Who Was Piper Davis?

Lorenzo "Piper" Davis was the first black player signed by the Boston Red Sox, but he never made it to the majors, for reasons that are still unexplained.

By David Nevard with David Marasco
© 2001 Buffalo Head Society

Piper Davis is a footnote in Red Sox history, the black player they signed before they signed Pumpsie Green. Perhaps the Sox could have been one of the first major league teams to integrate, instead of being the last. Piper Davis played a short time with a Red Sox farm club in 1950 and was released in May despite a batting average over .300.

The excuse for many years was "We would like to sign a black player, but we can't find any that are good enough." People started asking obvious questions, such as how the Red Sox were unable to find Jackie Robinson when he was standing right in Fenway Park. Or Willie Mays, when he  was standing in their farm team's ballpark. But even in December 2000, Red Sox President John Harrington was still trying to perpetuate the myth , telling columnist Will McDonough how hard Boston had tried. After all, they signed Piper Davis, but he was just "not good enough" to make the team.

Rather than examining the larger issue of Red Sox race relations over the past 50 years,  we'll focus here on an individual, Piper Davis, a ballplayer of great skills who suffered greatly for the color of his skin.

Cast Iron Pipe

"Between 1900 and 1940 tens of thousands of rural black Southerners chose to make a dramatic change in their way of life. They uprooted themselves from postbellum rural life–a life of sharecropping and tenant farming on someone else's cotton farm–and they migrated into cities in search of jobs and industry. Living in the shadow of emancipation, they and their families dreamed of getting their share of the benefits of modern America. No aspect of this dream was more poignant than the Birmingham story." – North by South project, Kenyon College

Birmingham, Alabama was bought, planned and built to be a new industrial center in the South, with its financial successes focused solely on its iron and steel industries. Laid out in 1871 at a railroad junction in iron-ore country, Birmingham became "the Pittsburgh of the South", turning out pig iron, heavy machinery, and cast iron pipe.
Crowd outside Birmingham's Rickwood Field

As American corporations felt threatened by organized labor, industrial baseball teams grew up as a way to build employee morale and maintain loyalty to the company. Company teams became competitive, and it was common practice to hire good ballplayers for easy or nonexistent jobs at the mill. In the South the industrial leagues, like everything else, were segregated. The mill teams came to serve an important role in black communities, giving them entertainment, unity and a sense of pride.

Playing for Birmingham’s American Cast Iron Pipe Company (ACIPCO) black team in the early 1940’s was a young man named Lorenzo "Piper" Davis. He got his nickname from his birthplace (July 3, 1917), the little coal mining town of Piper, Alabama. One of nine children, Piper attended an all-black high school in nearby Fairfield, and won a basketball scholarship to Alabama State University. He played a year for Alabama State, but had to withdraw from college due to financial difficulties. Piper played some baseball for barnstorming teams like the Omaha Tigers and Yakima Indians, but returned to work the Birmingham mills and play in the industrial leagues.

In 1942 Piper Davis was approached by Winfield "Gus" Welch, the manager of the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League, with an offer of $5 per game, and $7.50 per double-header, for part time play. Davis, who was making $3.36 a day at the pipe company, accepted. In 1943 he became a fulltime professional baseball player, and his paycheck soon rose sharply. Top players in the Negro Leagues were getting $500 a month, and even half of that was a handsome salary.

Two-sport Star

The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues by Jim Riley describes Piper's game:

"Equally adept at playing first base or second base, the tall, smooth infielder was a master of the double play and was considered a premier player in the league. He had outstanding hands, an accurate arm, and, while not a speedster, was proficient at executing the hit-and-run play. A good ground-ball man, he was also at home at shortstop and could play any position and often exercised this versatility during his professional baseball apprenticeship."

