Peter O’Malley remembers Willie Davis
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Peter O’Malley would stroll across balmy Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., and could spot the lanky Willie Davis with his loping strides coming 50 yards away.
There would be a wave of the hand, and then Willie’s unmistakable baritone.
‘Back then when the players would all be on camp and not have cars, he’d always ask me, ‘Hey, Peter, are you going to use your car tonight?’ And I’d say, ‘No, Willie, you can use it,’’’ O’Malley said.
During Davis’ 14 years with the Dodgers, O’Malley went through various roles with the team -- director of Dodgertown, general manager of Triple-A Spokane, director of Dodger Stadium operations, executive vice president, team president and then finally co-owner of the team with his sister, Terry Seidler.
O’Malley saw a lot of players come and go before he sold the team in 1998, yet Willie Davis seems to hold a special place.
‘I can see him running,’ O’Malley said. ‘See him running the bases, running in the field.’
This was long before Davis would be traded by the Dodgers in 1974, long before he would finish his career with the Angels, before his hard battles with crack cocaine.
O’Malley can remember when Davis was just a raw project out of Los Angeles’ Roosevelt High School, known as much as a track star as anything.
But Kenny Myers, a legendary scout who developed many hitting techniques still used today, recognized Davis’ talent.
‘I remember Kenny Myers, an old-school scout, who saw the future in Willie and worked with him tremendously, worked until there was spectacular progress,’ O’Malley said.
Scouts normally would sign a player and then disappear from their lives.
‘This was an exception,’ O’Malley said. ‘It was unusual. Kenny had the approval of [manager] Walter Alston. He told him, ‘You work with Willie. He’s your project.’’
Davis flourished in a pitchers’ ballpark, though never quite satisfying everyone who saw in him almost limitless potential.
‘It’s not fair,’ O’Malley said. ‘Willie had a terrific career. People would always say, ‘He should hit .300. He should do this, he should do that.’ He was an outstanding ballplayer. He worked and practiced hard.’
O’Malley said some of the best times they spent together was during the six weeks every spring at Dodgertown.
‘I got a chance to really know him in Vero Beach during spring training, back when the whole organization was there,’ he said. ‘We’d see each other around Dodgertown. and he’d give me his big ‘Hello.’
‘Sometimes we’d go play nine holes together. He was just a great golfer. He’d always offer me a few tips that somehow I’d always quickly forget.’
Davis died Tuesday at age 69, alone in his Burbank apartment.
‘Everybody liked Willie,’ O’Malley said. ‘I can’t imagine someone not liking him. He was memorable. I was fortunate to know him.
‘Just a very likable guy. I’m going to miss him.’
-- Steve Dilbeck