Kiddo Davis

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by Andy Piascik

One year when I was a teenager, I had a summer job pumping gas at a local gas station. Business at the station fluctuated and on one afternoon when it was quite slow, a distinguished looking man of about 70 pulled in. He got out of his car and we talked as I pumped his gas and checked under the hood. Or rather, he talked and I listened as he spoke at some length about baseball, specifically baseball in the days when he was a young man. Each time he saw me nod or smile in recognition at one of the famous names he threw out, he went on with a new story. Then he asked me if I knew anything about the New York Giants of the 1930s. I got the feeling he was testing me.

I replied with the names of the most famous Giants from that time that came to mind: Carl Hubbell, Mel Ott, Bill Terry and manager John McGraw. The man was impressed when I also mentioned several who weren’t so famous: Jo Jo Moore, Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons and maybe one or two others. I also mentioned that the Giants won the World Series in 1933 over the Washington Senators and had also won two other National League pennants a few years later. If it was a test, it seemed from the expression on his face that I had passed.

“I played for those Giants,” he said finally. “And I played in that 1933 World Series and the 1936 Series. Did pretty well, too. My name is Kiddo Davis.” *

He didn’t seem bothered that I didn’t recognize his name. Instead, he told a few more stories about some of the famous players he played with and against. He didn’t get into too much about his life outside baseball or his family, though he did mention he had been born and raised in Bridgeport and was still living there. After paying for his gas, he eventually drove off.

At the time, I didn’t know anything about James O’Rourke or any other major leaguers from Bridgeport, except for one. That was John “Spike” Merena, who lived on Briarwood Avenue not far from where I grew up. My father Frank pointed him out to me one day when he was walking through the neighborhood.

My father had grown up on the baseball of the 1930s and he immediately confirmed much of what Kiddo Davis told me that afternoon. My father had even met him a few times over the years and mentioned without my even bringing it up that Davis had been one of the stars of the 1933 World Series. It was years later when I was thinking back on my conversation with Davis that I looked into his career and Bridgeport roots.

Among the highlights of his career were that he had played with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig on the Yankees even if for only one game in 1926, that he had also played for the famous Gashouse Gang, as the 1934 World Series-winning St. Louis Cardinals were known, and that he batted .368 in the 1933 World Series. He also got a hit for the Giants in the 1936 Series off Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez of the Yankees and had a stellar lifetime World Series batting average of .381 on eight hits in 21 at-bats.

Kiddo’s real name was George Willis Davis and he was born in Bridgeport on February 12, 1902. According to long-time local sportswriter Don Harrison, his nickname comes from the fact that, as a talented young athlete, he often played with older boys who dubbed him Kiddo.(1) Davis attended Bridgeport High School, the city’s only high school at the time. The school was located about where Bridgeport police headquarters now stand and its athletic team took the nickname Hilltoppers because the building was situated at a high point a short distance northwest of downtown. Bridgeport High School later evolved into Central High School and, after Central moved a short distance to the building on Lyon Terrace that later became City Hall, the BHS building housed Congress Junior High School.

Davis led Bridgeport to the Connecticut high school baseball championship in 1918 and also attended New York University. As Don Harrison tells it, NYU’s baseball coach offered Davis an athletic scholarship to the school after seeing him lead the Hilltoppers to a victory over the NYU freshmen team in an exhibition game in Manhattan.(2)

Because he dropped out of high school for a while and went to work, Davis did not graduate from Bridgeport until 1922 when he was 20. He continued to excel in baseball at NYU, so much so that he was inducted into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame in 1972.(3) He was also the first person from NYU to play major league baseball.(4)

Paul Krichell, a famous scout for the New York Yankees, saw Davis play while he was in college and signed him to a contract in the middle of the Yankees’ 1926 pennant-winning season. Davis appeared in only one game before being sent to minors where he played for Newark in the International League. He remained in the minor leagues until 1932, a stint that included playing most of the 1927 season with Hartford in the Eastern League. He posted a .349 batting average that was the highest in the league.

During that 1927 season, Bridgeport also had a team in the Eastern League, the Bears. Davis thus played many games that year in his hometown at Newfield Park, which served as the Bridgeport team’s home ballpark and was outfitted with a grandstand and bleachers. Newfield Park remains though the grandstand and bleachers are long gone.

Davis returned to the major leagues in 1932 with the Philadelphia Phillies. He had been a third baseman as a youngster but in the big leagues, he played center field. Davis batted .309 that season and was among the National League leaders with 100 runs scored. Despite his success, he was traded to the Giants. That turned out to be a big break for Davis, as the Giants won the World Series the next season.

The 1933 season turned out to be Davis’s last as a full-time player. He played for the Cardinals in 1934 and had return engagements with the Phillies and Giants before concluding his career with the Cincinnati Reds in 1938. All told, he played parts of eight major league seasons and compiled a .282 batting average in 575 games.(5)

During his career, Davis was a teammate of a long list of legendary Hall of Famers that reads like a Who’s Who of Baseball from the 1920s and 1930s: the above mentioned Ruth, Gehrig, Hubbell, Ott and Terry, plus Joe Medwick, Chuck Klein, Frankie Frisch, Dizzy Dean and many others. He was also involved in a three-team trade in which one of the other players was Hall of Famer Freddie Lindstrom.

Davis also had a knack for playing on winning teams even if he wasn’t necessarily around for the whole season. All told, he played at some point during the season on five teams that won pennants: the 1926 Yankees, the 1934 Cardinals and the Giants in 1933, 1936 and 1937.

Davis married his high school sweetheart and settled in his hometown, where he and his wife raised a son. After baseball, Davis worked for many years as an accountant in Bridgeport.(6) He was fondly remembered by area sportswriters, who wrote up his accomplishments over the years, and by area baseball fans. Davis died in Bridgeport on March 4, 1983 at the age of 81. He’s buried in Park Cemetery on Lindley Street.

*The quoted words may not be 100% accurate but they are very close to what Davis said to me 40+ years ago.

NOTES

  1. Kiddo Davis by Don Harrison (https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/819f85c4)
  2. ibid.
  3. http://www.gonyuathletics.com/hof.aspx?hof=179&path=&kiosk=
  4. http://www.alumni.nyu.edu/s/1068/alumni/interior_3col.aspx?sid=1068&gid=1&pgid=7397
  5. Davis’s complete professional baseball statistical profile can be viewed at:
    https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?id=davis-016geo
  6. Kiddo Davis by Don Harrison
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About Author

Andy Piascik

Bridgeport native Andy Piascik is an award-winning author who writes for many publications and websites. He is the author of three books the most recent of which, the novel In Motion, was published earlier this year by Sunshine Publishing. He can be reached at andypiascik@yahoo.com.

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