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The Legend of the Real Crash Davis



"Crash Davis on meeting Mr. Mack"

...Being a southern boy I hadn’t traveled too much but when I got to Shibe Park in Philadelphia, Mr. Mack said he was going to give me $300. I said, ‘Mr. Mack, I won’t play for that. I’m making about that much now.’ He said. ‘Well young man, if you don’t want it just go home.’ I couldn’t go home; I didn’t have any money. So I signed.


Crash Davis in His Own Words

From interviews with Hank Utley in 1997 and Chris Holaday in 2001

Hank Utley along with Scott Verner co-authored the book 'The Independent Carolina Baseball League 1936-1938." Click here for more about this book.



“I grew up in Gastonia, North Carolina. In that town, the ultimate in life for a kid was to be on the American Legion baseball team. At the age of 11 I made one of the teams. Gastonia was set up with about six auxiliary teams and an All-Star team was picked every year to represent Gastonia. I probably played American Legion ball longer than anyone ever played in Gastonia because they had these auxiliary teams and no Little League back then. I played shortstop and at the age of 15 (I became 16 during the season on July 14) I finally made the All-Star team in Gastonia. That team was coached by “Doc” Newton, who was also a college coach at the time. It was a great honor to make that team.


The year I made the All-Star team was 1935. We had a great season and we went all the way to the National American Legion Championship. We beat Sacramento, California at home in Gastonia for the title. Our town had a population of about 20,000 people at that time but one of the games in that series drew over 11,000 people. That was incredible for a town of that size.


I got my first nickname when I was playing American Legion ball. I started off being called “Little” Davis ‘cause I was just a tiny thing. Later they started calling me “Squeaky” because I always had a lot of chatter, all my life. Most of our American Legion games were played in the Gastonia High School Stadium and that was where I picked up the name “Crash”. This is a true story, embellished somewhat: I was playing shortstop in a game and we had a guy by the name of Bob Russell that played left field. Somebody hit a short pop fly to left so I went back and he and I collided hard. At that time I became “Dynamite”, but that exploded to “Crash” and I’ve been that all my life. It followed me through my school days, my professional career, right up to the movie Bull Durham.


I remember before I made the big team, the All-Star team in Gastonia, I was playing second and the other team had a man on third base. I went up to the pitcher and I said, ‘Give me the ball’ and then went back to second base. When the runner wasn’t looking I was going to flip the ball to third and we would get him out. But as I was walking back to second the man scored. So they called be “Bonehead” for awhile. I had lots of names.


I think American Legion ball probably influenced my early life more than anything. One great thing I remember was we had a parade in Gastonia after we won that championship. It was a parade going down Main Street and they let us ride on the fire truck. I thought that was something. And then Warren Gardner had a clothing store and he gave each of us a suit. I had never worn a suit; that was such a thrill. That was probably the most thrilling thing that happened to me. Things like that just put you a notch ahead and you have to take advantage of those things as they occur in life, otherwise you just don’t go anywhere.


The next year, 1936, in Legion ball we got beat in the North Carolina State Finals. But that American Legion ball contributed as much to my success as anything that ever happened in my life.


A lot of kids back in those days wouldn’t leave home. That ’35 Legion team had a lot of talent but they just wouldn’t leave home. And some of them were a lot better ball players than I was. There’s always that one opportunity you get in life and if you don’t take advantage of it you’re left.


All my brothers played baseball as well when we were growing up. Hutt and I later played together in professional ball one year in the New England League. “Toad” was a catcher. He died a few years back. Bobby also played organized baseball. My Dad was a Sunday School teacher and choir director. He wouldn’t let the family cheer at ball games even though they were at all of them.

In school I always studied hard. I was a pretty good student because I did well in my books and I studied and worked hard. I loved baseball and I would be so tired when I got home. I would get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and study my lessons.


There was a man that took a special interest in me in Gastonia. “Boo” Boshamer was the postmaster in Gastonia and he was quite a politician. He was a Duke graduate and he took an interest in me when I was playing American Legion ball. He was the one that carried me to Duke and introduced me to Coach Coombs. He was the one responsible for me going to Duke University.


