Crashing Into Destiny

During an American Legion baseball game back in 1933, in Gastonia, North Carolina, a 14-year old shortstop named Lawrence Davis was chasing down a pop fly into left field. Then known as “Squeaky” because his infield chatter always ended with a rising, almost falsetto tone, Davis collided with the left fielder. It was a hard collision and “Squeaky” immediately became “Dynamite.” While Dynamite Davis makes for wonderful alliteration, “Dynamite” quickly transformed into “Crash.”

Yes, there really was a Crash Davis, just like in the movie, Bull Durham. When he reached age 18, Davis entered Duke University. Playing semi-pro ball after his freshman year, he caught the eye of Connie Mack, the owner/manager of the Philadelphia A’s, and the team picked up his tuition for his sophomore year. Davis made his major league debut that summer, in 1940. (Against future Hall of Famer, Bob Feller. He popped out.)

Davis served in the U. S. Navy and played on the Norfolk Naval Air Station baseball team; that was his official duty. Teammates included Pee Wee Reese and Dom DiMaggio. He was then assigned to Harvard University in 1944 where he served as the Officer of the Day for the ROTC program and one of his cadets was Bobby Kennedy.

As with so many other young men who served in the military, his baseball skills had deteriorated just enough that he was no longer major league material, and he was cut by the A’s in Spring Training, 1946. Playing minor league ball in New England for a couple of seasons, he returned to North Carolina, where he played for the Durham Bulls in 1948 and set a then league record with 50 doubles. Davis played in the minors through 1951 before retiring.

Gregarious and intelligent, he coached baseball and worked in personnel for Burlington Industries, destined to be a local legend with a major league pedigree. One day, however, Davis got a call from an unknown movie maker named Ron Shelton who had been thumbing through a Carolina League record book and came across the perfect name for the main character of a movie he wanted to film. Permission was quickly granted.

Crash Davis

That’s how Kevin Costner became “Crash Davis.” Not surprisingly, Shelton and Davis developed a friendship that would last until the latter’s death in 2001.

I came across the real Crash Davis because his player card is included in the A’s team set for my 1941 Strat-O-Matic game. Naturally, that was a name that I had to look up, and in doing so, I discovered a remarkable story and a remarkable man. Everyone has a story, and Mr. Davis tells his in a couple of interviews which can be accessed here. If you enjoy baseball stories from the old-days or if you enjoy good story-tellers, then I highly recommend clicking on that link.

Funny how Destiny may be dramatic and even world-changing—think December 7, 1941—or it can be as simple as a pop fly into left field.

About Austin Gisriel

You know the guy that records a baseball game from the West Coast in July and doesn't watch it until January just to see baseball in the winter? That's me. I'm a writer always in search of a good story, baseball or otherwise.
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