Friday, August 21, 2015

Mets valued Willie Davis alongside Aaron, Koufax

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

Would you trade a Hank Aaron card for Willie Davis? How about Koufax-for-Davis? Or Mays? Already got Willie Davis? Would you take Vada Pinson instead? Or Billy Williams?

Back at the MLB winter meetings in Houston in December, 1964, Mets chairman of the board Don Grant equated those six players when he made “desperation” offers of $500,000 each to the Dodgers for Koufax or Davis, to the Braves for Aaron, to the Reds for Pinson and the Cubs for Williams.

Going into the meetings, the Mets’ most pressing need was for a center fielder. Jim Hickman had been the most regular CF for the Mets since they entered the league, but had batted just .242 between 1962-64 and fielded the position near the bottom of the league.

At the meetings, Dodgers’ owner Walter O’Malley had made an off the cuff comment to Grant that that Mets had yet to make an important player deal. Admitting as much, Grant pointed out that his club didn’t have the players to offer in significant trades, and blurted, “I’ll give you $500,000 for Willie Davis.”

Grant followed up by making the same half-million dollar offer to the other named clubs, and was rebuffed at each turn. He did receive a facetious counteroffer from Reds president Bill DeWitt—for $2 million.

New York baseball writer Barney Kremenko, writing in the Dec. 26 Sporting News, speculated on the value Grant attributed to Davis.

“Puzzling to some was why Willie Davis, with a lifetime batting average under .270, should not only be included among the super stars but should be the first to come to Grant’s mind,” Kremenko wrote.

“However, Willie has been one of the National League terrors for the last-place Mets from the day they came into being in 1962.

“Last season alone, Willie the Swift clobbered Casey Stengel’s pitching at a .338 clip with 24-for-71. In 19 games, Mets flingers horse-collared him only twice, and one of these games was a 1-1 tie rained out after five innings.”

Kremenko also pointed out that Davis, who was third in the majors in stolen bases with 42 in 1964, “ran the Mets crazy with his speed, either stealing or going for—and getting—the extra base.”

The writer also pointed out that at the age of just 24 as the 1965 season opened, Davis “would go exceedingly well with the Mets’ youth-building program.”

Kremenko concluded, “Putting all these facts together, it becomes somewhat more plausible why Grant should hold the Dodgers’ comet in such high esteem.”

 Speaking of Willie Davis . . .
One of Willie Davis's career-high 21 home runs in 1962 came after he'd apparently flied out to lead off the top of the fifth inning in a game at Milwaukee on April 23.

First base umpire Dusty Boggess ruled that Braves pitcher Lew Burdette had thrown an illegal pitch(!). Back at the plate for a do-over, Davis homered to give the Dodgers a 3-1 lead on their way to a win.

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