runs, and with the pitching we had, the formula was OK,’’ Davis said.
The legendary pitching, of course, included Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Johnny Podres and Claude Osteen.
And although massive Frank Howard could provide some much needed pop, it was Davis who was the consistent offensive threat. His 1962 season remains one of the greatest in Dodgers history -- a .346 batting average, a team-record 153 RBIs , 230 hits and 27 home runs.
"It didn’t come totally together,’’ Davis said. ``We didn’t win.’’
That 1962 batting average won him the first of consecutive National League batting crowns, the only two in Los Angeles Dodgers history.
Davis, 70, now lives in Alta Loma with his wife, Carol. The father of three girls and one son, he continues to work with the Dodgers’ speakers bureau. He also makes visits to the team’s lower minor leagues for hitting instruction, as well as continuing to provide private hitting lessons. He also owns a small marketing company that manufactures T-shirts and hats.
Davis was born in Brooklyn, but didn't make it to the majors until the team moved to Los Angeles. And that might not have happened but for a late phone call.
"I was getting ready to sign with the Yankees because they had shown more interest," he said. "But then I got a call from Jackie Robinson."
After his rookie season in 1961 came his record-setting 1962 season.
"Maury had his banner year and was MVP," he said. "[Jim] Gilliam did his job, and I think should be in the Hall of Fame. Willie Davis was hitting in front of me, batting third. We had a lot of speed in front of me. And then big Frank Howard hitting behind me. So the formula was there for me to be successful. I got a lot of good pitches to hit.
"We were very disappointed [we lost a playoff series to the Giants], but we redeemed ourselves the next year when we got to the World Series, played the Yankees and beat ’em four in a row."
Davis, however, was not an integral part of the Dodgers’ 1965 World Series championship. He broke his ankle early in the season and was lost for the remainder of the year.
"Lou Johnson took my place and became the hero of the World Series," Davis said. "I can’t be bitter about it. I broke an ankle. To this day, he’s still working with the Dodgers. But what the heck, maybe that wasn’t supposed to be."
Johnson hit two home runs in the Dodgers' seven-game World Series win over the Twins. He is currently the team’s community affairs liaison.
Davis is so associated with the team’s early success in Los Angeles, most fans probably don’t realize he spent only seven of his 17 major league seasons with the Dodgers.
After the Dodgers were swept in the 1966 World Series by the Orioles, Davis was traded to the Mets for Ron Hunt. It was the first of 11 stops he would make during the next 10 years. To his dismay, five times he was released.
"Strange career," he said. "`I don’t want to get into now or I’ll get [ticked] off.’’
He enjoyed success along the way -- he hit .302 for the Mets in ’67, hit .306 with 89 RBI for the Orioles in ’74 and batted .320 lifetime as a pinch-hitter -- but his fame will always be attached to his time with the Dodgers.
-- Steve Dilbeck
Photo: Tommy Davis with the Dodgers in 1963. Credit: UPI