In the early 21st century, Jerry DaVanon is probably best known as the father of eight-season big leaguer Jeff DaVanon, but he played as many years in the majors himself, starting in 1969. In contrast to his son, who played somewhat regularly for four years, Jerry appeared in just 262 games at the top level, with a single season high of 61. The utility infielder’s career total of 574 major-league plate appearances approximated what a full-time player might expect in a single season. Yet Jerry had been such a promising draft pick that he convinced the St. Louis Cardinals to break one of their own internal rules to sign him to his first contract.1
Frank Gerald “Jerry” DaVanon was born on August 21, 1945, in Oceanside, California to Frank Joseph DaVanon and the former Helen Jane Sticken. One thing his parents had in common was losing their fathers when they were quite young. Frank J. was six when his dad died, and Helen’s father passed away shortly before her fourth birthday. Helen had a daughter, Marion, from a previous marriage, so Jerry was raised in a household of four.2
Jerry followed the Pacific Coast League (PCL) up close while he was growing up, but he didn’t really have a favorite player. “I don’t know if I really looked up to anybody, but in San Diego, we had Cleveland’s minor league team there, Triple-A,” he noted during a 2005 interview. “And Rocky Colavito used to play for San Diego, and I liked him.”3 Colavito played only 35 games for the PCL’s Padres, all in 1956, but he amassed 23 extra-base hits – 12 of which were homers – for a potent .729 slugging percentage. Jerry turned 11 that summer.
DaVanon’s sister attended San Diego State College – about 40 miles south of Oceanside – and earned occasional mentions in local newspapers for her academic achievements. For example, at the end of 1955, Marion appeared with an instructor and two classmates in a San Diego Union photo. The accompanying article noted that she had built a “lightning machine” to demonstrate that a house with a lightning rod was much safer than one without. In 1958 she graduated with honors.4
Jerry began making a name for himself among San Diego’s sportswriters during his senior year at Herbert Hoover High School, where baseball was his only extracurricular sport.5 On March 8, 1963, he drove in three runs to help the Cardinals win their season opener, 8-4. His 10th inning triple broke a 3-3 tie on March 19, and he scored an insurance run on a passed ball. One reporter called him “the hero of Hoover’s triumph.”6
DaVanon graduated later that year and enrolled at San Diego City College. In March 1964, he started at second base in the Knights’ opening game and delivered a two-run double in their 8-1 victory. After 12 games, DaVanon was third on the club with a .333 batting average and playing regularly. On the eve of Southern California Junior College championship games, he received an award for being named to the All-Metropolitan Conference second team. In the playoff semifinals, shortly before Memorial Day, the Knights trailed, 3-2, in an elimination contest when DaVanon singled with one out in the eighth inning. But he was erased when their cleanup hitter hit into a double play.7
When City College coach Ed Sanclemente departed for a new position after the season, DaVanon followed him to San Diego Mesa College.8 On February 20, 1965, DaVanon’s three-run homer helped the Olympians to a 14-13 win in a preseason tournament. His two hits in a rout towards the end of the season helped the team maintain their lead in the Pacific Southwest Conference standings. In that game he played third base instead of second, his usual post in prior seasons. About a week later, he was named first team all-conference.9 DaVanon was occasionally called Frank instead of Jerry, which continued in 1966.
