Steel Arm Davis

Steel Arm Davis (left) shakes hands with Double Duty Radcliffe after arriving in Jamestown, North Dakota, 1934

"I knew there were a lot of good colored players. I just didn't know they were all in North Dakota."
--Major Leaguer Pinky Higgins after his team was beaten by an integrated North Dakota team in 1934.
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Negro Leaguer of the Month
November, 2005

Walter "Steel Arm" Davis

Born: 1902 in Madison, Wisconsin

Died: date unknown, 1935 in Chicago
Ht:6'-1", Wt: 180
Batted left and threw left
Position: outfield, first base, pitcher
Years: 1923-1935
Teams: Detroit Stars, Chicago American Giants, Columbia Giants, Nashville Elite Giants, Jamestown Red Sox, Brooklyn Eagles

There were many men named Davis in Negro League history: Piper Davis, Johnny Davis, Saul Davis, Peanuts Davis, Roosevelt Davis, etc. But the Davis with the biggest bat was probably Walter "Steel Arm" Davis.

Although his arms were plenty strong, the name Steel Arm came from Davis' pitching. In the early 1920s, Davis started and completed several doubleheaders. "He can pitch so often," wrote the papers, "he has arms made of steel!"

Well, by the end of the 1920s, Davis' arm was worn out, and his pitching days were a thing of the past. Thank goodness for Davis that he could always hit!

Davis batted cleanup on some of the strongest teams of the 1920s, including the Detroit Stars and Rube Foster's Chicago American Giants.

Davis was a fine outfielder, and once, as a pre-game stunt, caught a baseball dropped out of an airplane flying by.

In 1933, Davis was voted into the first East-West All-Star game as a left fielder, and he responded with two hits in three at bats; tragically, he would never play in another All-Star game.

Davis always batted in the heart of the order, and batted in the mid .300s to low .400s, with 20 or more homers during his prime.

In 1934, Davis accepted an offer to play for the integrated Jamestown, North Dakota Red Sox, along with fellow Negro League stars Double Duty Radcliffe, Barney Brown and Bill Perkins.

The Red Sox played a much shorter schedule than in the Negro Leagues, but they dominated North Dakota semipro ball all summer, winning 38 and losing 15 (.717). Competition was fast in '34, and Jamestown played such black teams as the Kansas City Monarchs, Chicago American Giants, Detroit Giants, Gilkerson's Union Giants and strong semipro teams like the House of David, New Rockford (ND) and Bismarck (ND).

A game against the Minneapolis Colored Giants displayed the power of the Jamestown lineup when they beat up a former Negro League star, Wild Bill Freeman, 19-3. In the 5th inning alone, the "colored quartet" of Davis, Radcliffe, Brown and Perkins each collected two hits.

Jamestown won every series in which they were involved. In 188 at bats, Steel Arm batted .324 with 18 homers (about 50 homers in a full Major League season).

In October of '34, the Jamestown, Valley City and Bismarck semipro teams combined forces and played three games against a Major League All-Star team that featured Jimmie Foxx, Heinie Manush, Doc Cramer, Red Kress, Pinky Higgins, Steve Lyons, Earl Whitehill and Rube Walberg (Hall of Famers in bold).

The North Dakota semipros beat the Big Leaguers 6-5 in game one at Valley City, with Barney Brown outdueling Lyons. Game two was played in Jamestown, and Chet Brewer threw a shutout for the semipros (he was picked up for the game); Davis was the leading hitter, belting two homers and a double off the Major Leaguers.

Game three, in Bismarck, belonged to Double Duty Radcliffe, who pitched a complete game win over Whitehill, and belting a double and two singles. Davis singled in five at bats.

in 1935, Jamestown decided to go to an all-white team, so Davis signed with the fledgling Brooklyn Eagles (they would move to Newark in '36), along with Radcliffe and rookie Leon Day.

Still only 33 years old, Davis still had some homers left in his bat when he got into a barroom fight in Chicago and was shot to death.

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