Willie Davis was found dead March 9th. I missed it. He was 69. You would not know the name if not of a certain age and/or a baseball fan. Willie Davis was a great center fielder for my beloved LA Dodgers in the 60's, replacing Duke Snider. The link will extol his baseball virtues. I remember him well, as a teammate to Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, John Roseboro, Maury Wills and others.
So, can you imagine replacing someone like Snider, or Mickey or Ted or Willie? I've had the pleasure to know someone who did replace a beloved star, however briefly.
I found out quite by accident. One would have never thought this small, short, soft-spoken gentleman with a scraggly beard and worn brown teeth from constant pipe smoking could have been athletic at all in his youth. And besides, he was a professor at UNC. There's no professors in baseball...right Tom Hanks?
During a lull waiting for our tailor to finish marking a sport coat for him I happened to mention that my family had season tickets to Durham Bulls baseball and that we were attending that night. Did he like baseball, I asked?
"Oh, yes," he replied in his soft, kind and gentle voice. "I enjoy the game very much. In fact, I played a little organized ball in my youth." His reply seemed so off-handed and without a trace of braggadocio that my first thought was city league softball.
"Ah, what was your position?" I asked. Center field. "And where was this?" I continued with a small-talk tone. "Well, several places but primarily Montreal."
"Oh, yes. You see, I was in the Dodger organization and Montreal was--"
"Triple A!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, Triple A," he said calmly with just a proper hint of pride and reminiscence in his voice.
"Did you ever--"
"Make it to the Bigs?" he interrupted. "Oh yes, but just a cup of coffee. I was called up for about two weeks but then the Korean War beckoned and several rounds from a machine gun placement we were trying to eliminate shattered my leg and that was the end of center field and baseball."
"Damn," I said, after a reasonable amount of silence. "I'm sorry..."
"Oh, it's alright. Nothing much would have come of it. I was backing up Duke Snider, you see, and there was another fellow ahead of me on the Dodger bench that was quite a talent."
We finished our business and as he reached the door he paused, turned and took the pipe from his mouth and said: "Oh, I should have mentioned...I hit a homer my only big league at bat!" He smiled mischievously, threw up a little soft salute and he was out the door.
Willie Davis was found dead March 9th. and I missed it. Almost.