Major League Baseball’s biography of Davis has stats which differ from the Riley book and the Macmillan Encyclopedia, but it’s safe to say he was a .300 hitter with some power. In 1944 Artie Wilson, another ex-ACIPCO player, joined the Black Barons; he and Davis made an excellent double play combination – one of the best in Negro Leagues history. Other teammates included Lyman Bostock Sr., Lester Lockett, Ed Steele, Bill Powell, Leroy Morney, Double Duty Radcliffe, and Jesse Walker.

According to local lore the Black Barons were an ACIPCO team that defected to create a professional franchise in the years following World War I. In the prosperous 1920’s they’d been part of the Negro National League. In the depressed 30’s they’d struggled as a minor league outfit. In 1939 they were bought by a Memphis undertaker named Tom Hayes, who restored them to big league status. The Black Barons shared old Rickwood Field with the Birmingham Barons of the Southern Association – the teams would alternate weekends there.
Black Barons bosses Abe Saperstein and Tom Hayes

The Negro Leagues, National and American, would play split seasons, with the winners of the two halves meeting to decide the pennant. Then the two pennant winners would meet in a World Series. In 1943 the Black Barons won the first half and beat the Chicago American Giants in the playoffs. The Homestead Grays, who played home games in Pittsburgh and Washington, won the NL flag easily. The World Series was played as a barnstorming tour, with stops in Washington, Chicago, Columbus, Birmingham, and Montgomery. The Grays won it in seven games.
Black Barons celebrate
In 1944 the Black Barons won both half-seasons, and again met the Grays. This time Homestead, led by powerful sluggers Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard, defeated Birmingham 4 games to 1.

Abe Saperstein was Tom Hayes’s partner in the Black Barons. Hayes owned the team but stayed in the background while Abe ran the club. Saperstein is best-remembered as the roly-poly little man (5’3") who owned the Harlem Globetrotters. Abe was extensively involved in black baseball, being a booking agent for several barnstorming teams besides running the Black Barons. He is remembered as someone who earned the respect of his players by paying them on time and in full (not always the case in the Negro Leagues).

In the off-seasons of 1943-44, 1944-45, and 1945-46 Piper Davis, who was 6’2", played basketball for the Globetrotters, receiving $350 a month plus $2 a day meal money. The Globetrotters of that era were both a vaudeville act and an excellent basketball team. Playing so much soon caught up with Piper. He started experiencing involuntary shaking, and was forced to revert back to just playing baseball. While Davis was being honored in 1990 at a baseball game in Kansas City, he saw Bo Jackson sitting in the dugout, his legs quivering madly. Davis told Bo, "Now that is when your body is really telling you something." (reported in Kenyon College’s North by South project).

The Negro American League included the Indianapolis Clowns, who featured Globetrotter Goose Tatum and could play both funny and serious baseball. Many people looked down on Negro Leagues baseball as more show than serious sport; in newspapers Satchel Paige was often compared to Steppin Fetchit. But players resented the buffoon image.  "If you was black, you was a clown," Piper Davis told Jules Tygiel in Baseball's Great Experiment. "Because in the movies, the only time you saw a black man he was a comedian or a butler. But didn't nobody clown in our league but the Indianapolis Clowns.We played baseball."

Piper was named an All-Star for five consecutive seasons, beginning in 1945. He missed the first All-Star game due a suspension (Jackie Robinson replaced him), but played the next four years. The contest was known as the East-West Game, pitting the Negro AL (West) against the Negro NL (East). It was played in Chicago’s Comiskey Park to huge crowds, the highlight of the Negro Leagues baseball season.

In 1946, ’47, and ’48, Artie Wilson started the game at shortstop and led off for the West squad, while Piper Davis was the starting second baseman and batted third or fourth. In the 1947 Piper contributed to the West victory when he doubled off Maxwell Manning. In 1949 (with Wilson gone from the Negro Leagues) Piper started and again batted cleanup; his double off Pat Scantlebury broke up an East no-hitter in the seventh.

