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Remembering Willie Davis: Greatness too often ignored

March 9, 2010 |  2:55 pm
Willie Willie Davis was guilty. No one could have known it better than him. Others said it, whispered it, wondered about it.

But Willie knew they found him guilty of not being a superstar.

He was a remarkable athlete who did some remarkable things for the Dodgers. Yet somehow with Willie, it seemed less about what he accomplished and more about what he did not.

He couldn’t hit as well as Tommy Davis, steal like Maury Wills. Didn’t have the commanding presence of Sandy Koufax or Don Drysdale. He seemed more a role player on the great Dodgers teams of the ’60s, though his flashes of greatness only seemed to leave others yearning for more.

Willie was called up when he was only 20 and played 13 years with the Dodgers, 17 major-league seasons overall. And when he passed away Tuesday, he was still the Los Angeles Dodgers all-time leader in hits, extra-base hits, total bases, plate appearances and triples.

He had a deep voice, distinctive laugh. For a man others claimed was always in search of himself as a player, he gave off the appearance of easy-going happiness.

He won three Gold Gloves, stole 20 or more bases 13 times, still holds the L.A. Dodgers record for his 31-game hitting streak and was twice an All-Star.

Davis And yet unfairly, he is almost remembered as much for the three errors he committed on consecutive plays in Game 2 of the 1966 World Series. For being Willie Davis, and not Willie Mays. For imagined sins of omission.

He could be inconsistent, try different batting stances, seemed to abhor walking (.311 career on-base percentage).

But he was a great player in his own right. Was part of two World Series championships and a key member of those Dodgers teams that cemented their place in the hearts of Los Angeles and began a love affair that continues today.

He even left the Dodgers a parting gift. He was traded to the Montreal Expos before the 1974 season, the Dodgers acquiring reliever Mike Marshall, who went on to win the Cy Young that season.

Willie played for five different teams after leaving the Dodgers, plus a couple seasons in Japan. But he was a Dodger all the way. An L.A. kid who grew up to play for his home team.

If guilty only of not being a superstar, he was still a unique star and special player. He died at age 69, and the only thing he didn’t give us enough of, was years.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Top photo: Willie Davis in 1961. Credit: Associated Press. Bottom photo: Willie Davis robs Baltimore's Boog Powell of a home run during Game 4 of the 1966 World Series. Credit: Associated Press