Arrest of Ex-Dodger Davis Spotlights a Troubled Life

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

He was, in his prime, a dazzling player, loping effortlessly across center field in Dodger Stadium, taking the extra base with long strides, talking about it with a deep, nonchalant voice that reflected his casual physical grace.

Willie Davis, one of the stars of the Dodgers' mid-1960s dynasty, made everything look easy.

But as many athletes learn upon retiring, real life is not like that, and by Friday real life had hit its nadir.

Davis, 55, was arrested at his parents' home near Gardena for allegedly threatening to kill them and burn down the house Thursday night unless they gave him $5,000.

Deputies said Davis was armed with a set of throwing knives and a samurai sword. His mother, Maudest, 76, said she locked herself in another room of the tidy one-story beige house as Davis ranted in the living room.

The details that emerged Friday revealed a sad picture: a charming eccentric who delighted Los Angeles sports fans in more innocent times, now estranged from both his family and his former ballclub.

Davis, regarded as a lone wolf by many of his teammates, left the Dodgers in 1973. His last season was 1979 with the Angels. By all accounts, he had a scattered employment record, often living with relatives or friends.

Said former Dodger General Manager Buzzie Bavasi: "There was nothing more exciting than to watch Willie run out a triple. . . . He could have been a Hall of Famer, but he had million-dollar legs and a 10-cent head."

Said Davis' mother: "I love my son very much. I just want to get help for him--whatever help he needs."

Shaking her head sadly, she said her son had lived with her and his stepfather, Charlie Davies, 85, for the past two years. Davis was supposed to pay her $400 a month in rent but never did, she said.

Thursday night, Davis told her he wanted $5,000 "to invest" and needed the money before morning. Maudest Davis, who said her son had been acting strangely in recent months, had given him money in the past. But this time, the soft-spoken woman said, she stood her ground.

"I said, 'You are not getting it from me,' " she recalled.

At that point, her son turned to her menacingly and said, " 'I bet you I do get it,' " she said. "When he talked about burning this house down and burning us up in it, that's when I got scared."

As her husband lay in bed, Maudest Davis called sheriff's deputies to complain about her son. "I don't know what he's doing. I think he's on drugs," she told the dispatcher. Then she locked herself in her room.

When deputies arrived, they arrested Davis on suspicion of making terrorist threats, assault with a deadly weapon, attempted extortion and exhibiting a deadly weapon.

Deputy Brian Jones said investigators did not believe that drugs played a role in Davis' behavior and did not test him.

Friends and some neighbors in the unincorporated community of Rosewood, between Gardena and Compton, said Davis seemed to harbor a rage that kept building. Sometimes they would hear him shouting at his mother.

In the last six months, she and neighbors said, Davis began carrying around his sword and a dagger that he wore in a holster. Though Davis discovered Buddhism more than 30 years ago, his chants lately were punctuated with curses, his mother said. Sheriff's deputies said they had been summoned to the Davis house on numerous occasions because of disputes but had never made an arrest.

Davis, an All-City athlete in several sports at Roosevelt High in Boyle Heights in the late 1950s, became one of the Dodgers' early stars after the team moved here from Brooklyn in 1958. He was known as "3-Dog," a reference to his uniform number and his sleek, whippet-like speed on the bases.

He was the Dodgers' regular center fielder for 13 seasons, starting in 1961, a brilliant but at times erratic fielder and an offensive standout on a team that included Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Maury Wills and Tommy Davis.

Davis batted .305 or higher for three straight years in the late 1960s and early '70s.

He hit in 31 consecutive games in 1969, still a team record, but also committed a World Series-record three errors in one inning against the Baltimore Orioles in 1966.

Late in his career with the Dodgers, Davis would chant his Buddhist mantra in the clubhouse before and after games.

He was also an avid and excellent golfer who might have etched a career on the senior tour if he had exhibited more personal stability, said Don Newcombe, the former Brooklyn Dodger pitching star who works for the club's community service and employee assistance programs. Dodger officials said Davis had periodically and unsuccessfully looked for regular employment in baseball.

Little remains in the Davis home to mark his past. He has given away or sold his trophies, his mother said. So proud was Maudest Davis of her son that she hung two large, framed photographs of him in the living room. Recently, without asking her permission, he sold them both, she said. Now only hooks adorn the wall.

Times staff writer Bob Nightengale and correspondent Maki Becker contributed to this story.

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