Last week's death of Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Jim Davenport brought a barrage of memories, all good ones.
His nickname was Peanuts. Don't know how he got it, and, for some reason, I never asked. My daddy just called him “Nuts” and it seemed as natural as Sam or Joe to me.
Davenport was like the favorite uncle you rarely saw and wished you saw more. We usually saw him twice a year, not counting on TV. Every summer we'd take a trip to Houston when Davenport and his San Francisco Giants teammates would come to drum the old Colt 45s-turned-Houston Astros mercilessly. Then, during the off-season, Davenport would come visit Hattiesburg where he had been a football and baseball star at Mississippi Southern College back in the early '50s.
Davenport hailed from Siluria, Ala., and had grown up wanting to play quarterback for the Crimson Tide. Bama didn't recruit him, at least partly because he was married and Bama, as many back then, didn't allow married players on the team.
So, Davenport drove through Tuscaloosa to get to Southern, where he quarterbacked the then-Southerners to two straight victories over Alabama.
Hall of Famer Hamp Cook played guard and linebacker and made Little All America for those Southern teams and he remembers Davenport as “the kind of leader you want at quarterback, a field general in every respect.”
“Back then we played both ways, everybody did, even the quarterback,” Cook says. “He wasn't a big guy, but when we went on defense he played safety and he played it extremely well. All the players loved him and gravitated to him.”
The Alabama quarterback in those two MSC victories? None other than Bart Starr. Cook sacked the future pro football legend on the last play of a 25-19 Southern victory over eventual SEC Champion Bama in 1953. Southern players carried one of the goldposts into the team hotel in Montgomery that night.
Cook followed Davenport's baseball career. “The way he played third base was just pretty,” Cook said. “I don't know of anyone who played it any better or made it look easier.”
My own memories of “Nuts” mostly come from those trips to Houston and old Colt .45 Park where the mosquitoes were so big my mama was scared they were going to carry me and my brother off.
Davenport would have us down in the visitors' dugout and clubhouse before and after the game.
There, we met Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Felipe Alou, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal and all the rest of those tremendous Giants teams. I remember shaking hands with McCovey — “Stretch” they called him — and his huge hands covering my arm almost up to my elbow.
I remember how those African American players gravitated toward Davenport and he back to them. They were close pals and you could tell. Mays, in particular, treated my brother and me as if we were somebody special just because we were guests of Davenport. In retrospect, that was a valuable lesson for a child of segregated South Mississippi at the time.
Davenport was a two-time All-Star, who won one Gold Glove and was always among the top vote getters at third base. He was a career .259 hitter, who batted just ahead of Mays in the Giants lineup.
Says Cook, “The thing about Peanuts is that fame and money never changed him one lick. He was the same Peanuts Davenport in the World Series as he was when he got to Southern from Siluria. Just a downhome, modest guy who loved to play ball.”
Jim “Peanuts” Davenport was all that. He was 82 when he died.
Rick Cleveland (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the historian for the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and a syndicated columnist.