On June 9, 1965, the final day of the major leagues’ inaugural June amateur draft, the 19-year-old DaVanon was selected by the Houston Astros in the 36th round.10 Though he must have been flattered, he declined to sign a contract. The Astros wanted him to play the outfield, where he had been stationed when they scouted him because of teammates’ injuries. “I didn’t think I had enough power to play as an outfielder, so I felt like my chances were better to turn that opportunity down and go back to college,” he said.11
That summer, DaVanon played second base for the La Mesa Collegians of the California Collegiate Baseball League, a team he spent two seasons with. (He had also played two years for American Legion Post 6.)12
As a junior, DaVanon entered a four-year school more than 200 miles northwest of San Diego, Westmont College in Santa Barbara. Although he didn’t consider himself a power hitter, he batted cleanup in both ends of a doubleheader on March 19, 1966, when his two-run homer in the seventh inning tied the second contest before it was called because of darkness.13
DaVanon batted .362 for Westmont; no teammate was above .300. He was named the second baseman on the Area 1 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Regional tournament all-star team.14
He expected to be drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers following a chance encounter with one of their minor-league managers, future Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda, who attended a Westmont game. “My girlfriend at the time was sitting in the stands talking to Lasorda, and I had a pretty good game. In fact, I think I went 3-for-4 with a couple of doubles, and hit the ball well all four times,” DaVanon recalled in 2005. “So Lasorda invited [us] to Dodger Stadium and I sat in [general manager Buzzie Bavasi’s box and watched the game!”15
However, on June 7, 1966 – in the first round of a special draft of players selected in previous years but not signed – the St. Louis Cardinals made DaVanon the 17th overall pick. On July 11, he signed through Harrison Wickel, a longtime scout who had been a minor-league infielder and manager in the 1930s and 1940s.16 DaVanon was assigned to the Arkansas Travelers in the double-A Texas League. “One of my ‘signing bonuses’ was I told them that being drafted where I was, I wanted to start in Double A,” he recalled.17 After DaVanon’s successful negotiation ploy was revealed shortly thereafter, Arkansas sportswriter Orville Henry noted, “That is not par for the course nowadays, and the system’s top brass broke their own rule to get the signature.”18
On July 15 in Amarillo, DaVanon made his professional debut at second base. He was 0-for-3 before he led off the eighth inning of a tie game by bunting towards third base for a single. One out later, he stole second, but the Travelers didn’t score, and Amarillo prevailed in the bottom of the 10th.19
DaVanon went 2-for-4 in his second game and 3-for-5 in his fourth, good for a .428 overall average that prompted an Associated Press story about his fast start.20 Yet, he spent only eight games with Arkansas (batting .346) before he was demoted to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League (GCL), contrary to his understanding that he would remain in Double A.21 Arkansas manager Vern Rapp, explained. “What I had to convince him was that, playing second base regularly in a [double-A] pennant race, his every mistake would be magnified and he could be destroyed for as long as two years. I also had to convince him that there wouldn’t be time here, what with all the travel and other limitations, for giving him the daily schooling he’ll get in St. Pete.”22 A decade later, Rapp managed DaVanon in the majors and retained favorable memories of the infielder.23
In 19 GCL games, DaVanon batted .314. He was then promoted to the St. Petersburg Cardinals of the Class A Florida State League, where he finished the season by hitting .415 in 15 contests. Between three professional clubs in 1966, his batting average was .350 in 42 games.
DaVanon spent all of 1967 with St. Petersburg and helped them romp to the FSL championship. His batting average was a modest .252 but he scored 73 runs, thanks in part to 57 walks and 29 steals in 34 attempts. Shortstop also became his primary position for the first of two consecutive seasons, as he made 112 of his 133 appearances there. “I consider my most unusual experience [to be] when I was shifted from second base to shortstop and I tried to throw out a base runner at 1st base and it ended up 9 rows into the stands,” he described on a questionnaire.24 (In the majors, DaVanon’s fielding percentage was .966 at second base, compared to .936 at shortstop and .925 at third.)
In 1968, DaVanon returned to Double A and hit .254 in 130 games. Arkansas finished with the best regular season record in the Texas League, and he led the team with 73 runs scored, 62 walks and 21 steals, though he was less successful as a thief – having been caught 11 times. He made his circuit’s an All-Star team for the second straight year and spent time in the Florida and Arizona instructional leagues.25
On September 7, 1968, DaVanon experienced a major life change: marrying his girlfriend, Paula Marie Skelley, at San Diego’s Scott Memorial Baptist Church.26 They lived a few houses apart on that city’s Boundary Street. She was also a Hoover High grad and had completed her degree at Westmont, where Jerry was still enrolled as a senior. Of course, such big events are often scheduled well in advance, and, as a result, DaVanon missed the final game of the Texas League playoffs. “Jerry can play baseball the rest of his life,” Paula said at the time.27
DaVanon experienced another big change on October 14, this one involving his budding baseball career, when he was selected by the San Diego Padres in the National League expansion draft. San Diego Union sportswriter Phil Collier, noting that DaVanon was a local product, predicted that he would be the Opening Day second baseman, in part because the Padres were expected to emphasize speed.28
Alas, DaVanon wasn’t in the lineup for the Padres’ first-ever regular season game on April 8, 1969, but he did debut three nights later, at home against the San Francisco Giants. As a seventh-inning pinch hitter, he flied out to right field against southpaw Ray Sadecki. On April 15, DaVanon made the first of six consecutive starts as San Diego’s leadoff hitter. Two days later, he collected his first hit – a bunt single against future Hall of Famer Juan Marichal to open a contest in San Francisco – and scored his first run.
