Clank

This is not a pretty story. It is the story of a good player, a player who was, in his time, one of the best at his position. For the most part his teammates liked him. He was well-respected. Then he made an error, actually three of them, and he went to his grave known among a lot of fans for one inning of one game. Unfortunately for Willie Davis it was a World Series game.

In 1961 Davis became the regular center fielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was no Duke Snider, but he was pretty good. More known for his glove than his bat, he roamed the outfield with LA through 1973. He made some errors, but had great range. He led the league in putouts once and was in the top three in assists twice. He hit well enough to bat second for much of his career, had little power, but good speed and was perfect for hitting behind Maury Wills. He helped the Dodgers to World Series wins in 1963 and 1965.

In 1966 the Dodgers got back to the World Series, playing Hank Bauer’s Baltimore Orioles. They lost game one, but with Sandy Koufax on the mound for game two, there was a reasonable chance at evening the Series. Through four innings neither team scored, then Boog Powell led off the fifth with a single. After a foul out, Paul Blair lifted a fly to center. The next sound you heard was “clank.” That’s the sound of a baseball hitting an iron glove. Davis lost the ball in the sun, couldn’t get good leather on it and the ball dropped in for a two-base error, Powell heading to third. So far, no harm. That brought up Andy Etchebarren who hit another fly to center. “Clank.” Davis dropped it, Powell scored. Then to compound the error, Davis picked up the ball and tossed it toward third base. It sailed. No, it didn’t sail, it flew. It flew all the way across the Milky Way. No one was going to catch it and Blair trotted home with Etchebarren to third. After a second out, Luis Aparicio hit a clean double to end the scoring with three unearned runs. The Orioles scored one more run off Koufax and another later in the game while the Dodgers were shut out by Jim Palmer. The team never recovered from the three consecutive errors and were swept in the Series. The three errors on two hit balls is still a World Series record. For your information, Davis had one more play in the game. He recorded the out.

Davis went on to have several more fine years in LA, hitting over .300 a couple of times after they lowered the mound, but he was always known for the errors. Koufax never blamed him, neither did the team. The fans were another story. By the end, many forgot it because he was too good a player to hold it against him forever and as luck would have it the game was Koufax’s last (and became much more famous for that than for Davis’ clanking). But others never forgot and there were some “boo”-birds in the stands on old-timers day.  When he died in 2010, it came up, but wasn’t the centerpiece of most of the articles about him. I guess that’s all Davis might have asked.

Willie Davis

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2 Responses to “Clank”

  1. Vinnie Says:

    And after the game, he left us with the unforgettable quote, “Well, it’s not my wife and it’s not my wife.”, to put the whole thing into a proper perspective. Regrettably, it came out sounding more like an excuse than a proper mea culpa; one which he would never live down.

  2. keithosaunders Says:

    I’m too young to remember that World Series game but not too young to have seen Davis play and to have fond memories of him. I always think about the level of play required to even get to where Davis was. Frankly I’m always amazed at how anyone is able to perform in that situation.

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