Million-dollar legs and 10-cent heads

I just read a Fox Sports article that said former three-time Gold Glove winner and two-time All Star outfielder Willie Davis died Tuesday at 69.

The story talked about how Davis never realized his potential, despite finishing with 2,561 hits, 82nd all-time and 398 stolen bases, 68th all-time.  He also scored 1217 runs, more than Cooperstown honorees Lloyd Waner, Joe Medwick and Willie Stargell.  None of this warrants a Hall of Fame plaque, of course, but it’s not too far removed, either.  Frankly, I’m surprised Davis never got any Hall of Fame votes, according to his Baseball Reference page.  The story I read included a quote from a late, former Dodger general manager, Buzzie Bavasi, who said of Davis, “He could have been a Hall of Famer, but he had million-dollar legs and a 10-cent head.”

This got me thinking.  Surely Davis is not the only player, before or since, worthy of that observation.  Here are a few players who could join Davis on some kind of Pinhead Dream Team:

  • Mickey Mantle: The epitome of a legendary player who squandered his greatness.  With his hard drinking, carousing and generally poor self-care reined in, Mantle could have set the home run record or kept the Yankees great through the Sixties, perhaps both.  Instead, he was washed up by his early 30s, while New York went into decline.
  • Kevin Mitchell: Mitchell set a standard for hair-brained antics that may never be matched.  First, he got traded off the most boozing, cocaine-addled team ever, the 1986-era New York Mets, because management feared his influence on other young players.  He missed games during his career because of injuring himself while eating a cupcake (happens to the best of us) and straining a muscle vomiting.  Mitchell once ran through a locker room wearing night-vision goggles and shouting, “Desert storm!  Desert storm!”  After leaving the major leagues, he was kicked off an independent league squad for brawling with his owner.  Snopes even investigated if Dwight Gooden correctly reported in his autobiography, Heat, that Mitchell decapitated his girlfriend’s cat.  The Web site couldn’t reach a conclusion.
  • Elijah Dukes: Like Mitchell in terms of talent, but with a lengthy criminal record in place of funny stories.  Dukes came up with Tampa Bay, a highly-regarded outfield prospect with arrests dating back to his teenage years.  The Rays cut Dukes in June 2007, amidst reports a 17-year-old girl told police Dukes impregnated her.  Earlier that year, he was arrested with 2 grams of marijuana in his car and his ex-girlfriend got a one-year protective order, saying Dukes threatened to kill her and their children.  She also once told a radio station he was bipolar.  He’s with the Nationals now and has an ex-cop around to protect him.  Supposedly, he’s doing better, though one has to wonder.
  • Bugs Raymond: A problem case before the days of counseling, Raymond had one fine season, 1909 when he went 18-12 with a 2.47 ERA. Raymond then drank himself off the New York Giants, when John McGraw’s attempts at reform didn’t take, and he was later killed in a bar fight in 1912 at age 30.  Raymond is certainly not the only ballplayer to die in a drunken mishap, though it’s sad to think what might have been.
  • John Rocker: On the other hand, I offer no sympathy for Rocker, who essentially imploded his career a decade ago with dumb remarks to Sports Illustrated about gays, minorities and New York.  Rocker also should have inspired a generation of players never to wear camouflage or sit in a deer stand for their photo shoot with the magazine; Rocker looked more fit for a militia than the Atlanta Braves.

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