STORMY BROUGHT SUNSHINE Davis’ baseball influences still remembered

Cecil “Stormy” Davis certainly ranks among the best-ever minor league baseball players. The Kentucky native never advanced to the big leagues, which in his time often didn’t pay any better or as well as some minor clubs. Born in 1900, the outfielder played in 27 games for the 1921 Little Rock Travelers of the Class A Southern Association, batting .350 and belting five triples.

A couple of years later, he began a storied three-year run in which he smacked 114 home runs – 34 and 51, respectively, with Class C Okmulgee, Okla., of the Western Association from 1923-24 and the remaining 29 in 1925 with Fort Worth of the Class A Texas League. The ‘24 Okmulgee and the next year’s Fort Worth teams are regarded as two of the minor’s all-time finest, and Davis was a mainstay for each.

Davis landed in Pine Bluff in 1930, helping the Judges of the six-team Class D Cotton States League to a miracle playoffs crown. Pine Bluff had finished just a game out of the cellar in the first half of the season, but then rallied for a second-half title after manager Wray Query brought in some help and masterfully shifted the lineup. Davis contributed to the cause with a .321 batting average and 51 extra-base hits in 93 games.

The Judges weren’t as stout in ‘31 and ‘32, but Davis hit at respective clips of .301 and .303. The club and the league folded, but baseball and Davis returned to the city in 1934, when Pine Bluff notched a failed Waco, Texas, franchise from the Dixie League. In what wound up as his farewell season, Davis batted a combined .303 and hit 17 homers for Waco, Pine Bluff and Longview, Texas.

Davis was a bit of a cult hero here, as much because of his on- and off-field antics as his playing skills.

One of his 1932 teammates was then 19-year-old Elmer “Catfish” Smith, an Arkansas country boy who went on to coach football at Magnolia A&M College (now Southern Arkansas University) before serving as an assistant at Texas A&M from 1954-72, working under Fordyce’s Paul “Bear” Bryant, and then Gene Stallings.

In his 1975 book “This Really Happened,” Smith related several tales about Davis, including one in which Davis would often take advantage of poorly-lighted parks in night games of the era. The infield was typically well illuminated, but the outfields were usually so dark “that neither the umpire or opponents could tell what Davis was doing.” His fielding trick was hiding some balls in the grass in his right field spot, and whenever a grounder was coming toward him, he would scoop up the first ball he saw and “throw it to cut off baserunners.”

Pine Bluff’s Carl Tucker, who ran a pool hall here after a seven-season minor league career that stretched from 1942-50, once admitted that he had expanded on Davis’ outfield shenanigans. Tucker was a Brooklyn Dodgers prospect as a shortstop before the emergence of eventual Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese, but became a part-time outfielder as his reflexes slowed and his career wound down.

“I would put some old baseballs on the ground around me, too, especially when I played here with the Monroe (La.) Sports against Pine Bluff in 1950, my last year as a player,” Tucker said. “The outfield lighting at Taylor Field was dim at its brightest, and everything went well for me most of the time. I kept an extra ball or two in my pockets once in a while, too, and sometimes when a fly ball was headed my way and it was out of the light, I would dig out one of the hidden balls from my pocket and have it in my hand, pop it against my glove like I had just caught it and then I would throw it in.

“But one time, I started running up on a ball and was planning on throwing one of the extra balls in when I stepped on one of the balls I had put in the grass,” he continued. “I bet people thought I had spouted wings, because I wound up flying through the air several feet. And when I hit the ground, it knocked the breath out of me and I couldn’t hardly move for a minute or two.

“And another time here, I lost track of a fly ball that had been hit toward me, but I had pulled a ball out from my pocket, slapped my glove and thrown it in. Well, a second or so later, the fly ball that had been hit by the batter wound up hitting me before I saw it coming in. It hit me kinda between my chest and shoulders. Man, I felt like I had been slugged by Joe Louis, but I couldn’t let it show. I staggered back a few steps and just about fell out, but I caught myself. I wound up with a great big bruise and I was sore for a month.

“If Stormy had seen what I did, he probably would have laughed out loud and called me a rookie.”