The 84-year-old Cleveland resident who was born in Polk County and attended College Hill High School moved to Cleveland in 1946, after serving in the U.S. Army, where he received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. Davis went to work for the former Hardwick Stove (now Whirlpool Cleveland Division) and joined the Cleveland Hurricanes baseball team.
“Later we called ourselves the Cleveland All Stars,” said Davis, who recalls playing against “The Say Hey Kid,” Willie Mays, when Mays played for the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League in 1948-1950, before the Hall of Fame legend entered the major leagues.
“They beat us 7 to 3,” Davis admitted, but added it was a great game and an honor to play among the future greats of the sport, including Don Newcombe, the first outstanding black pitcher in the majors. He remains the only baseball player to have won Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player and the Cy Young award.
Now that a major motion picture is being shot in Chattanooga, Atlanta and Birmingham about the life of Jackie Robinson and his history-making signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers under the guidance of team executive Branch Rickey, played by Harrison Ford, Davis is reflecting on his own glory days when baseball was segregated but still in a league of its own as America’s favorite pastime. He calls Jackie Robinson, who was slightly older than him, “an inspiration” during his heyday.
“A lot of people have asked me ‘Why don’t you go down there and give them some information about the Negro League?’ but I thought it was too late when I heard about it,” he said. “I never met Jackie Robinson but I heard about him coming up in the league. He was amazing — the way he was playing and the way he came up. It was amazing back then that a black man got into the majors. We were happy for him. We didn’t have a TV so we couldn’t watch him, but we read about him.”
Davis, who was taller than Robinson and considered handsome in his own right, said, “We were a local team playing AAA teams, traveling to Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania — as well as Chattanooga, Knoxville and Charleston. We were among the best. We could be beat, but most of the time we won. I started out on third base. Then I went to shortstop. When they found out that I could help the team more in center field because of my speed and my arm, I never went back to shortstop.”
At 6-foot-3, Davis was perfect for center field and admits he liked playing that position best.
“With the speed I had at that time — long-legged speed — there wasn’t too many balls they could hit that I couldn’t get,” he said. “Back then we didn’t have a fence. As far as they could hit the ball was as far as you had to run and get it.”
Davis calls his baseball career one of the things he is “most proud of,” adding, “We had a wonderful time traveling together, playing together, hosting other teams and going out on the town together. There’s nothing like that team spirit and the bonds you made.”
Davis retired from the game at the age of 48. He was inducted into the Bradley County Old Timer’s Hall of Fame in 1997. As the father of six children, Davis taught his sons and daughters to grow up playing and loving the game. Nicknamed “Daddy Buck,” Davis became the coach for the Cleveland Angels, an all-girls baseball team, that consisted of several of his children and other family members.
“It was almost a family team,” he said. “I had my four daughters, two nieces and one cousin on the team. We had a real strong team. They went on to become three-time state champs, winning the title back-to-back.”
His son Todd Davis received a scholarship to play baseball at an Oklahoma college, while one of his grandsons was scouted by the Pittsburgh Pirates and played in their rookie league, according to Davis.
Now that he is slowed down by age, Davis watches baseball on TV daily and remains one of the sport’s biggest fans. His favorite team is the Atlanta Braves, which seems appropriate for a brave soldier who loves baseball and was honored in Cleveland as a local legend in its baseball history. The former athlete said he would love to see the upcoming movie about his Negro League contemporary, Jackie Robinson.
The movie “42” about Robinson is set for an April 12, 2013, release to coincide with Major League Baseball's Jackie Robinson Day, held every April 15, commemorating the date in 1947 when he broke the color barrier by playing his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The casting department with Southern Hollywood Events & The Feature Film “42” is still looking for extras in the Cleveland-Chattanooga areas to be in the film. For further information, visit www.beinthemovie42.com.