The Los Angeles Dodgers are having an old-timers game today, and Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Dwyre used that as the hook to visit with the old outfielder Tommy Davis, who won National League batting titles as a Dodger in 1962 and ’63. And of course, I’ll use it as a hook to point out the creative memories of old ballplayers.
Here’s one of the yarns Davis spun for Dwyre:
I led the league in batting in ’62 and ’63, then broke my ankle in ’65. Doctors say it’ll take two years to heal fully, but I get traded in one. The Mets give me a great chance in ’67. I play 154 games and get to the last game and I’m hovering around .300. We’re playing the Dodgers, Don Drysdale pitching, Johnny Roseboro catching — my longtime friends. It’s the last inning, two out and 0-2 count on me. I say to Johnny, ‘I think I’m right at .299. I need to hit over .300.’ He says, ‘What do you want and where do you want it?’ I tell him, it arrives, I hit a double, finish the year batting .302, and because of that, play 10 more years in the league.
Davis did indeed play 154 games in 1967, and he entered his final game of the season with a .301 batting average (it had been at or above .300 every day since July 8). Don Drysdale was indeed pitching for the Dodgers…but as the box score shows, Davis’ longtime friend John Roseboro was on the bench (although he did pinch-hit in the bottom of the ninth). So that’s one problem with Davis’ story.
Davis grounded out in the first inning but kept his average above .300 (.30087, to be more precise). Then in the third inning — not the last inning — he led off with a double to left, pulling his average up to .302 (okay, .30208). Davis batted again in the top of the fourth and grounded out, making his average .30156, or .302 after rounding.
And then Tommy Davis came out of the game. Cleon Jones went out to left field to replace him in the bottom of the fourth. And Davis’ season was over; the next day was actually the final game of the season for the Mets, and Amos Otis, in his first month in the majors, was in left field. “Tommy Davis rested his .302 average the final day of the season to end up the team batting leader,” Jack Lang wrote in The Sporting News of Oct. 14, 1967. (Of course, Tommy could have gone another 0-for-41 and still beat Ron Swoboda’s .281 average to top the Mets in that category.)
So much for the dramatic end-of-season hit, aided by friends on the other team, to lift Tommy Davis over .300 in 1967. What’s interesting is Davis could have made three more outs and still hit .300 on the year. He finished with 174 hits in 577 at-bats; 174 for 580 is exactly .300.
Bill Dwyre likely knows he could have checked Davis’ story, and he may have even suspected it wasn’t true. But of course it’s only a good story if Davis’ version is correct. Then again, maybe the stories about ourselves we believe to be true contain more truth, or at least say more about who we are, than the actual facts. I have no doubt Tommy Davis believes this story to be true and loves John Roseboro and Don Drysdale all the more for it. Maybe that’s more important than what really happened.
Still…never take an old ballplayer’s story as a factual account.