Jack Coombs was probably the next greatest influence on my life after my father. Coaches can sometimes get into that position. Coach Coombs was kind of the type of manager Mr. Mack was. He didn’t wear a baseball uniform, at least when I was there. He sat on the bench with his hat and suit. He didn’t get out on the field either. Just like Mr. Mack he always sent one of the assistant coaches out to change pitchers and he didn’t argue with the umpires. But he had a great, great knowledge of baseball. And everybody who played on his team had to take the baseball class he taught. I guess we probably learned more baseball from his class than any other source. You didn’t have to be on the baseball team to take the class either.


Coach Coombs was a great teacher. He went to Colby College so he was a learned man. He was also a listener. When I had a problem I would go see Coach Jack. I really don’t think he ever gave me an answer, he just let me talk it out. He was a smart man.


I remember one story that went around the school. He and his wife Miss Mary lived right there on the West Campus of Duke. They had an apartment right in the student buildings. They used to walk from their apartment across the campus to the student union for food. Miss Mary always trailed one or two steps behind Coach Coombs. One day when it was icy they were walking and Coach Coombs heard a thump behind him. He turned around and Miss Mary was lying on the ground. So he puts his hand out like and umpire and calls ‘safe’.


Coach Coombs wrote a book about coaching. It was written during the time I was in school and they used pictures of some of us guys. My picture’s in there in somewhere.


We had very good teams under Coach Coombs and we won the Southern Conference. I remember that 1939 team at Duke (my sophomore year) lost only one ball game, to Maryland, up in Maryland. I was captain my senior year and I remember we didn’t win the conference that year but we did my junior year.


I remember a story about that 1939 season. Back in those days we didn’t have all the trainers they have now. One of our players slid into second base and hurt his ankle. So one of the guys picked up the medicine kit and rushed out to second base and opened the bag and all that was in there was a pint of whiskey!


Every summer while I was in college I played semi-pro ball. After my freshman year I went back home to play for the Gastonia Spinners in what was called the Carolina League. They called that league an “outlaw” league because it used real professional players but it didn’t follow the rules of organized professional baseball. I got more experience in that league in 1937 than any other, outside the big leagues.


Some of those ball players in the old outlaw Carolina League were tough. They were just great ball players. I was just 17 years old and I really grew up. We had a manager named Frank Packard. He was one of the toughest managers I ever played for – I mean in my whole baseball career. He was particularly tough on pitchers. He would call ‘time out’ and then he would give pitchers Holy Hell. We went through so many players we had a team coming, one there, and one going. They were so anxious to win, but I made the ball club.


I had been there a week or so –I’ll never forget this- there are always certain little things you remember in your career. I was struggling a little bit but in the 8th inning of a game – I forget who it was against- I hit a high fast ball over the left field fence and won the ball game. That sort of set me on fire and moved me forward. From then on I had a pretty good year. I was always a little better fielder than I was a hitter, but back in those days I could hold my own pretty good. Playing with those fellows gives you confidence. I could turn the double play as good as anyone.


That summer of 1937 I had the only fight I ever had in any league. I had a fight with a guy named George Andrews. He was a left-handed hitter, had his head shaved, and was probably in his 30s. He just didn’t like college players. I don’t know why. But we had a fight in the clubhouse in Concord. We had a real fight. I didn’t know I could fight that well. Frank Packard got rid of him the next day.


I remember another story. It was either the first or second day I reported to Gastonia. The team had its office in the old National Bank Building. They had a club meeting and “Alabama” Pitts, the famous ex-convict, and manager Frank Packard got into a fight. So they traded Pitts to Valdese. The next time we played in Valdese, “Alabama” got on first base and Frank covered second on a steal. “Alabama” slid head first and hit Frank right in the belly and nearly knocked him out. Frank couldn’t get his breath. I was playing second and I though he was going to die. And “’Bama” was hollering ‘Frank don’t die, don’t die or they will put me back in jail!’


