Obituary: Ray Daviault (1934-2020)

RIP to Ray Daviault, a relief pitcher on the original 1962 Mets team. He died on November 6 from a pool accident at his home in Notre-Dame-de-la-Merci, Quebec, his son Francis told the Associated Press. He was 86 years old. Daviault played for the 1962 New York Mets after nearly a decade in the minor leagues.

Raymond Joseph Robert Daviault was born in Montreal on May 27, 1934. He played in the Montreal Junior League and threw a no-hitter for Ville Marie in 1951. He almost tossed another one two weeks later but settled for a one-hitter. He pitched in the Laurentide League for East Montreal in 1952 when he was 18 years old. From there, he signed with the Cocoa Indians, a Class-D team in the Florida State League, for the 1953 season. Growing up in Quebec, he spoke only French when he first came to the United States to play.

Cocoa, Fla., was a long way from the major leagues. Deviault was the only player from the ’53 team to reach the majors, aside from the team’s player/manager Bama Rowell. Deviault pitched well, with a 10-8 record and 3.25 ERA in 144 innings. His strikeout totals in the minors are not recorded for the first years of his career, but he frequently fanned more than 10 batters in a game, including a 15-strikeout performance against Leesburg on June 28.

The Brooklyn Dodgers discovered Daviault and signed him for the 1954 season, assigning him to Hornell (N.Y.) of the Class-D PONY League. He was a 15-game winner there, even though he had some control problems, with 133 walks in 193 innings. Though the walks would remain high, he gained a reputation for a terrific fastball and kept advancing through the Dodgers system.

By 1956, he had advanced to the Class-A Macon Dodgers of the Sally League, and he went 8-11 there. He walked 111 batters in 155 innings but allowed just 117 hits, while putting up some high strikeout totals. In his Macon debut, he walked the bases loaded in the second inning and allowed a couple of runs to score, but he also fanned 13 Montgomery hitters as part of a 13-2 win.

Daviault was promoted up to the AAA Montreal Royals in 1957, and he was the first Montreal native to play for the team in 11 years. The homecoming didn’t go well. Daviault appeared in just 6 games for Montreal, with 3 losses. He was to be shipped out to the low minors, but he instead went to a doctor. The slim right-handed had dropped from 165 to 147 pounds, and he was ordered to rest for a month. He had missed part of the ’55 season with pleurisy, and perhaps he was still feeling ill effects from the chest cavity tissue inflammation. He resumed pitching that summer, but rather than leave his home, he obtained a release from the Royals and pitched for the Longueuil Barons of the Quebec Senior Baseball League instead.

The Dodgers re-signed Daviault but began moving him backwards, from AAA Montreal to a couple of A-Ball teams in 1958 and ’59. He struggled with inconsistency and arm soreness before regaining his form in 1959 with Macon. He topped the 200-inning mark for the only time in his career, starting 26 games and relieving in 15 others. Though his record was 9-15, he struck out 169 batters in 204 innings while limiting his walks to 109.

Source: The Gazette (Montreal, Que.), May 1, 1957.

Daviault was left unprotected in the 1959 minor-league draft and was selected by Corpus Christi of the Texas League — a AA farm team for the San Francisco Giants. It was renamed the Rio Grande Valley Giants in 1960 and boasted some talented prospects, including Gaylord Perry, John Orsino and Bobby Bolin. Daviault was moved to the bullpen but still won 13 games in 53 appearances, good enough for second-best on the team behind Ron Herbal’s 15 victories. He also struck out 113 hitters in 111 innings and posted a fine 2.76 ERA. The Giants moved him to up AAA Tacoma in 1961, and he repeated his success as a relief ace. It was thought at the beginning of the 1961 season that the Giants would give him a chance in the majors. It didn’t work out that way, but he got a shot in 1962 with a brand-new team.

The New York Mets selected Daviault in the ninth round of the 1961 expansion draft. He was just the third pitcher taken by the Mets and made the Mets’ inaugural Opening Day roster. His major-league debut came in the team’s first-ever home opener at the Polo Grounds, on April 13. He worked the final 2 innings of a 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh and didn’t give up a hit, though he walked 4 Pirates and allowed a run to score on a wild pitch.

Daviault was sent to the minors after appearing in 3 games in April but was brought back to the majors in June. He started 3 games but primarily worked out of the pen. The longest outing of his career came on June 30, when starter Bob Miller was knocked out of the first inning after allowing 4 runs to the Dodgers. Daviault threw 7-1/3 innings of 1-run ball, allowing a solo home run to Frank Howard. He walked 5 and struck out 7. Unfortunately, Dodgers’ starter Sandy Koufax was a little bit better, as he struck out 13 Mets and threw the first no-hitter of his career, blanking the Mets 5-0.

Francis Daviault said that his father had some good stories about Mets manager Casey Stengel, who was a little forgetful at times. “Dad said Casey would call down to the bullpen to say get Harris warmed up. The relievers would have to figure out who wanted to be Harris that day because they didn’t have anybody with that name,” he said.

Another time, Stengel decided to replace Mets starter Al Jackson with Daviault and told everyone… except Jackson. Sure enough, Jackson went to the mound for his warmup pitches, only to hear the public address announcer say, “Now pitching for New York, number 35, Ray Daviault.” Jackson tossed the baseball to the catcher and walked off the mound.

On the year, Daviault appeared on a total of 36 games for the Mets, with a 1-5 record and a 6.22 ERA. He struck out 51 in 81 innings and walked 48. The long ball was his biggest weakness, as he allowed 14 home runs. He also had one base hit in 15 at-bats as a hitter.

Daviault was optioned to AAA Buffalo at the end of spring training in 1963. He had a 3.62 ERA in 50 games as a reliever in his last season of professional baseball. An elbow injury forced him into retirement from baseball at the age of 29. Right about the time that he was leaving baseball, his younger brother Andy began his own pitching career in the Pirates organization. Andy Daviault pitched from 1963 until 1966, playing in some of the same towns where his brother once played.

Daviault returned to the Montreal area, and he occasionally threw batting practice to the newly created Expos. When the Mets came to town, he would don the uniform again and visit his friends on the team.

“Who’s that?” Tug McGraw asked a newsman in 1970 when he saw an unfamiliar face in the clubhouse.

“That’s Ray Daviault, and he pitched for this club when it took guts,” was the reply.

Daviault laughed as he recalled the time that Stengel asked to see the pitcher in his office. “I said to myself, ‘Uh-oh, Syracuse, here I come.’ Casey told me to sit down. He told me he wanted me to know he appreciated how hard I tried. He said nobody on the club gave more effort. He said my pitching was lousy, but my effort was good.”

Daviault coached junior league baseball teams in Quebec in his retirement. He was honored, along with several other Canadian ballplayers, in a 2017 spring training game between the Toronto Blue Jays and Pittsburgh Pirates that took place at Olympic Stadium in Montreal. He also enjoyed the kind of immortality that comes from being part of the original 1962 Mets, considered one of the worst teams in baseball history.

Like the time Daviault was pitching and gave up several unearned runs, thanks to his teammates fumbling ground balls. Finally, Stengel walked to the mound to take him out of the game. Daviault said, “Casey, I’m doing the job. What else can I do?” The manager answered, “You could strike ’em out. You know they can’t catch grounders.”

For more information: NWI Times

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