#CardCorner: 1963 Topps Tommy Davis
And Tommy Davis’ 1962 season was the muscle behind that moniker.
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Flipping through any baseball encyclopedia in the pre-internet days, it was easy to stop and stare at that Dodgers team. Maury Wills stole 104 bases that year, breaking Ty Cobb’s longstanding modern era record. Don Drysdale was 25-9 en route to the Cy Young Award, and the Dodgers drew a record 2.7 million fans in their first season at Dodger Stadium.
But it might have been Davis – who drove in 153 runs while winning the National League batting crown with a .346 mark – who stood out the most. At 23 years old, he was one of the game’s brightest stars.
Born March 21, 1939, in Brooklyn, Davis grew up a Dodgers fan and starred as a high school athlete, drawing interest from big league scouts. Following a phone call from Jackie Robinson, Davis signed with the Dodgers in 1956 and was sent to Class D Hornell of the Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League, where he hit .325.
After hitting .357 with 68 stolen bases for Class D Kokomo of the Midwest League in 1957, Davis played in Double-A and Triple-A in 1958, hitting a combined .304. In 1959, Davis hit .345 with 211 hits in 153 games for Triple-A Spokane – leading the Pacific Coast League in batting average – before the Dodgers called him up in September.
By the time Spring Training of 1960 was over, Davis had made the Dodgers’ roster while being named the favorite by many writers to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award. He hit .276 in 110 games that season as an outfielder and pinch hitter, finishing fifth in Rookie of the Year voting. Then in 1961, Davis split time between the outfield and third base, hitting .278 in 132 games.
In 1962, Duke Snider started the season as the Dodgers’ right fielder and clean-up hitter. But after about a week, Dodgers manager Walter Alston began to tinker with his lineup. Davis encouraged these changes with his play – driving in 13 runs in five games from April 13-17. By the end of April, Frank Howard was in right field and Davis – who had 24 RBI in the season’s first month – was entrenched in left.
In May, Davis and Dodgers got red hot. Davis hit .336 with 25 RBI and 25 runs scored in 28 games, leading the Dodgers to a 21-7 record.
Davis was one of only 11 players to hit .296 or better during the pitching-rich seasons of 1960-69, and of those players only eight – Hank Aaron, Dick Allen, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, Willie Mays, Tony Oliva, Frank Robinson and Davis – had at least 100 home runs in that span.
Playing in an offensively suppressed era, Davis’ final totals were dragged down by strong pitching, a cavernous home ballpark in Dodger Stadium and a debilitating injury. But few players ever shined as bright as the Brooklyn-born outfielder who found a home in Los Angeles.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum