Giants mourn passing of Davenport

Giants mourn passing of Davenport

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Infielder Jim Davenport, a member of the inaugural 1958 San Francisco Giants team who remained devoted to the franchise for most of his 60 years in professional baseball, died Thursday night in Redwood City, Calif., due to heart failure. He was 82.

Davenport had been in poor health in recent years, but he continued to serve the Giants through last season -- his 51st with the organization -- as a special assistant in player development.

Davenport was enormously popular in the San Francisco Bay area, building his following among fans while spending his entire 13-year Major League playing career with the Giants. He was the club's everyday third baseman as a rookie in 1958, when northern Californians ardently embraced the freshly imported Giants. In '82, fans elected him as the third baseman on San Francisco's 25th anniversary dream team.

Davenport, who sparkled defensively, was often overlooked in a Giants lineup that included Hall of Fame sluggers Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey. He eventually was displaced by Jim Ray Hart, another power hitter.

Yet in terms of personal integrity, few rivaled Davenport. Racial tension remained prevalent in society and baseball during the late 1950s and early '60s, but Davenport, a native of Siluria, Ala., rose above the fray.

"He was really one of the best teammates, for whites, Latinos and blacks," said former Giants outfielder Felipe Alou, a native of the Dominican Republic. "There was not a trace of racism in him. He was an incredible friend and teammate."

Said McCovey in a 2014 interview with MLB.com: "There was not a prejudiced bone in his body, and that's what I admired about him so much. He was just a regular guy."

Davenport was equally consistent as a defender. "He was the best third baseman in the league when we were teammates," said Alou, a Giant from 1958-63.

Davenport led National League third basemen in fielding percentage each season from 1959-61 and won a Gold Glove Award for fielding excellence in '62. That was the same year he made the NL All-Star team. Davenport played 97 consecutive errorless games at third base from July 26, 1966 to April 28, 1968, a Major League record that was eventually broken by Pittsburgh's John Wehner.

Though Davenport finished his career as a utility man, he tops the Giants' all-time list with 1,130 games played at third base.

Alou recalled playing left field behind Davenport and marveling at his skill.

"Line drive down the line, hard-hit ball over the bag or between third and short -- I knew they were sure hits, but Davvy came up with them," Alou said.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy recalled Davenport fondly. One of the Little League teams Bochy played for in Virginia even had a Jim Davenport bat in its equipment bag.

"He was such a gentleman, such a nice guy," Bochy said. "I'm honored that I got a chance to know him. He loved being around the game."

Davenport served the Giants as a coach and manager in the Major and Minor Leagues after retiring in 1970. Taking over a club which possessed underwhelming talent, he managed the Giants to a 56-88 record in '85. That did nothing to dampen his love for the organization.

"They've been awfully good to me, no question about that," Davenport told MLB.com in 2014. "Everything I have, I owe to the Giants, that's for sure."

Davenport is survived by his wife, Betty, daughter Cathy, and sons Randy, Ken, Don and Gary.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.