I learned a lot of lessons in that league. Hickory had a big pitcher named Kermode and in one game I hit a ball up against the fence the first time I was at bat. When I went up the second time, I sort of pointed like I was going to do it again and Kermode hit me in the head with his first pitch. We didn’t have helmets in those days and I was really hit.


For me, 1937 was an amazing year, playing against players like Bobby Hipps and with Stuffy McCrone. They were really experienced ballplayers. It was incredible. I probably learned more in that league than I did in the big leagues. I really grew up!


During the summer of ’38, after my sophomore year at Duke, I played in the New England League for Rutland, Vermont. They were all college players. Jack Berry, a college coach, was our manager. I slid into second base on July 4 in Montpelier and broke my ankle and that slowed me down a little bit. That ankle still bothers me.


In ’39 I played in the Tobacco State League, another semi-pro league. I played for Sanford, North Carolina and made $140 per month. That league included teams from towns like Zebulon and Angier and we played about five or six games a week. They also had the state semi-pro tournament in High Point and we went up and won that too. We really had a good ball club. Tommy Byrne and Ray Scarborough, who both went to the big leagues, they played for Wake Forest. Angier went and got them to play and they tried to beat us but they couldn’t. We didn’t loose many ball games. We had three guys from Duke: myself, first baseman Eddie Shokes (he played with Cincinnati for awhile), and Glenn Price. We also had Porter Vaughan pitching for us down there. Porter played with me when I was at Philadelphia.


We drew good crowds down there. But oh, those lights. People can’t imagine what it was like playing under those lights. One night I stuck a ball in my hip pocket and I told Hoover, the shortstop, to watch what happens if a ball is ever hit to my left. It was so dark out in the outfield when a ball did go past me to my left I just took the ball out of my pocket and threw to first. They called him out! Of course a big argument resulted from that.


Lewis Isenhour owned that team. He owned a brick company and he loved baseball. He treated us well and boy we had fun down there. That was a great summer.


I guess that outlaw league after my freshman year is where Connie Mack noticed me because his team picked my school tab the next year. In those days a lot of times big league teams would help pay for your college education. So in my second year at Duke, Mr. Mack and the Philadelphia Athletics did that for me. You didn’t really have to sign with them but I honored the unwritten agreement to play for them after I got out of school. I went straight from Duke to Philadelphia.


Being a southern boy I hadn’t traveled too much but when I got to Shibe Park in Philadelphia, Mr. Mack said he was going to give me $300. I said, ‘Mr. Mack, I won’t play for that. I’m making about that much now.’ He said. ‘Well young man, if you don’t want it just go home.’ I couldn’t go home; I didn’t have any money. So I signed.


But Mr. Mack was really a gentleman. I was in awe. The big leagues back then meant more than they do today –only eight teams in a league, two leagues, no television. You would read all about those guys. I was simply in awe when I saw Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, guys you had read about, like gods.


I didn’t get in a game for about two weeks. I was sitting at the end of the bench. Mr. Mack called ‘Davie’. He couldn’t remember names very well. He said, ‘Davie’. I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ He said. ‘I want you to pinch hit.’


I grabbed a couple of bats, rushed up to home plate and the umpire said, ‘Wait a minute son, you have to let this man hit first.’


The first man I hit against was Bob Feller. To make a long story short he was fast. But I did hit a pop fly to the catcher.


In 1941 I did really well in Spring Training but I just didn’t do it after the season started. We had Spring Training in Anaheim, California. Back in those days Mr. Mack sat on the bench and moved players with his scorecard. I remember he loved to sit in the lobby of hotels since it was too hot to stay in the rooms. He liked to meet people.


I played with good ball players- Al Simmons, Wally Moses, Bob Johnson. In 1941 Ted Williams came into Philadelphia hitting just over the .400 mark. On Saturday he went none for four and went down right on the .400 mark. He could have sat out the double header the next day and still hit .400 but he elected to play.


