Old-timers to play in Dodgers-Yankees 1963 World Series celebration
Tommy Davis, whose name oozes excellence and tradition among Dodgers fans, doesn’t go to Dodger Stadium much these days.
“I like my refrigerator too much,” he says.
But the 74-year-old Davis, once the gold standard of left fielders, will be on the field and in uniform Saturday. That’s when former Dodgers will play an old-timers’ game in celebration of the 50th anniversary of their 1963 World Series title.
The opponent? Guys from the team they beat 50 years ago, the New York Yankees. When it comes to the Yankees, there can never be enough gloating and rubbing it in, because it certainly comes back the other way.
“I’m not gonna hit,” Davis says. “OK, they get me a pinch-runner, maybe I’ll hit.”
This is less about baseball than about the joy of reminiscing. They will play two innings, before the start of the Dodgers-Atlanta Braves game.
Right now, Fernando Valenzuela is scheduled to make the start against Dwight Gooden. That depends, of course, on crucial matters such as arthritis flare-ups and previously scheduled nap times. This could set a Guinness World Record for most artificial hips and knees on one baseball diamond.
Expected to be among other Dodgers participants are Bill Buckner, Ron Cey, Eric Gagne, Pedro Guerrero, Mickey Hatcher, Lou Johnson, Ken Landreaux, Davey Lopes, Rick Monday, Manny Mota, Don Newcombe, Jerry Reuss, Bill Russell, Dave Stewart, Bob Welch, Maury Wills and Steve Yeager.
Oh yes, also some guy named Koufax, who beat Whitey Ford twice in that ’63 Series. Besides Koufax, Davis and Wills also played for the Dodgers in that World Series.
Tom Lasorda is also on the list, but stadium liability insurance provided for fans in the lower deck will not allow him to pitch.
Besides Gooden, carrying the symbolic banner for the losing ’63 Yankees will be Rick Cerone, Chris Chambliss, Goose Gossage, Graig Nettles and Bob Watson.
Then there will be men who played for both teams: Darryl Strawberry, Ron Davis, Rickey Henderson and Jay Johnstone. Also, Al Downing, who not only played for both, but played for the Yankees in that World Series sweep by the Dodgers.
There is no truth to the rumor that if you field a team of the best of these guys, they’d be better than this year’s Dodgers and Angels. That sort of thinking is just cruel sarcasm.
The stories in the dugouts, and in the bar afterward, will be much better than the baseball. Some will even be true.
Davis, who has lived in Alta Loma since 1981 and, in ’62 and ’63, led the National League in hitting — the only Dodger to do that — warmed up over lunch the other day.
Story No. 1: “I was gonna go to college and play basketball. I played at Boys High in Brooklyn, with Lenny Wilkens. I helped him with his game a lot. [Wilkens is in the basketball Hall of Fame.] The Yankees wanted to sign me. I’d go to Yankee Stadium and work out. They gave me a locker right near Mantle. I was a goner. Then, one night, I’m at home, the phone rings, I answer and the guy says he’s Jackie Robinson. I think my friends were messing with me. Turns out Al Campanis asked him to call. I signed with the Dodgers the next day.”
Story No. 2: “Playing the outfield when Sandy Koufax pitched was tougher than you think. You became a spectator. It was mesmerizing. One night, I’m just kind of hypnotized out there. Strike one, strike two, strike three. Then Hank Aaron hits a soft liner and I got such a late start it went over my head. I turn around and there is Koufax, staring at me, arms folded.”
Story No. 3: “I led the league in batting in ’62 and ’63, then broke my ankle in ’65. Doctors say it’ll take two years to heal fully, but I get traded in one. The Mets give me a great chance in ’67. I play 154 games and get to the last game and I’m hovering around .300. We’re playing the Dodgers, Don Drysdale pitching, Johnny Roseboro catching — my longtime friends. It’s the last inning, two out and 0-2 count on me. I say to Johnny, ‘I think I’m right at .299. I need to hit over .300.’ He says, ‘What do you want and where do you want it?’ I tell him, it arrives, I hit a double, finish the year batting .302, and because of that, play 10 more years in the league.”
There are so many more: How Charlie Finley released him on Christmas Eve because he was furious Davis had helped Vida Blue get a good agent; how Jackie Robinson showed up at Davis’ high school seven years after breaking the color barrier in baseball and his hair was snow white; how pitcher Johnny Podres worked so fast that “you could make dinner reservations.”
The old-timers’ game starts with player introductions at 5:20 p.m. The old-timers’ celebration will end much later, likely in the wee hours of Sunday morning, after dozens of toasts and twice as many tales.
A few Bronx Bombers might even get bombed, just like in ’63.
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