Jim Davenport should be more than an answer to a rather denigrating trivia question:
Who managed the Giants to a 100-loss season in 1985, the worst in the history of a franchise that dates back to 1883 in New York?
If you insist on asking that particular trivia question, though, you should know that Davenport is merely a partial answer. He managed the Giants to 88 of those 100 losses. Roger Craig is responsible for the other 12 defeats.
Surely by now, every Giants fan who’s seen a game or two this season has noticed the new patch with two names and two numbers inscribed on the sleeves of the uniforms: “Monte” (No. 20) and “Davvy,” (No. 12), a tribute to beloved Giants who died over the winter. The former is for Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, the Giants’ first African-American, who starred on the famous 1951 pennant-winning New York Giants and the ’54 World Series champions. The latter is for Jim Davenport, who did more than manage the team through most of that distressingly dismal ’85 campaign.
Younger generations of Giants fans might not know much about Davenport at all, and that’s a shame. The guy spent more than 50 years in the Giants organization — as a player, coach and manager at both the major-league and minor-league levels, scout, administrative assistant and other capacities, a regular “jack of all trades” if there ever was one.
Davenport was an original San Francisco Giant, the first to bat in the team’s first game, on April 15, 1958, at Seals Stadium. In the third inning he became the first San Francisco Giant to drive in a run when he hit a sacrifice fly to Carl Furillo in deep right field.
Later in what turned out to be an 8-0 victory against the Dodgers, Davenport hit two singles and scored a run.
But it was defense for which older Giants fans fondly recall Davenport. He was a consistently sure-handed, smart third baseman. The fact that he won but one Gold Glove (1962) during his 12 full seasons is more a comment on the quality of his competition than on his ability.
If it weren’t for a couple of guys named Ken Boyer and Ron Santo, Davenport surely won have been more frequently acknowledged nationally for his hot-corner defense. As it turned out, 1962 was also Davenport’s best offensive year, with an All-Star selection and career highs in homers (14) and batting average (.297).
But Davenport was more than statistical achievements, and over the years Giants broadcast fixtures Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow have told some wonderful anecdotes that underscored his honesty, humor and humility. But perhaps some of the most telling insights to Davenport’s personality were provided by Davenport himself, as told to freelance writer Mike Mandel for his vastly underrated 1979 book: “SF Giants: An Oral History.”
Here are a few selections.
“God gifted a lot of people to run fast and do other things. I was fortunate to catch the ball and that certainly got me to the big leagues and kept me in the big leagues because I never did hit very much.”
“A lot of things used to bother me when I was young. An 0-for-4 would bother me, making an error would bother me, and I would take it home and think about it too much off the field. And I even developed an ulcer. … Every year there was talk about getting a new third baseman, but I wound up playing for 13 years. I had a big family of five kids, and worrying about the job bothered me a lot.”
“I never lost confidence in myself. I always said that if we went into the eighth or ninth inning and we were ahead by one run and the bases were loaded, I wanted the ball hit to me.”
“In 1962 I was fortunate to get into the All-Star Game, and the thing I remember most was when I was sitting there before the game and I looked down the bench and saw Mays, Musial, Aaron … and I felt pretty proud to just be sitting alongside them.”
And how’s this for low-key humor and humility:
“My most important at-bat in my career ended up being a walk that I got in the ninth inning of the last game of the playoffs (against the Dodgers, in 1962).”
It forced in Felipe Alou with the tie-breaking run.
So, for all you younger Giants fans out there, and for you older ones, too, when you see that “Davvy” patch on the uniform sleeves, know that it’s in honor of a Giant who was much more than a partial answer to a trivia question.
Robert Rubino can be reached at RobertoRubino@comcast.net.