In 1985, Jim Davenport was asked to rebuild the Titanic from the remaining pieces on the ocean floor. That’s pretty much the task he faced when the Giants tapped their former third baseman to manage the 1985 club. The Giants were 66-96 in 1984, the most losses by a Giants team since 1943, and the owner Bob Lurie was trying to sell the team. Davenport, a Giants coach, got the unenviable task of trying to right the ship, and as if to tie an anchor around him, the team traded away its biggest star Jack Clark. This sorrowful 1985 club went on to lose 100 games, and Davenport was replaced in a late-season shake-up, as Roger Craig took over as manager and Al Rosen as general manager. The new regime got some new weapons, and was able to improve the team. But Davenport’s year at the helm should always be respected, for he truly was asked to take one for the unsettled franchise, and he did so with honor.
I provide the above context of Davenport’s one managerial year for newer Giants fans, who might just remember him as an old former ballplayer whose team lost 100 games. That is especially important today upon hearing the news that Davenport had died at the age of 82.
Davenport made his rookie debut on April 15, 1958, in the opening West Coast game between the Giants and Dodgers. He quickly established himself as a Dodger-killer. He drove in the first ever San Francisco Giants run with a sacrifice fly to deep right field in the third inning off Dodger star Don Drysdale. His single during a four-run fourth knocked Drysdale out of the game as the Giants went on to an 8-0 win. The Dodgers won the next day, but Davenport’s four hits propelled the Giants to a 7-4 victory in game three to take their first series against their rivals. His two home runs Aug. 30 helped the Giants to a doubleheader sweep of the Dodgers. In that inaugural season, he batted .429 against the Dodgers. In the 1962 playoff against the Dodgers, his bases-walked in the deciding game three brought in what would be the winning score as the Giants won the pennant. Davenport never lost the competitive spirit in his post-playing days. While coaching third base for the Giants in 1978, he squared off against the Dodgers’ Reggie Smith as a beef between the teams escalated, forcing umpire Nick Colosi to step between the would-be combatants.
Davenport’s offensive ability — .297, 14 homers, 58 RBIs — in the pennant winning year of 1962 often got overlooked because of his sparkling defense that earned him the title of “The kid with the golden glove.” Davenport played his entire 13-year career with the Giants, hitting .258 with 77 homers and 456 RBIs.
Davenport did it all, and there is no better example of that than what he did on June 11, 1966, at Candlestick Park. The rivalry went to a new level as Davenport went up against Dodgers’ pitcher Jim Brewer in a pre-game cow-milking contest between the teams. The cows were brought on to the field behind home plate, and Davenport demonstrated that he was also “The kid with the golden hands” as he outmilked Brewer to give the Giants the win.
As good as that story was, my wife and I have always had a good laugh about her meeting Davenport in 1959 as a little girl. Davenport was at a local store on a goodwill tour for the Giants, and my wife’s grandfather brought her to see him. When her turn came to meet him, her grandfather urged her to ask a question. The best she could do was to ask, “What’s two plus two?” The good-natured Davenport smiled. My wife and I have laughed about this encounter just about every time we’ve heard his name mentioned over the years. We thought about it today when we heard the news of his passing. This time, the laughter had to compete with tears.
RIP No. 12.