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Ashway: Giants' Davenport is organization's unheralded legend
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Forsyth County News

With spring training underway, here’s a little baseball trivia for you.

This being an even-numbered year, the San Francisco Giants must be favorites to win the World Series. So they’re the subject of our trivial pursuit. Here you go:

Name the four players who appeared in at least 1,500 games for the San Francisco Giants.

The first three should be relatively easy: Hall of Famers Willie McCovey (2,256) and Willie Mays (2,095) along with but-for Hall of Famer Barry Bonds (1,976.)

The fourth member of the club isn’t so easy. He’s one of those players who become unknown to later generations of fans. But this player might not even be recalled by those who watched him play in the ‘60s.

Jim Davenport, 1,501 games played.

The slick-fielding third baseman passed away last Thursday in Redwood City, California. The cause was heart failure. He was 82.

He was also about to start his 52nd season with the Giants. Only clubhouse manager Mike Murphy has spent more time with the team.

Davenport has been a Giant for the most part since singing his first contract with the team in 1955. The native of Saluria, Alabama had just finished a career as quarterback for Southern Mississippi that earned him admission into the school’s Hall of Fame.

Aside from stints coaching for the Padres (’74-’75), Phillies (’88), Indians (’89) and as an advanced scout for the Tigers (’91-’92), Davenport remained a Giant. He filled a variety of roles at the major and minor league levels. Last year he was a special assistant in player development.

“He loved talking about young players,” manager Bruce Bochy told Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News. “You were honored when Jim Davenport wanted to come by your office and talk to you.”

Davenport also managed the Giants for most of the ’85 season. He took over an inept club that had lost 96 games under Frank Robinson and Danny Ozark in ’84, and compiled a 56-88 record. When the team lost 12 of its final 18 games under Roger Craig, Davvy had the dubious distinction of managing the only 100-loss team in Giants history.

His major league career lasted from 1958 through 1970. At first glance, it was nothing special. He compiled a .258 career average with 77 homers. He had career highs of 83 runs scored and 65 RBIs. His best year, 1962, he hit .297.

On April 15, 1958, Davvy became the first player to take an at bat as a San Francisco Giant. He struck out against Don Drysdale at Seals Stadium.

In the third and final playoff game against the Dodgers for the ’62 pennant, he drove in the go-ahead run in the ninth inning. He drew a walk off Stan Williams with the bases loaded, forcing in Felipe Alou.

He does rank among the all-time San Francisco leaders in hits (eighth) and triples (seventh, tied with Will Clark.)

But in 1982, fans voted Davenport as the third baseman on San Francisco’s 25th Anniversary team. Wonder why? 

The dude could field.

“The American League had Brooks Robinson,” friend and teammate Joe Amalfitano told Chris Haft of MLB.com in 2014. “But in his era, in the National League, I’d like to know who was a better defensive third baseman. He was kind of under the radar with his career.”

Felipe Alou played behind Davvy from ’58 to ’63. “You know as a left fielder when you had a good third baseman,” Alou told Brown. “There were too many line drives, hard hit balls between third and shortstop or hoppers over the bag, and I don’t know how he got to them. It was a pleasure to play with a guy like that.”

Davvy led the league in fielding percentage from ’59 through ’61, and won a Gold Glove in ’62. He also made the all-star team that year. And from July 26, 1966 through April 28, 1968, he set a major league record by playing in 97 consecutive errorless games at third. The record stood for 32 years.

He compiled some fine clutch numbers. He hit .285 over his career with runners in scoring position and .388 with runners on third with less than two out. In ’69, he produced a staggering 10 game-winning hits.

He also produced an amazing .290 average against the great lefty, Sandy Koufax. 

“He probably felt sorry for me,” Davvy told Haft.

Davvy also ranked in the top 10 in the league in sacrifice bunts seven times. 

“I was smart enough to do the little things—hit and run, bunt, and catch the ball—to make myself a decent player,” he told sfgiants.com.

He was also an excellent teammate.

“Jimmy was one of the steadying rods on that team,” McCovey told Haft. “As much a part of the organization as me and Mays. We got all the publicity, but we all appreciated Jimmy. He looked up to guys like myself and Mays, but we looked up to him as much as he did us.”

And the kid from Alabama grew up color-blind. 

“He was really one of the best teammates, for whites, Latinos, and blacks,” Alou told Haft. “There was not a trace of racism in him. He was an incredible friend and teammate.”

Added McCovey, “There was not a prejudiced bone in his body, and that’s what I admired about him so much. He was just a regular guy.”

He also became best friends with Bobby Bonds, a fact Bobby’s son never forgot. 

“Barry never got up for anyone,” teammate Kevin Frandsen told Haft. “But if he heard Davvy’s voice, he’d be in that other room. It was because of how Davvy was with Bobby. They were like brothers. And Barry knew it. Not one day went by that he took that for granted.”

No wonder Amalfitano told Haft, “Jimmy’s a pillar of that organization. If you cut his veins, red wouldn’t come out. It would be orange and black. I truly believe that.”