I played in both of those games. I played second base in the first game and first base in the second. That’s a good story. We were in Chicago earlier and riding down the elevator and Mr. Mack said, ‘Davie, can you play first base?’ I replied, ‘Never played it but I can’. So that day I played first base against the Chicago White Sox in Comiskey Park. And this is true, too – when you play second base and a ball goes through your legs, you don’t chase it. Anyway, a ball went over my head that day at first. I didn’t really hustle. My cap came off and I went over to pick it up before I picked up the ball. The next day’s paper said, ‘Davis retrieves cap before ball.’


Anyway, in that final double header with the Red Sox, Porter Vaughan, who had played with me at Sanford, was one of the pitchers that pitched against Ted. People used to think that maybe we would try to throw those games and Mr. Mack told us ‘this is baseball and if I ever find out anyone is letting down I’m going to get you kicked out of baseball. But Porter was a left-handed pitcher and Ted Williams was a left-handed hitter and he’d never seen Porter. Porter was just brought up, you know. It’s very difficult for a guy to hit against anybody if he’s never seen them before. But it didn’t stop Ted Williams, though, because he got six for eight in the double header. He’s the greatest hitter who ever lived.


That was also the year DiMaggio ha his 56 game hitting streak. I had a lot of experiences but I wasn’t a real good ball player in the big leagues. I made the team and got a lot of recognition, though. I remember going from Cleveland to Detroit on the boat at night. We didn’t fly. We had trains. In Spring Training we worked our way back from the West Coast with the Cubs and Pirates so, I did get to hit against Dizzy Dean. He didn’t have much left by then, though. Overall it was a wonderful experience for a young unmarried guy. I took it all in.


My first roommate was pitcher Chubby Dean. Chubby was a Duke guy as well and also a North Carolina native. He was good looking man and on my first road trip, Chubby had too many women. He wasn’t married so the women were after him.


I grew up in a lot of ways in the big leagues. For a young man out of the South it was a great education. Didn’t think too much about it at the time but I wouldn’t take anything for it now.

In 1942 I was drafted and I went into the Navy. My first station was in Norfolk in November of ’42. I got into the physical education program. In 1943, at the Norfolk Air Station all I did was play baseball. We had Dom DiMaggio in centerfield, Pee Wee Reese at short, Eddie Robinson played first, and Hugh Casey was a pitcher. At Norfolk Naval Base just across the fence was Bob Feller and several other big leaguers. All we did was play ball.


In the fall of 1943 I was transferred to Harvard University where I became Officer of the Day in the ROTC program up there. I became a squash coach and I didn’t even know what squash was. Then I moved to the Harvard baseball team. So in 1944, I helped Floyd Stahl with that team. Later I became coach of the J.V. team at Harvard. We played the prep schools around New England.

I was married in Norfolk in 1943 and my wife Harriet was with me and we lived at Harvard Square. My wife taught at Gastonia High School and we had two daughters. We are divorced now but we had many fruitful years together.


At Harvard I had Bobby Kennedy under me in ROTC. He wasn’t a real standout. He was just an ordinary guy. He certainly didn’t lead the class. He was not a battalion leader, nothing like the way he developed. Some guys get opportunities, others don’t.


Like I said before, I had a lot of names – Little Davis, Squeeky, Dynamite, and then Crash. At Harvard I started playing under the name Chuck Leary in the New England Semi-Pro League. I played under an assumed name because I guess it was against the rules to play even though it didn’t hurt anything. I chose the name Leary name because there are a lot of Irish in that area. In that league we played three or four game per week. We made good money and it was extra and above my Navy money. Later I played in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. I played as Bob Palliteria – a French name since there were a lot of French people there. My wife was at one of the games and one of the fans of French background said, ‘Bob Palliteria is a good ball player. Does he speak English?’


I also managed at Lawrence that same year. I remember one game when we were playing in Providence, Rhode Island and all those players were using assumed names. Jimmy Gleeson, who had been with the Cubs and the Reds, was playing in that league and first base was open so I elected to walk him. I didn’t know that little guy that was hitting next but I knew Gleeson. That little short guy looked about 18 or 19 years old and it turned out he hit a home run with the bases loaded. His real name was Lawrence “Yogi” Berra. Yogi was at New London in the Merchant Marine.


