Year Inducted: 1998 (Veterans Committee)
When Curt Flood challenged the Reserve Clause in the late 1960’s, it was far from the first time that a player had attempted to challenge it. Attempts go all the way back to the late 1890’s with Monte Ward, who in addition to being a player and manager was also a full-fledged lawyer, who actually had a player he used twice to try to overrule the Reserve Clause. When the Giants’ shortstop had worn out his welcome with his team, he signed a two year deal with the White Sox. After the first year there, he tried to return to the Giants, but Charlie Comiskey went all the way to the US Court of Appeals to block him from playing a game for anyone other than the White Sox. That player was George Davis.
Davis was an excellent shortstop in the early years of the game, and was almost instantly forgotten. On the field for 20 years, Gorgeous George hit .295/.361/.405 with a wRC+ of 118. Davis was a power hitting shortstop, collecting 451 doubles, 163 triples and 73 homers while playing in the early part of the Dead Ball Era. A multi-faceted player, Davis stole 616 bases, scored 1539 runs and was worth about 40 runs on the bases. Davis was also able to produce a lot of runs, driving in 1437 along with his 1539 runs scored. Davis was a key player on the great Giants teams of the early parts of the game.
There are two main things that put Davis above Anson in this study. The first is that Davis put up his numbers primarily as a shortstop, which makes them just as impressive as what Anson did as a first baseman. The other is his fielding. Anson was a good fielding first baseman while Davis was an excellent fielding shortstop. The latter is incredibly more impressive than the former, which helps elevate him. Anson’s numbers also came in 27 seasons, all before the Dead Ball Era, while Davis played quite a few years in the Dead Ball Era, which do help to elevate them to a degree. Both are obviously great, but Davis’ offense combined with great shortstop defense (and great baserunning) at least put him on par with what Anson did as a good fielding first baseman.
Davis retired in 1909 and was inducted by the Veterans Committee in 1998. Why did one of the greatest players of all-time have to wait so long for induction? Part of it was that Davis’ best years were before the mass media explosion that happened around 1905, but mostly it was due to Davis just fading into memory. After a very brief and unsuccessful career as a manager in the minors (after poor results as a manager in the majors), Davis was out of baseball forever. Davis ended up dying due to paresis (aka syphilitic insanity) in a mental institution in 1940 at the age of 70, so he spent a long time out of the spotlight and just faded into obscurity. Thankfully the SABR community (which used to have a branch named for George Davis) helped him gain his well deserved induction as well as a gravestone as he was buried in an unmarked grave. Davis was one of the best and hopefully won’t be forgotten any time soon.
Stay tuned for the next updates.
On deck 12/1/16:
#39- John McGraw’s best pitcher
#38- Earl Weaver’s favorite first baseman