LOS ANGELES — Tommy Davis, a two-time National League batting champion who had a late-career resurgence with the Orioles in the early to mid-1970s, has died. He was 83.
He died Sunday night in Phoenix, the Los Angeles Dodgers announced Monday without providing a cause. They were informed of his death by his daughter, Morgana.
Davis was an athletic standout at Boys High School in Brooklyn, New York, where he was a basketball teammate of future Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens. Davis also played baseball and was a long jumper on the school’s track and field team.
Davis was set to sign with the New York Yankees in 1956 when a phone call from Jackie Robinson changed his mind.
Robinson was playing what would be his final season with the Dodgers that year when he called Davis’ house and encouraged him to sign with the Brooklyn organization. Scouting director Al Campanis knew Davis’ mother was a Dodgers fan.
“My mother wondered who was calling,” Davis said in 2019. “I pointed to the receiver and mouthed the words, ‘It’s Jackie Robinson!’ I couldn’t believe I was speaking to one of my heroes, although I don’t remember doing much talking.”
Davis received a $4,000 bonus for signing with the Dodgers.
A happy Davis was smiling in his publicity photos for his first full season in 1957. That had former Brooklyn batting champion Pete Reiser worried that Davis was too nice.
“I want him mad at everyone in the world when he goes up there, including me,” said Reiser, who was managing in the minors at the time.
That season, Davis batted .357 with 17 home runs, 104 RBI and 68 stolen bases in 127 games.
Born Herman Thomas Davis in Brooklyn, he was the franchise’s first batting champion after the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. He won consecutive titles in 1962, when he hit .346 and led the NL in hits and RBI, and 1963, when he hit .326.
Davis’ 230 hits and 153 RBI in 1962 remain L.A. single-season records. He won World Series titles in 1959, 1963 and 1965.
His production tailed off in the late 1960s and early 1970s, then he caught a break at the age of 33 when he was dealt from the Chicago Cubs to the Orioles in August 1972 for Elrod Hendricks.
His declining defensive skills had made him a liability in the field, but 1973 was the first season of the designated hitter. Serving as Baltimore’s full-time DH, he batted .306, third in the American League, with 169 hits and 89 RBIs, as the Orioles won the American League East.
Davis led the Orioles in hits (181), batting average (.289) and RBIs (84) in 1974, helping them win the division again.
He hit .283 in 1975, then was released before the 1976 season as the club prepared to move slugging first baseman Lee May to DH.
In addition to the Dodgers, Cubs and Orioles, Davis played for the New York Mets, Chicago White Sox, Seattle Pilots, Houston Astros, Oakland Athletics, California Angels and Kansas City Royals. The three-time All-Star retired in 1976.
He had a career .294 average in 1,999 games with 153 home runs and 1,052 RBIs.
The Dodgers planned a moment of silence for Davis at their exhibition game against the Los Angeles Angels on Monday night.
Davis worked in the team’s community relations department until moving to Arizona about a year ago.
Besides Morgana, he is survived by wife, Carol, daughters Lauren, Carlyn and Leslie, and son Herman Thomas II.