Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Revisiting Profiles: Lefty Davis

Welcome, today I thought I'd try out something different.
When I feature cards on here, I tend to feature a pretty large number of cards at once in a show-offey "look at this!" type fashion with some commentary or a little background information about the player(s) depicted along with it. But there are times when I do the player profiles a little haphazardly and I don't do the card subject enough justice. Most of my TTM returns and IP autos fall under this category, as well as a few hundred other card subjects I've featured on here. So today I thought I'd go back and give one these subjects the proper bio they deserved.


Today I'll be revisiting Lefty Davis.
This fascinating odd-ball of Alfonzo DeFord Davis was sent to me by Nick the Dime Box king. Back when I still doing trade/PWE posts, I spoke about how unique the card was as a card (sort of).


Back then all I did was talk about how interesting it was that the back just blatantly called Lefty Davis a disappointment. Which, for all I knew, might've been true but I didn't look deep enough or ask the right questions. What I should've been asking were...

*Why was Davis considered a disappointment?

*Was Davis highly regarded enough before coming to the Highlanders to merit a "he was a disappointment" reaction?

*If so, why did Pittsburgh let go of such a promising player who had a strong rookie year?

*Did something happen to Davis before he came to the Highlanders?

*Where was he during 1904-1906?

*What else happened? Give me more Goddammit!

Amongst others.
While the first and second questions were sort of answered on the card, we'll need to know the complete Alfonzo story (or as complete as it can be given how a lot of his information has been lost to time) to figure out the rest. Lets begin.

Born on February 4th, 1875 in Nashville, Tennessee, Alfonzo DeFord Davis was a 5'10 outfielder who most likely got his nickname due to the fact that he was left-handed. Interestingly enough some sources claim that his first name is actually spelled "Alphonzo" while others say it's Alfonzo. Unfortunately I was unable to find Davis' birth certificate (not like Nashville issued them when Davis was born anyway) so I can't confirm which one is correct.

Anyway details about Davis' early life are pretty sketchy/non-existant with a simple Google search (sorry, I'm not as diligent as Thom over at Baseball History Daily).
All that's known is that Lefty Davis had entered pro ball around 1896 and played on various minor league clubs before being signed by the Philadelphia Athletics sometime prior to 1901. But sometime in early-ish 1901 Davis jumped from the A's to the Brooklyn Superbas and hit for a triple slash line of .209/.287/.231 in 25 games before being released by Brooklyn.

1909-11 Colgan's Chips (Scan Courtesy of The Trading Card Database)

He was then picked up by the Pittsburgh Pirates and broke out in a big way by hitting for a triple slash line of .313/.415/.421 with 22 steals in 87 games. It appeared as though Pittsburgh had itself a new speedy superstar. Keep in mind that the Pirates back then were a dominant team that won the NL Pennant three years in a row from 1901 to 1903, the future was very bright. However, Davis suffered a leg injury on July 11th, 1902 and ended up missing nearly half of the 1902 season. Which is a shame considering how he was hitting for a .280/.377/.336 triple slash line before the injury.

Lefty Davis (12) And The 1901 Pittsburgh Pirates (Photo Courtesy of Baseball Revisited)

Alright, here's where things get interesting/we find out why the Pirates let go of Davis.
Sometime between August and October, the Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss learned that some of his players had been offered money to jump from the Pirates to the newly formed American League. Outraged, he released those players he thought were trying to jump ship, which included members of the inaugural New York Highlanders team such as Jesse Tannehill (who leaked the names of the players offered money to Dreyfuss while he was under the influence of ether during a medical operation), Jack Chesbro (!), Wid Conroy, Jack O'Connor and Lefty Davis.

With the Highlanders Davis was patrolling the outfield alongside future Hall Of Famer Wee Willie Keeler but his leg had not yet healed and it cost him his speed that once made him a very good baserunner and outfielder (Davis only had 11 steals in 1903 as opposed to 26 in 1901). He finished his only season with the Highlanders with a triple slash line of .237/.319/.263.
Davis spent the next three years down in the minors trying to recover and put up some decent numbers but it wasn't until he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 1906 rule five draft that he got another chance to play in the big leagues. In 1907 Davis made one last return to the majors and hit for a triple slash line of .229/.293/.297 with 9 steals in 73 games. After that he spent some more time with various minor league teams (he was even a player-manager in 1913 and 1914) before hanging up the spikes for good in 1915. He died four years later at the age of 44.


All in all the story of Alfonzo DeFord Davis, is a tragic one. So can he still be considered a disappointment? Personally I'd go with half yes, half no. Davis' drop in performance is understandable given the circumstances but what really makes it disappointing is when you consider what could've been and how things might've gone differently if he hadn't had that leg injury (or if it was properly treated).

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So there was my first revisited post, I hope you guys liked it. I'm not sure if this will be a running theme on this blog (I have a terrible track record with series') but considering how fun it was to prepare this post, I'd definitely be open to doing it again the future.
As always thanks for stopping by and take care :).

Sources:
*http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/d/davisle01.shtml
*http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=davis-001alf
*http://pinstripebirthdays.mlblogs.com/2013/02/04/february-4-happy-birthday-lefty-davis/
*http://books.google.com/books?id=dcG-cEGlwqYC&pg=PA27&lpg=PA27&dq=Alphonzo+DeFord+Davis&source=bl&ots=pHIsHjkvQV&sig=eK0QfA2KtghxMljX1RVTYLOqUgE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=bao0VJ-tDszjsATv44HgDA&ved=0CFMQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=Alphonzo%20DeFord%20Davis&f=false
*http://dmbworldseriesreplay.wordpress.com/2010/01/28/dmb-world-series-replay-1901-pittsburgh-pirates/
*http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/o/o'conja01.shtml
*http://www.tradingcarddb.com/Gallery.cfm/sid/135498/1909-11-Colgan%27s-Chips-Stars-of-the-Diamond-E254?PageIndex=7

8 comments:

  1. Great research! All the more reason that card is 100 times better in your collection than mine.

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    1. Thanks Nick. I still appreciate how you sent me this Davis.

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  2. Early baseball history is so intriguing to me. I often wonder what some one like Mike Trout would have done statistically one hundred years earlier. So many factors to consider.
    Nice job on the research.

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    1. Thanks Tom. I often wonder the same thing too and the reverse (what could they do one hundred years later).
      BTW, if you're up for obscure early baseball history I'd highly recommend a site called Baseball History Daily (I linked to it in the post), it's provided me a whole mess of awesome stories.

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