DaVanon appeared in 24 of the Padres’ first 41 games but managed only a .136 batting average. On May 22, he was traded to the Cardinals, along with first baseman Bill Davis, for second baseman John Sipin and catcher Sonny Ruberto. DaVanon was assigned to the triple-A American Association, where he hit .281 in 79 games for the Tulsa Oilers to earn a late season callup. On September 6 he made his St. Louis debut as a defensive replacement at shortstop. He started there the next day and went 1-for-3. In Montreal on September 26, DaVanon faced righty Mike Wegener with two on base and nobody out in the third inning of a scoreless game, and homered to deep left field, the first of his major-league career. All told, he fared much better for the Cards than he had with the Padres, hitting .300 in 16 games.
DaVanon returned to Tulsa in 1970 but was summoned by the Cardinals to start one game at second base, on June 28. Back with the Oilers, he broke a bone in his left hand when he was hit by a pitch on July 6 and missed a month.29 Despite batting just .232 in 76 games for Tulsa, he returned to St. Louis in late August but he managed to hit only .111 (2-for-18) in 11 major-league games in 1970.
On November 30, he was traded to the World Series champion Baltimore Orioles for 35-year-old relief pitcher Moe Drabowsky. DaVanon reported late to the Orioles’ spring training because he was finishing his undergraduate degree in the social sciences with an emphasis in American history at Westmont.30 (At some point he also received a teaching certification from San Diego State College with a minor in Physical Education.31) He had another good reason to be late: his first child, daughter Kelley, was born on February 5, 1971.32
DaVanon spent the entire 1971 season in the majors (which he experienced only one other time, 1976). However, playing behind the Orioles’ trio of Gold Glove infielders – second baseman Davey Johnson, shortstop Mark Belanger, and third baseman Brooks Robinson – he saw action in only 38 games, batting .235. DaVanon didn’t play in the American League Championship Series or World Series, but he did receive an official ring commemorating Baltimore’s AL pennant.33 He participated in the Orioles’ postseason tour of Japan, appearing once as a pitcher. He also played in the Puerto Rican Winter League.34
In 1972, DaVanon played triple-A ball exclusively, the only season after his major-league debut in which he didn’t appear in the majors. On June 10, he switched teams when the Orioles traded him to the California Angels organization for outfielder Roger Repoz. DaVanon batted just .206 in 50 games for Baltimore’s Rochester Red Wings affiliate in the International League, but he improved to .275 in 57 PCL contests with the Salt Lake City Angels.
DaVanon opened the 1973 season in the majors with California and batted .245 in 41 games before he was sent back to Salt Lake City on August 1. The Cardinals reacquired him for infielder Bill Stein on September 25, but DaVanon didn’t play in any games before their season ended five days later. On December 8, Jerry and Paula had a big reason to celebrate: their other child, Jeff – the future major leaguer – was born in San Diego.
DaVanon started the 1974 season with Tulsa and hit .276 in 79 games. St. Louis recalled him shortly before the All-Star break, but he got into only 30 games and hit just .150.
During the first few months of 1975, DaVanon bounced around among several organizations. The Detroit Tigers purchased him from St. Louis on January 3, then released him on January 23. He signed as a free agent with the Cleveland Indians on February 19 but was designated for assignment near the end of spring training.35 Finally, on April 9, he was purchased by the Houston Astros, where he enjoyed his most productive big-league seasons.
First DaVanon returned to the American Association for 90 games with the Iowa Oaks, Houston’s triple-A affiliate. His batting average was an impressive .311 in what proved to be his final games in any minor league. From August 3 through the end of the season, he saw action in 32 of the Astros’ last 51 games – including 27 starts, his personal best in the majors – and batted .278.
Houston kept DaVanon in the majors for all of 1976, and he batted .290 in 61 games. In August, he received national attention after sharing a humorous anecdote involving his five-year-old daughter Kelley and her friend Ashley, the daughter of his Astros teammate Ken Boswell. “They hadn’t seen each other for a while, and Ashley asked my wife if Kelley had been traded,” DaVanon reported.36
Late that season, DaVanon commented at length in The Sporting News about being a utility player: “Every time I’ve gone to a new team, they’ve had a set infield. So does Houston. I think I know what is expected of me. Everybody wishes to play. But the only time sitting on the bench becomes really difficult is when the team is struggling. Then you start thinking maybe the regulars could benefit from rest and you could help the team get straightened out. I’m not disappointed in my capacity here. I’m happy. I love the city and the organization and I hope I’m back next year in the same capacity.”37
As it happened, on November 23, 1976, the Astros traded DaVanon and pitcher Larry Dierker to the Cardinals for catcher Joe Ferguson and outfielder Bob Detherage. “We wouldn’t have made the deal without DaVanon,” said St. Louis general manager Bing Devine. “He’s improved quite a bit, especially at second base, and he now handles the bat well. [Vern] Rapp [who had become the Cards’ manager in October] liked him. We feel he can do the job at second on a regular basis, and we needed a man on a regular basis,” Devine added.38
DaVanon began the 1977 season with the Cards but he played sparingly behind Mike Tyson and Don Kessinger. In nine appearances, he went hitless in eight at-bats, with one walk. On May 11, the Cardinals released him.
