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Sunday, June 18, 2017

How Pitcher Dave Davenport Fought His Way Out of Baseball

Fighting with your boss is usually a losing proposition, no matter who is on the right side. Nobody learned this harder than former right-handed pitcher Dave Davenport, who literally saw his professional career come to an end after a skirmish with his manager with the St. Louis Browns in 1919.

At 6’6” and 220 pounds, Davenport was positively massive in size for the era. A native of Louisiana, he had three brothers who also played professional ball, including younger brother Claude who pitched two innings for the 1920 New York Giants. 

Davenport came into his professional career after being discovered after throwing five no-hitters for a semi-pro team out of Runge, Texas. After winning 15 games for the San Antonio Bronchos in the Texas League in 1913 he was sold for $4,000 and made his major league debut with the Cincinnati Reds the following year. He won two games and saved two others (in 10 appearances) during his rookie campaign with the Reds but jumped to the St. Louis Terriers of the Federal League midyear with teammate Armando Marsans after their demands for a raise was quickly dismissed by manager Buck Herzog.

The Cincinnati Times-Star was less than flattering in their farewell to the pair, writing, “The prospect of being on a winning team seems to have meant nothing to Marsans and Davenport. Offered a few additional dollars, they were off, apparently without a thought for the team or the Cincinnati fans, who had backed them up so loyally. The fans have plenty of sporting spirit. They have a right to expect at least a little of it from the players.”

The big righty truly broke out with the Terriers in 1915, winning 22 games with a 2.20 ERA in a league-leading 55 games. He also led the league with 46 starts, 30 complete games, 10 shutouts, 229 strikeouts and 392.2 innings. Just 25, he became a scorching hot commodity over night, which was good because he lost his job with St. Louis.

Since the Federal League folded up shop after the 1915 season, Davenport jumped to the Browns in 1916. He led the American League in pitching appearances that year with 59. While he was a solid hurler (mostly as a starter) over the next four seasons, he never approached the level of success he had attained.  

A major reason for the pitcher not becoming a full-fledged star was likely his trouble staying away from the bottle. A notorious hard drinker, his frequent dalliances with nightlife curbed his immense talent and brought him an unflattering reputation. He was not seen as a partier as much as a man who had his problems and kept largely to himself. H.R. Hoefer of Baseball Magazine called him “a man of few words, and between moody, taciturn, and glum most people would call him a casual acquaintance.”

In 1919, Davenport was wallowing through his worst season as a professional. A 2-11 record and 3.94 ERA in 24 games (16 starts) had him on the verge of losing his job anyways. Skipping his September 2nd start without explanation led to his immediate suspension for the rest of the season without pay. He subsequently confronted and got into a physical confrontation with two team officials, even reportedly pulling a knife on the two men. He never pitched in another big league game again.

Davenport finished up with a major league record of 73-83 with a 2.93 ERA in six seasons; on the sidelines at the young age of 29. He was unofficially blacklisted, with many holding a very negative impression of him. “The attitudinous [sic] Dave has the temperament that is supposed to go with a star without being a stellar performer, wrote the Washington Post’s J.V. Fitzgerald in 1920, the year after the banishment.

Unbelievably, Davenport's fight with his Browns’ manager may not even be the strangest way he was released from a team. In 1921, he was pitching for the Ogden Gunners in the Northern Utah League when he was fired for being too good. At 7-0 with 112 strikeouts in 63 innings in seven starts (all complete games). He was told “They (opposing teams) were defeated before they went onto the playing field.”

Davenport continued playing on the semi-pro circuit into the late 1920s. He became the property of the New York Yankees in 1921 but never made it anywhere with them besides on paper. Married to his wife Lillian, he passed away in El Dorado, Arkansas in 1954 at the age of 64 following a lengthy illness. One of baseball’s tragic tales, yet largely a victim of his own doing, he was once one of the most promising young players in the game but quickly receded to the shadows of anonymity because of his own bad behavior.

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