A Chance to Break the Color Line

By 1947 baseball’s color line was being broken. Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby were playing in the majors for Brooklyn and Cleveland. In July the lowly St. Louis Browns, in an effort to boost attendance, acquired options on Piper Davis, Willard "Home Run" Brown and Hank Thompson – the latter two from the Kansas City Monarchs. The club brought Brown and Thompson to St. Louis, but Piper was not placed on the roster. He remained in Brimingham while a St. Louis scout evaluated his performance. Back in the early days of integration, teams simply re-worked the "Gentleman's Agreement" into an informal understanding that no more than two blacks could be on the roster at any given time.

Finally in mid-August Piper was given an offer to play at the Browns' Elmira farm club. There was great anxiety about putting minor league blacks on the field in the segregated South. The Dodgers sent Robinson to Montreal, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe to Nashua. For the Brownies, putting Piper Davis in the Eastern League meant he’d have no opponents further south than Pennsylvania. But by this time at was apparent that the Browns' experiment was not working. Whether through pride or financial reasons, Piper declined the minor league offer.

The Browns, unlike Cleveland and Brooklyn, were not diligent in their scouting: Brown was over the hill; Thompson was a heavy drinker who carried a gun. Nor was the ballclub fully committed to integration: the two men were virtually isolated by their own teammates, forced to play catch with each other. Attendance didn't rise, and Brown and Thompson were released at the end of August (Hank Thompson later reappeared with the Giants and had a solid career). The option on Piper Davis was allowed to expire.

The chance to be a pioneer had eluded Piper before. According to Jules Tygiel, he was on the list of players the Dodgers secretly scouted in 1945, but they decided not to sign him.

By the time baseball was integrating, Piper was pushing 30, about seven years older than a typical baseball rookie. Only a few thirtysomethings managed to jump from the Negro Leagues to the majors, notably Luke Easter and Satchel Paige. More typically for that era, the great shortstop Lou Boudreau, born the same month and year as Piper, hung up his spikes at age 34. Second baseman Bobby Doerr retired at 33.

Piper’s age was definitely working against him, as was the perception that he didn’t really want to play in the majors. Refusing the Browns had hurt his reputation. A Yankee scouting report in 1950 said, "if he wasn't good enough for the Browns two years ago, he couldn't make it with the Yankees now."

In the Chicago Tribune, July 14, 1949, an article about the Negro Leagues noted, "Tho' most of the players are eager for a chance to play in the majors, Lorenzo (Piper) Davis makes $750 a month for being the Birmingham Black Barons' playing manager and is satisfied to stay there despite attempts of several major league clubs to buy his contract."

Managing the Black Barons

Piper became player-manager of the Birmingham Black Barons in 1948, and under his guidance the team won another pennant, with Artie Wilson leading off and Piper batting cleanup. Again they met the Homestead Grays for the championship and again they were defeated. This was the last Negro World Series, since the two leagues merged the following year.

Piper’s daughter Faye recalled to North by South that he was a stern but respected manager; by long baseball tradition the players called him Skip. "If Skip said you was going leave at 2:30, 2:31, if you wasn't there, you were left. The bus driver's name was a man named James Rudd, and Daddy would say 'Rudd, let's go.’"

Years later, pitcher Bill Greason recalled for the Birmingham News that Davis was ''one of the greatest managers I ever played for. He was smart, firm and yet gentle. He got along with the players, but he was a disciplinarian. He had some older fellows on the team, and many times older fellows don't want to listen, but he had a way of getting to them.

''He sought to instill some character in us. We had one of the finest teams in the league as far as character. You didn't hear much cursing. It's different now from what it used to be," said Greason, a preacher now for the many years. "Guys now wear their pants down to the their shoes, and you can't see their socks. They have long beards and long hair. They didn't tolerate that back then.''
Birmingham Black Barons American League Champions 1948

Riley's Encyclopedia notes: "As manager, Piper had a commanding presence and an abundance of patience. One of his prize pupils that season was a teenager named Willie Mays… Davis became Mays's mentor and was like a second father to the youngster." Willie was a junior at Fairfield Industrial High School. He didn't make road trips until school was out for the summer. The principal threatened to suspend Willie until his father promised that the youngster wouldn’t miss any games. The story goes that when Piper first wrote Willie’s name in the lineup, some of the veterans grumbled. Piper said anyone who didn’t like it could go take their uniform off.

