Baseball presents us with all sorts of fun games to play amongst ourselves — during hot stove season, between innings, watching a game on TV with the sound down when there’s an announcer we don’t care for.
One of the best and most ripe for debate is, “who is the most underrated X,” where X can be anything …
Star of the 60s …
Star of the 70s …
Los Angeles Dodger …
1974 Montreal Expo …
You get the picture, and I’m sure you can think of dudes who fall into all of those buckets — who could forget Chuck Taylor’s performance for those ‘74 ‘Spos, after all?
But, if you’re looking for a guy who fits into all of those conversations, plus, “Who has the most jarring 1977 Topps Padres baseball card?”, well, look no further than Willie Davis.
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Now, granted, Davis may not come out on top in the “jarring Padre” debate because Tito Fuentes, but he’s in the discussion because he looks so wrong in anything but Dodger Blue.
And that thought bleeds into all those “underrated” threads above.
Davis became the Dodgers’ starting centerfielder in 1961 and stayed there through 1973. During that run, the lefty-hitting speedster batted .279 with 152 home runs, 839 RBI, and 332 stolen bases.
He also collected three Gold Gloves (1971-73) and made two All-Star teams.
Along the way, he helped the Dodgers to three pennants and two World Series titles, and he also helped the L.A. build back into a contender in the early 1970s.
That’s star material however you slice it, and maybe Davis got some media and fan love back in the day, but when was the last time you heard much about him?
Been awhile for me, I know.
Part of the issue is that he played with big names like Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Maury Wills, Tommy Davis, Don Sutton, Dick Allen, and Steve Garvey, among others.
And part of it is that the Dodgers didn’t make the playoffs at all in the last seven years of Willie’s tenure.
A December 1973 trade to the Montreal Expos didn’t do much to lift Davis’ profile in the game, either, and neither did a swap to the Texas Rangers a year later.
Then, in June of 1975, the Rangers swapped him to the St. Louis Cardinals, and Davis was back with a contender. Though the Cards finished in third place in the old National League East, Davis hit .291 in the shadow of the arch that summer, adding six homers and ten stolen bases.
All in all, at age 35, Davis hit .277 with 11 homers and 23 steals for the two teams combined — enough to get him shipped to the Padres in October, netting Dick Sharon in exchange.
The 1976 season was a rough one for the Pads, who finished 73-89 and in the fifth place in the NL West, but Davis wasn’t far off his norm — .268, 5 HR, 46 RBI, 14 stolen bases.
It wasn’t enough for San Diego brass, though, and they released him that winter.
In the spring, collectors started pulling that funky looking 1977 Topps Willie Davis cards from wax packs. Had Davis really been with the Padres? Or was that a different Willie Davis?
Casual fans just might have lost track of the best Dodger they ever forgot about.
Meanwhile, rather than wait around for another MLB team to come calling, Davis headed to Japan, where he flashed some power (25 and 18 home runs) over the next two seasons.
On the back of that performance, 3-Dog (he had 138 career triples) signed a free agent contract with the California Angels in March of 1979 and spent all season with the eventual AL West champs, mostly as a pinch-hitter.
That fall, he even collected a double in two at-bats against the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Championship Series.
Once the Angels were dispatched to their winter homes, Davis retired.
Had his swan song come a year later, Davis might have landed a true career-capper card in one of the 1981 sets — Fleer graced the hobby with a parting shot of Willie McCovey, after all.
Instead, our final cardboard impression of the underrated Davis — he of the 60.8 career WAR — remains that swinging-friar deal from 1977 that always makes us ask …
Did Willie Davis really play for the Padres?
Davis was at his peak during a time when there weren’t a ton of baseball card options. As this eBay lot illustrates, though, there were some dandies if you were lucky and observant:
That’s a Davis card from the 1968 Topps 3D test issue, a scarce set that served as a forerunner to the Kellogg’s cards of the 1970s.
Check out the full listing on eBay right here (affiliate link).
1977 Topps Baseball Cards 1-660 (EX-NM) - You Pick - Complete Your Set
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1977 Topps Baseball Cards Singles #1-250 EX-NM U- Pick $1.50 🔥FREE SHIPPING🔥
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