Roosevelt Davis

“I used to catch Duro Davis and I said, 'I ain’t catching that emery ball today.' He said, 'Get back there you little so and so. If you catch what I throw you I’m gonna star and you gonna star too.'”
--Negro League catcher
Sam Hairston

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Negro Leaguer of the Month
January, 2007

Roosevelt "Duro" Davis

Born: ca. 1905 in Bartlesville, Oklahoma
Died: unknown
Ht:5'9", Wt: 175
Batted right and threw right
Position: pitcher
Years: 1924-1945
Teams: St. Louis Stars, Indianapolis ABCs, Columbus Blue Birds, Bismarck Semipros, New Rockford (ND) Semipros, Pittsburgh Crawfords, New York Black Yankees, Newark Eagles, Ethiopian Clowns, Chicago Brown Bombers, Cincinnati Clowns, Cleveland Buckeyes, Philadelphia Stars, Memphis Red Sox, Brooklyn Royal Giants.

Roosevelt Davis wasn't the best pitcher in the Negro Leagues during the 1930s and '40s, though he sometimes claimed he was, but he was definitely one of the top spit-ball and emery-ball pitchers, as well as being one of the most flamboyant and cocky.

Davis, the son of a Calfiornia vinyard worker, grew up on the sandlots of Topeka, Kansas and his first organized team was called the Monrovians.

Davis first gained pitching fame with the great St. Louis Stars teams of the late 1920s and early 1930s. Davis went 8-2 in league games in '30 when the Stars won the Negro National League pennant and carried other star pitchers Double Duty Radcliffe and Ted Trent, and superstars Willie Wells, Mule Suttles and Cool Papa Bell.

Once the depression hit the Negro Leagues hard, Davis jumped the Pittsburgh Crawfords and ventured to North Dakota where he played first with Bismarck's semipro team in '33, then with New Rockford in '34. While with Bismarck, Davis was nearly run out of town when opponents discovered he was doctoring the ball with saliva and/or emery cloth!

After leaving North Dakota, Gus Greenlee hired Davis back for the Crawfords, joining a staff including Leroy Matlock and Satchel Paige. In '35, when Paige jumped the Crawfords, Davis had one of his best seasons, compiling an 11-3 league record, with 20+ wins against all competition.

In the late 30s-early 40s, Davis played with the Ethiopian Clowns, wearing face makeup and answering to the name "Macon," which was supposed to sound African. The Clowns, who also boasted Showboat Thomas and Dave Barnhill, won the Denver Post Tournament in dramatic fashion in 1941. Throught the first few rounds, Davis was the pitching star, beating the Champlin Refiners, 9-1 in the second round, and beating the powerful Bona Allen team 6-1 in the 3rd--he struck out 11 before a standing room only crowd at Denver's Merchant's Park.

Bona Allen made its way through the loser's bracket and ended up playing the Clowns for the championship, but needed to beat the unbeaten Clowns twice. Former Major Leaguer Boots Poffenberger faced off against Davis and won 3-1, so the two teams played again for the money. In the championship game, the Bona Allens tooks a 7-2 lead into the ninth and the Clowns scored 6 runs to win.

According to "The Denver Post Tournament," by Jay Sanford, many teams complained that Davis was doctoring the baseball, to which he replied, "I throw the kind of pitching that if you could hit it you would be in the big leagues, that is all there is to my pitching, it is just big league."

Davis continued pitching into his 40s with lesser teams such as the semipro Chicago Brown Bombers and Brooklyn Royal Giants.

Davis was a good bunter, but a mediocre hitter, though if you believed him and not your eyes you might think he was Babe Ruth.


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