February 4 – Happy Birthday Lefty Davis

lefty.davisI’ve always loved conspiracy theories and the one I learned about while researching today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant is certainly a doozy. When Ban Johnson started his American League in 1901, it created a lucrative new market for players in the National League, who were willing to jump to the new junior circuit. Just about every team in the NL lost some of their best players during the resulting signing war in 1901 and ’02. The only exception strangely was the mighty Pittsburgh Pirates, who escaped pretty much unscathed. With absolutely no negative impact on their roster, the Pirates were able to win the NL Pennants in both ’01 and ’02 by comfortable margins. In fact, in 1902 the Bucs finished a full 27 1/2 games ahead of a heavily depleted second place Brooklyn Superba’s squad.

Some baseball historians surmised that Johnson and his fellow American League franchise owners conspired to not sign any of the Pirate players, instead concentrating their raid-efforts on the stars of the teams that could compete with the Bucs for the pennant. Their purpose was to leave Pittsburgh in such a dominant position that the team would win the flag by such a huge margin, the fans of other NL teams would lose interest and stop buying tickets. Others thought the reason why the Pirate stars were so sticky to Pittsburgh was because the owner of that team, a banker named Barney Dreyfuss, was so good to his players.

That stickiness ended when one of the Pirates’ best pitchers, Jess Tannehill separated his shoulder and while being treated for the injury, was administered ether. Unbelievably, while under the effects of that drug he confessed that he and a group of fellow Pirates had all been offered $1,000 to jump to the rival league. Dreyfuss was both shocked and angered by the news and ended up releasing all the players who were thinking of betraying him. That list included Tannehill, pitcher Jack Chesbro, third baseman Wid Conroy and an outfielder named Alfonzo “Lefty” Davis. All four signed on with the Highlanders.

Davis was an up and coming star for the Pirates who had missed half of the 1902 season wth a severely broken leg. A native of Nashville, TN, Davis had hit .313 for Pittsburgh in 1901 and was averaging .280 the following season, when the injury occurred.

In 1903, he joined the first New York Highlanders’ starting outfield with Willie Keeler and Herm McFarland. Unfortunately, his injured leg had not healed properly and he hit just .237. His loss of speed hindered him on the base paths and in the outfield. He would spend the next three seasons in the minors trying to regain his form but he never did. After one last shot with Cincinnati in 1907, his big league career was over.

Davis shares his birthday with a long-ago Yankee infielder.

1903 NYY 104 435 372 54 88 10 0 0 25 11 43 31 .237 .319 .263 .582
4 Yrs 348 1510 1296 232 338 32 19 3 110 65 167 100 .261 .348 .322 .670
PIT (2 yrs) 146 675 567 139 170 15 14 2 53 41 91 38 .300 .399 .386 .786
BRO (1 yr) 25 102 91 11 19 2 0 0 7 4 10 8 .209 .287 .231 .518
CIN (1 yr) 73 298 266 28 61 5 5 1 25 9 23 23 .229 .293 .297 .590
NYY (1 yr) 104 435 372 54 88 10 0 0 25 11 43 31 .237 .319 .263 .582
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/13/2014.

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