A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Piper Davis

"Piper" Davis

“Piper” Davis

1. Lorenzo “Piper” Davis was born in July 1917 in Piper, Alabama. Piper was a newly formed coal company town several miles south and west of Birmingham. The mines closed in the 1950s and the town no longer exits. Obviously, it gave Davis his nickname.

2. His first professional baseball experience was in 1936 playing with the Omaha, Nebraska Tigers. He was primarily a second baseman, but did some work at first.

3. After several years in professional baseball (minor league variety), he made the Negro Major Leagues in 1942 with the Birmingham Black Barons. During his days in Birmingham he played shortstop, second base, and first base.

4. In 1943 he hit .386. The sources vary on Negro League stats. In this case I gave the highest average I could find. Other sources have him bat as low as .173 (see what I mean about Negro League stats). Whatever he hit, he helped lead Birmingham to its first Negro American League pennant. They lost the Negro World Series to the Homestead Grays.

5. Birmingham repeated in 1944 and again lost the Negro World Series. Davis had a bad year with the bat, but was still considered a superior second baseman.

6. Between 1946 and 1949 inclusive, Davis made the East-West All Star Game each season. The East-West game was the Negro Leagues version of Major League Baseball’s All Star Game.

7. In 1948 he became player-manager of the Black Barons and led them to the last Negro World Series. Again they played Homestead, and again they lost.

8. Willie Mays joined the Black Barons in 1948, thus making Davis his first professional manager.

9. In 1947 he was optioned to the St. Louis Browns (now the Baltimore Orioles) as one of the first black players acquired by the organization. A dispute over whether he needed minor league experience or was ready to play for the Browns immediately led to the Browns not exercising their option.

10. In 1950 he became the first black ballplayer signed by the Boston Red Sox. He was 33.

11. He bounced around the Boston minor league system and never made the Major Leagues. He retired in 1958.

12. Between 1968 and 1985 he did scout work for the Tigers, the Cardinals, and the Expos.

13. Piper Davis died in 1997.

Davis' final resting place

Davis’ final resting place



9 Responses to “A Baker’s Dozen Things You Should Know About Piper Davis”

  1. glen715 Says:

    I love reading about these obscure but great Negro leagues players. Who knows what would have been if not for people like Commissioner Landis?

    When you say that in 1943, he batted over .300 and in other sources it said that he batted under the Mendoza Line, do you mean in the same year different sources had such varying batting averages for Davis??? That is very weird! Was someone not paying attention, or were there some statisticians who couldn’t do math?????

    Piper Davis. Such a cool name. There’s something about the last name “Davis” that can make any name sound cool. I always thought it was the coolest last name. I don’t know why. I just did. Willie Davis. Tommy Davis. Ike Davis. Chilli Davis. And my cousin, Bummy Davis, who is featured on my “gravatar”. His real name was Albert Abraham Davidoff. I’ll be the first one to say that Bummy Davis, his ring name, sounded cooler, although he always hated the name his promoter gave him, “Bummy”. They’re currently in the process of making a movie about him; it should be in the theaters by next year, I’m guessing.


    • verdun2 Says:

      Negro League stats are so incomplete that for Davis in 1943 I found one source that had him hit over .300 and another that stated for the same year he hit in the 170s. Much of that has, I think, to do with how many box scores the source could find. It does make for an excellent example of how difficult it is to determine the exact stats on these guys and thus determine just exactly how good they were. Of course, that’s why I noted it for readers to see.
      Thanks for reading, Glen.

  2. glen715 Says:

    My cousin. http://www.bronxbanterblog.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/bummy-davis.jpg

  3. wkkortas Says:

    That story about Davis, combined with what Bill James related about the warmth with which Willard Brown was welcomed to the club, speaks volumes about the Brownies commitment to integration.

    • glen715 Says:

      Speaking of how Willard Brown allegedly was treated by teammates on the Browns, I thought I’d share with you all this link about a book about Dixie Walker written by Maury Allen and Walker’s daughter, Susan. I am interested in reading it this book. The article about the book is interesting, too. I always like to hear the other side of things. The great thing about reading more than one side of a story is that lets a person make up his own mind. Now, don’t get me wrong— I love Jackie Robinson. But I’d like to read and find out if Walker was really the terrible person that he’s made out to be.

      By the way, another interesting thing is Dixie’s brother, Harry “The Hat” Walker. I remember being told many years ago by someone with no connection to Harry Walker that the reason he didn’t last as the Astros manager was that he couldn’t get along with blacks and therefore couldn’t get along with black players on the Astros. Yet, in Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” and also in his sequel “I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally”, Bouton does not document any hint of racism at all. So I don’t know WHAT to believe about Harry Walker. As a matter of fact, the only thing that Bouton mentions about black-white relations on the Astros is that there was much less of a barrier between the two races than on the Seattle Pilots and that blacks and whites played cards together, ate out together, etc.

      But in his book “The Long Season”, Jim Brosnan made it pretty darn clear that THEIR manager, Solly Hemus, was a bigot and didn’t make any secret of it. It was related by Bill White in his book “Uppity” and in the book about Curt Flood, “A Well-Paid Slave.” So the evidence about Hemus being a racist seems overwhelming, but, who knows, maybe someone else will come out with stuff about Hemus that says otherwise.

      So there’s always two sides to every story, well, maybe not EVERY story, but to MANY stories.



  4. Steve Myers Says:

    I wonder if fewer stats means fewer debates over who is best and second best and so on. Oral histories and legends live on. The Negro leagues seemed to say screw it. Let’s decide on the diamond and hell with all these numbers. Satchel Paige swagger telling teammates to sit down, not to worry. I’ll strike out the side and all his other charismas. Personally, I love stats, back of baseball card stats. Makes my life a little less boring. Statistics as a part of my survival raft. But I’m off topic, good to learn about Piper Davis. SABR Quebec Chapter members:

    There’s a new SABR book about the Birmingham Black Barons and Homestead Grays coming out soon.

    • verdun2 Says:

      Thanks for the heads up on the Barons/Grays book, Steve.

      • Steve Myers Says:

        I mentioned SABR Quebec chapter members because as you probably know v, the digital section for SABR members offers free downloads of its books. I’m not much for reading things on line, but I downloaded a half dozen or so of them, saves em as PDF’s and hopefully one day I will bump into a copy machine that says feel free to make as many copies as you like. Or maybe I should just buy a lap top or some other portable device? Nah. I prefer a book made of paper in my hands so I can fall asleep with it and not worry about starting a fire or contracting cancer.

        Anyway and by the way, part of that book about the Birmingham Black Barons and Homestead Grays will apparently include former Grays players who joined the Provincial League Pirates in Farnham, Quebec, not too far from Montreal, another feather in Quebec’s tolerant baseball cap.

  5. Precious Sanders Says:

    .173 to .386! My goodness. Sure makes me prefer our tendency to be somewhat obsessive about it today.

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