Donn Rogosin, in Invisible Men, tells a story about what Mays would later call his "combat training". Opposing pitcher Chet Brewer knocked him down and Willie lay on the ground a minute. Manager Piper Davis approached. "Can you stand up?" he asked. "Yes, I can stand up," replied Willie. "Can you see first base?" "Yeah, I can see first base," Mays said weakly. "Then you get up and you go down to first base," said Piper, who turned and headed back to the dugout.

Willie played three seasons for Davis’s Black Barons. "When Willie came to the Barons he could do it all but hit,'' Greason recalled. ''Piper worked with him to become a hitter.'' Mays learned to hit the curveball and raised his batting average to .311 in 1949 and .330 in 1950 before being signed by the Giants and shipped to Trenton.

The Red Sox and the white Barons

The white Birmingham Barons

In 1948 the Boston Red Sox changed farm clubs in the Class AA Southern Association, moving their affiliation from New Orleans to the Birmingham Barons. This all-white club -- originally the Coal Barons -- had a long, proud history. They were born in 1885 and had been playing in the Southern Association since 1901. Rickwood Field was built in 1910 by the Barons' owner, a young industrialist named Rick Woodward, still his in twenties, who wanted to create "The Finest Minor League Ballpark Ever". His new park was modeled chiefly after Forbes Field in Pittsburgh.
Rickwood Field
It is said that Piper Davis grew up listening to Barons games on the radio. Their radio announcer was Eugene "Bull" Connor, who later became Birmingham’s Commissioner for Public Safety and used police dogs and fire hoses against civil rights demonstrators. Birmingham was a tough town for blacks. In 1950 the city council passed an ordinance making it "unlawful for a negro and a white person to play together or in company with each other in any game of cards, dice, dominoes, checkers, baseball, softball, football, basketball, or similar game."

[The Southern Association, by the way, turned out to be the last bastion of segregation in the higher minor leagues. An attempt was made to integrate the league in 1954, but Atlanta outfielder Nat Peeples appeared in only two games. There were no other black players in the Southern Association before it dissolved in 1961.]

While the Black Barons were winning the 1948 NAL pennant, the white Barons, led by slugging first baseman Walt Dropo, won the Dixie Series over Fort Worth. It was a banner year at old Rickwood Field, where Birmingham drew 445,926, leading the Southern Association in attendance by a wide margin.

Al Hirshberg, in his book What’s the Matter with the Red Sox? (1973), says, "There was a weird story, which I have never been able to check but which always sounded reasonable to me, that the Red Sox had a crack at Willie Mays before the Giants did."

You see, the Black Barons had an agreement with the white Barons to use their ballpark. In return, the Barons had first refusal on any of the Black Barons’ players. Not that they would hire one, mind you, but they could buy his contract and resell it to the big league club.

The Barons told the Red Sox about Willie Mays; the Boston Globe says that scout George Digby recommended the Sox sign Mays for $5,000.The Sox sent a super-scout – a Texan named Larry Woodall – to check him out. "It rained all the time Woodall was there," writes Hirshberg. "Without ever watching him play, Woodall gave the front office a more accurate report on the weather than on Mays and, as I heard the story, when he came home he still hadn’t seen Mays in action."

The way Hirshberg explains it, the real problem wasn’t with prejudice in the Boston front office, but with the middle and lower echelons of the scouting system. Many of the scouts, especially the older ones, were out-and-out racists. If they were sent to evaluate a black prospect, Hirshberg writes, "they always came back with unfavorable or lukewarm reports."

