Combining speed with power, Davis was a gifted ballplayer with the Dodgers in the 1960s. Usually found among the leaders in stolen bases and triples, Davis finished in the Top Ten in stolen bases twelve times and the Top Ten in triples ten times.
Willie joined the Dodgers in 1960 when they had a center field carousel of young Tommy Davis, aging Duke Snider and Don Demeter. He took over Tommy Davis’ center field post in 1961 and slugged a nifty .451 as a rookie. His speed was there in ’61 but he didn’t figure out how to use it until 1962. That year, Davis led the senior circuit with 10 triples while finishing second in steals. Willie also used his wheels to score 102 runs but unlike other speedsters, Willie could flex his muscles as well, evidenced by his 21 long balls.
Showing off a fine package of tools, Davis helped the Dodgers make the World Series in 1963 and he contributed a pair of doubles and three RBI in a sweep of the Yankees. In 1964, Willie pilfered 42 bases (a higher total than four NL teams) while hitting a nifty .294. His batting average plummeted in 1965, but one must remember that this was a pitcher’s era and .290 hitters were quite rare. He rebounded in ’66 to hit .284 while smacking out 31 doubles and swiping 21 bases.
Willie finished third in the NL in triples and steals while leading NL center fielders with 86 runs scored in 1968. His highwater mark for hitting came in 1969 when he notched a .311 batting average. He was the NL’s top three-bag hitter in 1970 when he tallied 16 triples. The 30 year old Davis looked to be at his peak, hitting .305, slugging .438 and stealing 38 bases.
Not letting the Dodgers down in 1971, Willie hit .309 and won the first of three consecutive Gold Glove Awards. He and Hall of Famer Joe Morgan were the only two players in the Major Leagues to post double digit totals in all the extra-base hit departments: doubles, triples and homeruns. Also, Davis was the lone .300 hitting center fielder in the senior circuit.
Willie socked 19 homers in 1972 and followed that up with 16 in 1973. After eleven years of 20 or more steals, Willie failed to reach 20 in ’73 and the Dodgers dealt him during the off season to Montreal for everyday Mike Marshall, relief pitcher extraordinaire. From that moment, Davis began a nomadic journey through the regions of baseball.
Willie played a year with the Expos, driving in 89 runs on a fine .295 batting average but Montreal sent him to the Rangers. After his first 42 games in the American League Willie was traded back to the NL, this time to the Cardinals. Willie finished out the season with St. Louis but was dealt to the Padres in the off season. After one year in San Diego, Davis went overseas and played two years in Japan. He returned in 1979 to play his final season with the Angels.
G 2,429/R 1,217/H 2,561/2B 395/3B 138/HR 182/RBI 1,053/BB 418/SO 977/SB 398/BA .279/SA .412