Monthly Archives: July 2011

Baseball Digest Birthdays: Crash Davis

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

Thanks in part to the fifth best sports movie of all time(according to the American Film Institute), Lawrence “Crash” Davis lives on for baseball fans and moviegoers as a central character of “Bull Durham”. While the real life Crash Davis wasn’t quite the character that Kevin Costner portrays in the 1988 hit, his life and career are nonetheless worth celebrating, along with the great hope that minor league baseball offers to hundreds of players each summer.

Born in 1919 in Greensboro, North Carolina, Davis(unlike the movie version) actually went straight from college ball at Duke University to playing infield for the Philadelphia Athletics for three seasons beginning in 1940. He played 86 games with the 1942 Athletics before being drafted into the United States Navy during World War II. Upon his discharge in 1946, he returned to Duke for further schooling, and began his seven year career throughout the minor leagues. Aside from Costner’s Crash Davis being a catcher rather than an infielder, another difference between the movie and reality was that Crash Davis didn’t own the all time minor league home run record. In his minor league career, he slugged just 51 homers.

In an August 1981 issue of Baseball Digest, Art Rosenbaum wrote about the great nicknames in Major League Baseball, including “Crash” Davis. Click here to read the full article!

The real Crash Davis had a much more impressive major league career than the Crash Davis in the Bull Durham story, who had spent just 21 days in the big leagues. Crash Davis’ first big league hit came off Spud Chandler of the New York Yankees, went on to win AL MVP honors three years later, on August 11, 1940. Though Davis struggled to establish himself as an everyday player, he did manage to slug a few big leagues home runs near the end. In 1942, he cranked homers off Yank Terry of the Detroit Tigers and Dizzy Trout of the Boston Red Sox in games where the score was decided by one run.

Upon returning from military service, Davis caught on with the Lawrence Millionaires in Massachusetts for two years before moving on to join the Durham Bulls for the 1948 season. With the Bulls, Davis led the team with 50 doubles(a league record) and 171 hits overall. He played alongside Babe Birrer, a brief big leaguer who went on to compile 18 years and 139 wins in the minor leagues. Birrer played eight seasons in the minors after his last big league game; which evokes the character trait of Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis, who had spent years trying to get back to the big leagues.

Crash Davis played just the one season with the Durham Bulls and moved on to Raleigh Capitals and Reidsville Luckies over the final three seasons of his professional career. The phrase “Art mirrors life” has an especially strong meaning with the teams that Crash Davis played with, and the teammates who continued on years after their best(and often brief) big league days were behind them. The fictional Crash Davis could easily represent many of the minor leaguers of the day. Cecil “Turkey” Tyson, for example, played with Davis on the 1949 Raleigh Capitals and had just one at bat with the 1944 Philadelphia Phillies. His minor league career included 15 seasons, hitting .309 with nearly 2,000 hits. He last played in 1952, eight years after that single at bat in the major leagues. Mike “Iron Man” Kash is another teammate of Davis who logged 20 years in the minors without a whiff of the big leagues.

In retirement, Crash Davis went on to coach high school and legion teams, and he became a minor celebrity in his own right when the movie featuring his namesake hit the big screen. He passed away in August of 2001, but his connection to the great Bull Durham story is retold throughout minor league ballparks where players young and old are trying to get one more shot at the big leagues.

Also Born Today:

Tim Hudson(b.1975), the three time All-Star and four time top 10 Cy Young Award finisher has eight wins on the 2011 season and 173 for his career with the Oakland Athletics and Atlanta Braves. Since having Tommy John Surgery in 2009, he has won 27 games and has had an ERA of 3.14. Despite a 1-3 postseason record, he has a career 3.46 ERA in 10 games over 54+ innings.

Robin Ventura(b.1967), a two time All-Star, six time Gold Glove winner, and owner of 294 career home runs may be best remembered for his 1993 rumble with Texas Rangers icon and Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan. Ventura charged the mound after being plunked by Ryan, and was put pummeled by the Texan upon arrival. The incident is replayed regularly at Rangers home games.

Bob Purkey(b. 1929, d. 2008) was a five time All-Star who spent most of his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds. The knuckleballer was a member of the 1961 Reds that lost to the New York Yankees in the World Series. He won 129 games over 13 seasons, and his best year arguably was in 1962 when he notched 23 wins and finished third in the MLB Cy Young Award voting.

Baseball Digest Birthdays: Terry Puhl

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

Of the 233 players in Major League Baseball history, only four have played longer than Houston Astros great Terry Puhl. The Melville, Saskachewan native logged 15 years in the big leagues, all but one with the Houston Astros. If you look at the Houston Astros franchise leaders(click here), Terry Puhl ranks among the top 10 in many categories. Though he does not list high on the impressive home run and runs batted in totals, his mark on the franchise is undeniable.

Drafted out of high school by the Astros in 1973, Puhl spent just four seasons in the minor leagues before joining the big league club. He hit .296 in the minors, and didn’t miss a beat when he hit .301 in 60 games with the Astros in 1977.

Michael Janofsky of the Miami Herald wrote about the potential for four players to break out in the 1980’s, including Terry Puhl, in a July 1981 issue of Baseball Digest. Click here to check it out!

Puhl’s immediate impact on the lineup was evident, as he earned his first and only All-Star nod in his first full season in 1978. By 1980, Puhl helped the Astros to their first franchise trip to the postseason, hitting .526 in a losing effort to the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS. His .526 average was, at that time, a record for a single series batting average. The Astros reached the postseason in 1981, but fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers; Puhl hit just .190 in the five game series.

Puhl rebounded to provide a solid offense for the Astros over the course of the early to mid 1980’s. By 1985, Puhl was hampered by injuries and transitioned to a part time player over the next few seasons. The Astros returned to the NLCS in 1986 against the New York Mets, and the opportunity provided Puhl another chance to show flashes of his early years. In just three at bats, he had two singles and a stolen base.

In the late 1980’s, the outfielder has a resurgence, first as a pinch hitter(.303 batting average in 1988). When he earned more playing time in 1989 than he had in the previous five years, he responded with a .271 average on the season. It essentially became the swan song for Terry Puhl, as injuries shortened his 1990 season, at least in Houston.

Following the 1990 season, he was signed by and subsequently released by the New York Mets prior to the start of the 1991 season and the Kansas City Royals scooped him up. He played just 15 games with the Royals before being released in early June of that year. He retired with a .280 batting average, and an OPS of 112 over 15 seasons. He also ranks first all-time with a .994 fielding percentage for right fielders since 1954.

Since retirement, Puhl has been inducted into the Saskachewan Sports Hall of Fame, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, and the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame. He has since become a manager, first with the Canadian National Olympic team, and most recently as the head coach of the University of Houston at Victoria. His collegiate managing record stands at 96-44 over three seasons.

Also Born Today:

Alan Ashby(b.1951), logged 17 seasons in the big leagues as a catcher and may be best remembered for catching three no hitters in his career. His career in Houston overlapped with Terry Puhl’s, and both were a member of the team during their several postseason appearances.

Ivey Wingo(b.1890), played 17 seasons, mostly with the Cincinnati Reds. He was a member of the 1919 World Series Champion Reds, the winner of the infamous Black Sox Scandal. Wingo was not known for his defense, as he led the league in errors by a catcher on seven different occasions.

Red Sox Game Day Connections: Game 81, Houston Astros

Source: SoSH. Used Without Permission

Jeff Bagwell never officially played with the Boston Red Sox, but he has to be considered the best player the Sox had that was given away to the Astros, right?

Short and sweet, today. There’s no reason the Red Sox should lose today. Jeff Bagwell ain’t walking through that door!