So instead of signing Willie Mays, Woodall signed Piper Davis. Why? Perhaps if Woodall had to sign some black player, Piper Davis, the manager, was the easiest one to find. In any case, the Black Barons were to be paid $15,000 for Piper’s contract. This was considered the top price paid for Negro League talent in the early years of integration, and only three players are known to have gone for that much. The other two were Dan Bankhead, purchased by the Dodgers from Memphis, and Willie Mays, purchased by the Giants.

Some say that Piper Davis himself received a $5000 signing bonus. If this is true, the money probably would have come from Birmingham and not Boston. After Jackie Robinson, Negro League clubs made sure they had their players under valid contract, so the transactions were purchases, not "signings". Black Barons owner Tom Hayes reportedly gave Willie Mays $6,000 of his $15,000 selling price; he might have given Davis a similar bonus.

Jules Tygiel is of the opinion that Piper could have played in the major leagues right away. But the Red Sox didn’t see it that way. According to Jim Riley, first baseman Walt Dropo (1950 Rookie of the Year) blocked Piper’s path. According to John Harrington & Will McDonough, second baseman Bobby Doerr (future Hall of Famer) kept Davis from promotion. One might even add super-sub Billy Goodman, who played all infield positions plus the outfield for the Sox, and led the league in batting in 1950.

The Red Sox were a very strong ballclub with a lot of good white ballplayers – which makes the signing of Davis a bit curious. Why weren’t they looking for young black players who would help them when aging stars like Doerr, Pesky, and Dom DiMaggio would be gone in a few years? Why sign an old player who played at positions that were already filled? There’s still something that doesn’t add up in this story.

Fifteen Games in Scranton

Red Sox General Manager Joe Cronin told reporters that he'd found a "sleeper" in the 26-year-old Davis -- either Piper or the ballclub was lying about his age. "He's a fine kid. I'm going to try him out with the Scranton club. If he makes good, I'm going to waste no time in moving him to Boston." (quoted in the Pittsburgh Courier December 17, 1949).

A black man couldn’t be sent to the top two farm clubs, Louisville and (ironically) Birmingham, because they were in the South. So Davis was assigned to the Scranton Red Sox of the Eastern League. The Red Sox paid owner Hayes $7500 up front for Piper’s contract. An additional $7500 was promised to Hayes if Davis remained with the team after May 15.

Piper Davis describes his stay at the Red Sox Florida training camp in the spring of 1950: "I couldn’t stay with the white players. I stayed in the servants’ quarters until I found a room in a private home. I ate breakfast in the servants’ quarters." When Davis arrived at the ballpark each day, he found no label written "Davis" above his locker. "The trainer said I was on the other side . . . the visitors’ dressing room. I was the only one in there."

In Bruce's Adelson's book Brushing Back Jim Crow Davis recalls, "One game, I don't remember the town, when I came to bat, there was a guy in the stands who said, 'Well, I'll be goddamned. Boston done got a nigger.' I stepped back and I said to myself, 'Lord, let me hit this ball for this peckerwood, please.' And I hit me a home run. He was sitting right back there in the grandstand, in the box seats on the third base side next to the dugout. I circled the bases. After I touched home plate, I went over to him and said, 'Take that!' One of the other fans close by said, 'That's the way to go, Piper!' That was one of the highlights of my career.' "
Piper Davis 1953

Piper played fifteen games for Scranton and was leading the team in batting (.333), homers (3), and RBI’s (10). But two days before the May 15 deadline he was called into the office and was told that he was being released for economic reasons. The Red Sox apparently couldn’t afford to pay the other $7500 to Birmingham.

