RIP to Jacke Davis, who had a 7-year career in professional baseball that included a short stint with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1962. Davis died on May 30 in Tyler, Texas, at the age of 85. After his playing career was over, Davis was a long-time and extremely successful high school and college coach.
Jackie Sylvesta Davis was born in Carthage, Texas, on March 5, 1936. In grade school, he went by “Jackie” until his class got a couple of girls who were also named Jackie. That led to some teasing.from some of his classmates. “So I got to thinking about it, and I decided the best thing for me to do was drop the ‘i’ in my name,” Davis said, explaining the unusual spelling of his first name. “It wouldn’t really matter to my parents because my invention had the same pronunciation.”
He attended Baylor University on a baseball scholarship, but he was also a talented back on the Baylor football team. He was a part of the squad that won the 1957 Sugar Bowl over #2 ranked Tennessee. Davis signed with the Philadelphia Phillies organization in 1958 for a reported $45,000 bonus. His professional career got off to a rough start when he broke his ankle, sliding into a base in his very first training camp. But once the ankle healed, Davis adjusted very quickly to professional ball. In fact, he won the Rookie of the Year Award in the Carolina League in ’58, while playing for the High Point-Thomasville Hi-Tops. The 22-year-old outfielder belted 25 home runs while batting .302. He was even better when he moved up to the Eastern League the following year. He slammed a league-leading 33 long balls and drove in 115 runs for the Williamsport Grays in 1959.
Davis moved to AAA Buffalo of the International League in 1960, and he spent most of the next three seasons there. His offensive numbers dropped off in his first season with the Bisons, as he hit just .237, homering 18 times. His struggles could have come from adjusting to a higher-level of the minors, or they could have come from the fact that Philadelphia tried to turn him into a catcher. He appeared in 33 games behind the plate and committed 13 passed balls, though he was charged with just 1 error. Buffalo kept him in the outfield in 1961, and his batting average jumped to a career-best .303, with 16 more home runs and 72 RBIs. After the season, he was added to the Phillies roster, putting him a step away from the majors.
Davis broke camp with the Phillies in 1962 as a pinch-hitter and backup outfielder, spending time at all three outfield positions with the team. After a few hitless appearances, David got his first major league hit on April 29 in New York. He was the starting right fielder and tripled off the Mets’ Al Jackson in the second inning. Jackson got the 8-0 shutout win that day, but Davis got him back about a week later. Jackson and Philadelphia’s Cal McLish took a 1-1 tie into the bottom of the seventh inning on May 5, when Davis singled in the go-ahead run to make the score 2-1. It was Davis’ first major-league RBI.
Davis got off to a pretty hot start, but he couldn’t crack the starting lineup that featured Ted Savage, Tony Gonzalez and Johnny Callison in the outfield. He made his at-bats count. His only major-league home run was a ninth-inning, pinch-hit, 3-run blast off the Dodgers ace Sandy Koufax on June 4. He accounted for the Phillies total offense, as Koufax fanned 13 batters on the way to a 6-3 win. The home run pushed Davis’ batting average over .300, but a deep slump sent it into the .230s before he got another hit. Davis was batting .213 on July 20 when he was sent back to AAA Buffalo to make way for infielder Ruben Amaro, who had returned from military duty. Davis did not make it back to the majors.
In 48 games with the Phillies, Davis slashed .213/.253/.280, with 16 hits that included 1 triple and 1 home run. He drove in 6 runs and scored 9 times. He committed a couple of errors in the outfield for a .926 fielding percentage across the three positions.
Davis returned to hitting home runs in Buffalo, with 15 more round trippers to close out the 1962 season, but he hit just .244 with the Bisons. In December, Philadelphia traded him to the Los Angeles Angels for catcher Earl Averill. He spent 1963 on the move. The Angels traded him to the San Francisco Giants in March of 1963 for first baseman Charlie Dees. He was then sent back to the Buffalo Bisons, where he played for a time before being traded to the Atlanta Crackers.
All that movement led to a rare distinction. Buffalo played Atlanta to a 3-3 tie on July 17, when the game was called in the sixth inning because of curfew. Davis was 1-for-2 for Buffalo. By the time the game resumed on August 26, Davis had been traded to the Crackers and was hitless in 2 at-bats for his new team. Thus, Davis can lay claim to playing on both sides of a minor-league game. Atlanta won 8-6 in 12 innings, but no matter which team came out ahead, Davis would have been on the winning side.
Davis was on the move once more in 1964, playing in Oklahoma City, Denver and San Antonio. When the San Antonio Bullets sent Davis to the Denver Bears, the team officials didn’t even know if he had been traded, sold or optioned, reported the San Antonio Express. “Houston Colt .45 officials just said to send Davis to Denver, and he was sent,” the paper reported. Davis quit playing after that season, with a total of 117 home runs in 7 minor-league seasons.
In his retirement, Davis honed his golf game to the point that he won several local tournaments in Texas. He also got a degree from Stephen F. Austin University. After several years as an assistant high school football coach, he became the baseball coach at Carthage High School. In nine years, his teams won seven zone championships and two district titles. He was named coach of the year four times. In 1981, Davis became the head baseball coach at Panola College (then Panola Junior College), replacing a legend in Bill Griffin, who had won 14 conference titles in 24 years.
“I always wanted to coach on the college level,” Davis said. “Panola Junior College has gained recognition not only in Texas but around the nation for its athletics program. My intention is to have the best program I can. I want to have a winning season every year. I want to have a competitive program and win with pride and dignity. And if we lose I want us to leave the field with that same pride and dignity.”
Davis said that he would never equal Griffith’s 24 seasons at the helm of the Panola Ponies, but he did stay for 15 seasons and put together an enviable list of accomplishments. He compiled a 501-292 win-loss record, and his teams won eight Conference Championships and made nine appearances in the NJCAA Regional Playoffs. Davis was selected as the Conference Coach of the Year eight times. He retired in 1996 and was inducted into the Panola College Athletics Hall of Fame.
Davis is survived by his wife, Barbara, and sons Jeff and J.P. Davis. His eldest son, Jacke, died in 1974 at the age of 16.