Friday, October 5, 2012

#444 - Vic Davalillo




From a member of the Topps rookie team of ’72 we go to a member of the Topps rookie team of ’63. Vic Davalillo gets his last Topps card for a few years as shortly after this card came out he would be released by Oakland and spend a few seasons playing in Mexico. But despite his 61 at bats and sub-.200 season for Oakland in ’73 – a big downtick from his ’72 year – Vic came in handy for the A’s. When Bill North went down with an injury just before the post-season, it was Vic who took his place, hitting .625 with a double and triple against the Orioles in the AL playoffs. He didn’t hit nearly as well against the Mets – one hit in eleven at bats – but he continued to get a bunch of time in the field against NY and got another ring to add to his ’71 one. That was a nice way to end a season in which he hit nearly 100 points under his career average and got sold to Charlie O when that guy stockpiled role players for his ’73 pennant drive. It would be another one of those in a few years that brought Vic back to the States.

Vic Davalillo grew up in Venezuela in a family of all boys. His dad died when Vic was young – how young varies depending on the source used for Vic’s birthdate – and Vic played ball and worked while still in school. His older brother Pompeyo – Yoyo was his nickname – was by then a bit of a local baseball legend and left to play ball stateside. Vic was studying to be a mechanic when in ’57 he began playing for national powerhouse Leones. Yoyo had already left a legacy there and in ’58 the elder brother was playing for the Cincinnati farm team in Havana when he introduced scouts to his brother, who had a nice short season on the mound. Cincinnati signed Vic in ’58 and he split that summer between D and C ball, going a combined 6-6 with a 3.08 ERA. In a ’59 all in D ball he went 16-9 with a 2.48 ERA in his best season as a pitcher and in ’60 he posted a 6-9 record with a 2.86 ERA in B ball while also starting 24 games in the outfield (he hit .271). That trend continued in a ’61 split between B, A, and Triple A in which he went 4-4 but his average slipped to .238. After that year the franchise for which he was playing – the old Havana one – got moved to the Cleveland system and the Indians opted to keep Vic. For them he spent a full season in the Triple A outfield – he pitched six games – and produced great numbers with a .346 average, eleven homers, 99 runs, 200 hits, and 69 RBI’s. The next year he went up to Cleveland.

Davalillo settled right into the Indians outfield. With his pitching arm he made a pretty good defender and he brought some pretty good speed. Nicknamed Mighty Might by fans he was having a nice rookie year when he was hit in the arm by a pitch from Hank Aguirre that broke his arm, resulting in nearly two months of missed time. He still finished with that .292 average to make the Topps team but it affected his aggression at the plate. He returned in ’64 to win a Gold Glove but many felt the drop in his average came from his hesitancy at the plate. ’65 saw an offensive revival good enough to earn Vic an All-Star nod, a .301 average, and 26 stolen bases, the most of his career. In ’67 he began to lose some starting time in center, first to Jim Landis, and then to Chuck Hinton and Don Demeter as Cleveland went to a platoon system in the outfield. After a slow start in ’68 he was sent to California for Jimmie Hall, another outfielder. While he raised his average to .298 the rest of the way, he lost his regular spot in center to Jay Johnstone the next year and after barely playing, was sent to St. Louis for Jim Hicks. Again he pushed his average up in his second home but it was his worst overall season as he hit .219 on the year. For the Cards in ’70 he was a back-up outfielder extraordinaire as he hit .311 with 33 RBI’s in 183 at bats. The next year he and Nelson Briles went to Pittsburgh for George Brunet and Matty Alou. Perfect timing for Vic as he again went super-sub, hitting .285 in the regular season – mostly while playing right – and got his first post-season work. In ’72 he moved to left where he got a bunch more playing time as he started against right-handers. Then in ’73 new kids Richie Zisk and Dave Parker limited Vic’s playing time and he got sold to Oakland.

In ’74 Davalillo was seldom used, put up numbers comparable to his ’73 ones, and was released in May. By then Vic had developed a reputation as a big drinker and it was thought that some behavior while intoxicated also led to his dismissal. Either way he immediately went to Mexico where he hooked up with Cordoba where he hit .329 in ’74 and .355 with 70 RBI’s in 114 games in ’75. In ’76 he hit .333 for Puebla and in ’77 he was hitting .384 for Aguascalientes – for whom Yoyo was manager – when Al Campanis sent scout Charlie Metro down to find a lefty pinch-hitter. Charlie signed Vic on the spot and he was back in the States, hitting .313 the rest of the way in that role as a great complement to Manny Mota. He then began a winning rally against the Phillies in the NL playoffs and hit .333 against the Yankees in the Series. In ’78 he and Mota were again magic, with Vic hitting .312 and putting up the same average against NY in the Series. He pinch-hit two more seasons for LA, finishing up in ’80 when he was 43. Vic hit .279 for his career, stole 125 bases, and hit .323 with a .400 OBA in 22 post-season games.

Davalillo played for an even longer time in his native Venezuela than he did stateside, setting an all-time national mark with a .325 average in 30 years and retiring when he was 50. He won a bunch of batting titles there and was and is a national icon. He was inducted into his country’s hall of fame in 2003 and since playing has managed an amateur team and given lots of clinics in his homeland.


Vic’s card back is interesting in some unusual ways. Regarding the star bullet, initially he was given credit for the 24 hits which tied Dave Philley’s record. But later it was decided that his second hit in a game in which he moved to the field wasn’t technically a pinch hit so his number was reduced by one. The record was broken in ’76 by Jose Morales, ironically a part-time teammate in Oakland. Topps also has Vic’s birthdate listed as 1939, which is what he generally told people. It was actually in 1936.

At this point I have covered a year’s worth of music news for both ’73 and ’74. Maybe I’ll revive the whole Watergate thing. Here is something a bit entertaining: normally I get between 50 and 100 hits a day to the blog. Yesterday it was 250. The added traffic came from an S+M site. Not exactly my target audience.

One of my favorite second basemen links these two:

1. Davalillo and Dave Cash ’71 to ’73 Pirates;
2. Cash and Tom Hutton ’74 to ’76 Phillies.

2 comments:

  1. He got drunk and belligerent on a flight, and that's why the A's released him in 1974. Reggie Jackson mentioned this in his autobiography of the 1974 season.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Pretty nice synopsis of Vic's story on the SABR BioProject (full detail on his life and career is there at http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/92dda5ac)

    ReplyDelete