After the war, I was discharged in November of 1945. I returned to pro ball but Philadelphia cut me in Spring Training. To show how cold baseball can be, they didn’t even call you in and say ‘We’re sorry you didn’t make it.’ They just left a pink note in your box. I needed to be a step faster. I lost that during the war. So I returned to Lawrence in 1946 and ’47 to play in the Class B New England League. Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella were at Nashua in that league. I remember Roy tried to get me to go barnstorming after the ’47 season down to the Caribbean. Both were great guys, Branch Rickey knew how to pick them.


I guess I was one of the first free agents in baseball. After I got released by Philadelphia I would only sign one-year contracts. I wouldn’t sign unless they would give me my release at the end of the year. So after two years with Lawrence I decided to go back and do some graduate work at Duke and I signed with the Durham Bulls for 1948.


Willie Duke was the manager in Durham. He was quite a character. Once I remember the ump made a bad decision in Durham on a Sunday afternoon and Willie took a bucket of ice water and threw it across the plate. The ump kicked him out. Willie became one of the greatest promoters of baseball I ever knew. He started the Hot Stove League in Raleigh and he was responsible for me being in the North Carolina American Legion Hall of Fame. He sponsored me. Baseball was all he lived for to his dying day.


After a season in Durham I signed with Raleigh, which was in the same league. I played there in ’49 and had another pretty good year. In 1950 I spent part of the season with Raleigh and then went over to Reidsville, another Carolina League club. For 1951 it was back to Raleigh and I stayed there through the ’52 season. After that I decided to retire.


During the off-season when I was playing at Raleigh I was coaching and teaching at Bethesda High School in Durham. I coached baseball and basketball and helped with football.

When I retired from playing I went back to Gastonia and became baseball coach of the high school team there. We won two state championships. I also coached the American Legion team. The team I coached in 1954, we went to the finals out in Yakima, Washington. We almost duplicated what the 1935 Gastonia team did but we came up a little short against San Diego in the championship game.


Eventually I took a job with Burlington Industries. It was probably the greatest move I ever made financially. I did personnel work with them for 28 or 29 years. I started off in Gastonia but later transferred to Greensboro.


I never dreamed that my baseball career would bring me any kind of fame later in life. It was all because of that good season in Durham in 1948 when I led the league in doubles. Nearly 40 years later movie director Ron Shelton was going through the Carolina League record book and he liked the name Crash Davis. So that’s where it all started. He used my name for Bull Durham he changed the doubles to homeruns. I never realized that movie was going to be so successful.

Ron Shelton and I became friends and that’s how I got in the movie Cobb, too. He gave me a little role in that. I though that was going to be a real blockbuster but there was too much psychology in it. It was kind of depressing. They put that movie out early in the Christmas season thinking that with Tommy Lee Jones it was going to be an Oscar contender. I wish it would have been because anytime you get a speaking part you get residuals. But it was fun, I had a good time and Ron Shelton is a great guy.


You know you have to be ready for changes in life. The opportunities only come once, twice, or three times and you have to take advantage of them. It’s just like I never thought I would be a celebrity of sorts in later life because if a movie. It’s like baseball, when you only get a really good pitch every so often. You know I wasn’t always the best player on my team but I always got a hit when it counted. When I think about it, that has really made all the difference in life.”


Davis’ professional record:





Crash Davis with the Athletics 1941


Davis while at Duke University circa 1939

Preparing to toss out the first pitch
before a Durham Bulls game.



The Independent

CarolinaBaseball League


Click here for more details about this book and how to order your copy now.



Crash Davis Caricature Artwork
Caricature style of Crash Davis by artist Ronnie Joyner
8x10 lazer copy print available in our Gift Shoppe. Click here for more.




Click here to read "Crash Davis, A Legend in His Own Time, Dead at 82' by David M. Jordan.


Crash Davis Internet Links:











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