Jules Tygiel, quoted in Peter Golenbock’s Fenway, "Scranton manager Jack Burns was so incensed, he took Piper down to the locker room and said to him, ‘Take anything, take the bats, take the gloves, take anything you want.’ Davis said he took only his hat and his hairbrush…

"And so they cut him… On the way back home to Birmingham, he had to take a train to Washington, D.C. At Washington, D.C., in those days, you changed trains. If you were black, you could ride anywhere you wanted in the train until you got to Washington. In Washington you had to change to the all-black section.

"As he was changing cars, who did he run into but Red Sox General Manager Joe Cronin. Davis asked him, ‘What happened?’ And Cronin told him the same thing as at Scranton. Piper said, ‘You didn’t even give me a ticket home.’ When Cronin returned to Boston, he sent Davis money to cover a first-class ticket. And that was it."

Piper Davis, in an interview with Tygiel, recalled "They told me, ‘We got to let you go because of economic conditions.’ Tom Yawkey had as much money as anyone on the East Coast. I don’t talk about it that much. It wouldn’t help. Sometimes I just sit there and a tear drops from my eye. I wonder why it all had to happen, why we had to have so much hate."

Red Sox officials were quoted in The Sporting News: "At 33, the Negro first baseman was not considered a major league prospect."

Riding the Buses

What happened next? The the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia says Piper played and managing back in Birmingham in 1950, batting .383.
Artie Wilson 1953 Oakland Oaks

Piper’s old DP partner Artie Wilson was having troubles of his own. According to William B. Stubb (Oakland Oaks web site), "Wilson's contract was purchased by the Yankees, who assigned him to the Newark club in the International League. Wilson refused to report there because the salary would have been less than what the Barons were paying him, so he negotiated a contract with the [PCL] San Diego Padres in 1949. The Yankees appealed to the Commissioner Chandler, who immediately ordered Wilson off the Padres roster. Wilson was then sold to the Oaks, where he finished the 1949 season." He won the Pacific Coast League batting title with a .348 average, as well as the stolen base crown, but he never got more than a cup of coffee in the major leagues.

In 1951 Artie suggested that his friend Piper Davis come out to Oakland; Piper ended up doing a lot of the Oaks’ catching. At the end of the ’51 season, manager Mel Ott started Davis on the mound. After retiring three batters, Davis then played each of the remaining positions during the 10 inning game, receiving a $500 bond from the Oaks' boosters for the feat.

But some of the fans weren’t so friendly. "In the Northern and Western states," writes Tygiel, "these athletes, a combination of youthful prospects and Negro League veterans, were greeted by a storm of insults, beanballs, and discrimination."

At a 1952 game in San Francisco, Davis was twice sent sprawling in the dirt by pitcher Bill Boemler, who had hit him in the elbow in a game two weeks before. Davis responded with a two base hit, and while attempting to score on the next play he slid hard into Boemler covering home plate. Boemler was bowled over, and attempted to tag Piper hard in the face. Davis came up swinging. Both benches emptied and a free-for-all ensued, with Davis and his Cuban teammate Ray Noble in the middle of the fracas. Several days later Davis and Noble received a threatening letter signed by 19 San Francisco fans, promising retribution the next time the pair showed up at Seals' Stadium. The matter was turned over to local police and the FBI, and Oakland fans vowed to accompany the team to Frisco and defend the two black players.

Piper Davis 1953 Oakland Oaks

At this stage in his career, Piper Davis should have been managing a ballclub, or at least coaching. But there was little money in the vanishing Negro Leagues, and there were no coaching jobs open for a black man in white baseball. So he had to continue as a player. Piper played in Oakland for parts of four more seasons (with a side trip to Ottawa), consistently batting around .300, before moving on to the PCL Los Angeles Angels. He also spent eight winter seasons in Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. Piper’s final stop was the Fort Worth Cats in the Texas League in 1957 and ‘58.

"All the towns in Texas were the same -- Dallas, Fort Worth, San Anton'. You were a nigger anywhere you went. I was called all kinds of names when I played. I've been called 'black boy,' 'rastus,' 'coon,' 'snowball,' 'alligator bait.' You know 'nigger' was in there, too. I can't tell you how many times I heard, 'Stick one in that nigger's ear.' That was number one... I ignored it. It didn't bother me, because I grew up in it. I grew up being called names. You stayed on one branch of the river, and the whites stayed on the other... On each team I played with, I told the other players... Don't think about it. What you think about is hitting that pitcher and hitting that ball. I helped out three or four black players. They just listened to me. They were eager to play, like I was." (- Brushing Back Jim Crow)

Texas League teams would leave their black players at home when travelling to Shreveport because Louisiana law didn't allow blacks and whites on the same playing field.

"I couldn’t play when Fort Worth was in Shreveport because I was black," Davis said. "I couldn’t eat at any of the restaurants with the team. I had to wait on the bus when the team ate. Someone always was assigned to bring me some food back." One time someone forgot the chow. "The manager was Lou Klein," Davis said. "He wanted to hold up the bus. I said no, I wasn’t worth it. I told them I was sick of this mess. I quit the next year." (-MLB web site)

As Piper Davis was hanging up his spikes, the Boston Red Sox finally put a black player on the field – utility infielder Elijah "Pumpsie" Green, whom they’d purchased from the Oakland Oaks in 1955. Green told Jules Tygiel that the advent of blacks in the Pacific Coast League "was the greatest thing I'd ever seen." Among his boyhood heroes was the Oaks' Piper Davis. Pitcher Earl Wilson, also a Californian, was actually signed before Green and would have preceded into the big leagues, but his arrival was delayed by military service. The last four major league clubs to integrate were the Yankees (Elston Howard 1955), the Phillies (John Kennedy 1957), the Tigers (Ozzie Virgil 1958), and the Red Sox (Pumpsie Green July 21, 1959).

At 42 years old, Piper Davis went back to Birmingham to pilot the Black Barons one more time, though by now they were little more than a barnstorming team. He managed the West in the 1959 East- West Game – the next-to-last one. Piper also renewed his relationship with the Harlem Globetrotters, working as a coach and bus driver. Piper accompanied the team on its 1961 world tour. He later scouted Alabama and Mississippi for the Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals (1968-76), and the Montreal Expos (1984-85).

"I did what I wanted to do," Davis said in 1993. "I started playing baseball so my children could get the education I didn't get. I made $350-$400 a month and that was big back then."

"One year Daddy came home, we went to every college within a 300 or 400 miles radius" his daughter Faye told North by South. (Faye ended up attending Taladega College.)

Remembering Piper

Rickwood Field, Birmingham, Alabama

Lorenzo "Piper" Davis died of a heart attack in Birmingham in May, 1997 at the age of 79.  Survivors included his wife, Laura Perry Davis, and a daughter, Faye Joyce Davis. "He was a superstar player like Pete Rose," former teammate Artie Wilson said. "He could play any place you put him and he wanted everybody else to hustle like he did."

"He could play all positions and he was a very smart guy about the game," his teammate Bill Powell said. "He also helped quite a few guys in the game. He was the one who helped Willie Mays."

A year later Kevin Scarbinsky wrote in the Birmingham News:

"It's important to remember the past and honor those portions of it that deserve celebration.You can't walk into Rickwood Field without thinking of an old pro named Piper Davis, whose eyes danced long after his legs lost a step.

"If he weren't born too soon, at a time when baseball chose its stars on pigment as well as talent, Piper Davis might have been Willie Mays when the Say Hey Kid himself was still in diapers.
Birmingham Black Barons cap

"The first Rickwood Classic honored Piper Davis and the old Birmingham Black Barons. He since has passed on to that great ballpark in the sky where he's probably slashing out line drives and breaking up double plays but every game in the old house honors his memory.

"If the sun shines a little brighter today, it won't be a hole in the ozone. It'll be Piper smiling down on the place he used to play."

Recommended reading: -- http://www.northbysouth.org