Because DaVanon had expected to stick with the Astros, he and his wife had sold their California home just before he was traded in November 1976 and closed on a new one in Houston. Following his release by the Cardinals six months later, the Mets wanted to sign DaVanon for their triple-A club, but his wife said, “Let’s go home and be a family.” He tried to latch on with the Astros again in some capacity but wasn’t able to. At age 31, DaVanon called it quits, He had hit just .234 in 262 major-league games, but .271 in 460 triple-A contests.
DaVanon considered teaching, which he had done as a long-term substitute back in California during off-seasons, but a more lucrative opportunity presented itself. More than a quarter-century after his last professional baseball game, he held a sales job for a specialty metals company. DaVanon and his wife divorced about four years after moving to Houston.39 On December 18, 1982, he married the former Suzanne Riley. As of 2022, the couple resided in the Houston area, and she was an Associate Professor in the University of Houston’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction.40
Some entertaining details involving DaVanon surfaced in 1980. A sports trivia quiz in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Sunday magazine identified him as the former Cardinal who kept piranhas as pets, and who was even bitten once.41 The other was told by former umpire Tom Romenesko, whose partner during a Puerto Rican Winter League season was Jim McKean. With ample free time, at one point the two umps maintained a lengthy game of Monopoly. “One night we’re working together and Frank Robinson and Jerry DaVanon are all over me for calling DaVanon out on a close play,” Romenesko said. “You can handle one-on-one but this was two on one and I call Jim, who is working the plate. Then I hear this voice coming back, ‘Not until you sell me Boardwalk.’”42
Naturally, DaVanon played a role in developing his son’s baseball skills. However, Jeff’s memories of his father’s career may not have been as much of an influence as one might suppose. “I don’t remember much, since I was so young when he retired, but I do remember sliding up and down the hallways at the Astrodome with José Cruz Jr.,” Jeff said in 1998, the year before his own major-league debut.43
Jeff graduated from Bellaire High School in suburban Houston, and his father managed the school’s offseason baseball program during the summer and fall. Cruz, Jr. “played with my son side-by-side all the way through,” the elder DaVanon said. Jerry managed against former Astros like Alan Ashby and Terry Puhl, and Jeff played against the sons of at least two others, Larry Dierker and Kevin Bass.44 Although Jerry DaVanon didn’t play in any one place for all that long, Jeff would likely agree that his father played in the right place for just long enough.
This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Malcolm Allen and fact-checked by John Watkins.
Except where otherwise noted, facts and DaVanon’s comments about his baseball experiences prior to his first pro game are from his answers to questionnaires in 1966, 1968, and 1969 that were circulated by well-known baseball historian William J. Weiss (see note 5). In general, the source for additional statistics, along with game details, is baseball-reference.com.
1 Orville Henry, “There’s More Time at St. Pete,” (Little Rock) Arkansas Gazette, July 29, 1966: 2B.
2 Several records accessible via Ancestry.com document Jerry DaVanon’s genealogy. Frank J. DaVanon was born in Chicago in 1913 to Charles Ernest DaVanon and the former Josephine Duffner. Charles died in 1920, when Frank J. was six years old. Helen was born in Illinois on July 29, 1917, to Henry Edward Sticken and the former Edith Lundquist. Her father passed away on June 21, 1921.
3 The open classification PCL was re-classified Triple-A beginning in 1958. Willie B. Lakey, “An Interview with Jerry DaVanon,” posted August 31, 2005, at https://www.astrosdaily.com/players/interviews/DaVanon_Jerry.html.
4 “60-Million-Year-Old Fossils Found on Beach,” San Diego Union, December 11, 1955: B4. “25 Graduates Due Honors at State,” San Diego Union, February 5, 1958: B-1.
5 DaVanon reported details of his high school and collegiate baseball playing on questionnaires circulated by well-known baseball historian William J. Weiss on July 22, 1966, February 19, 1968, and June 14, 1969. DaVanon’s completed questionnaires were accessed via Ancestry.com. For more on Weiss’s questionnaires, see John Maffei, “New Baseball Collection at Central Library,” San Diego Union-Tribune, February 13, 2014, https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/sports/mlb/sdut-baseball-collection-william-weiss-central-library-2014feb13-htmlstory.html.
6 Larry Littlefield, “Cardinals’ Nine Trips Saints,” San Diego Union, March 9, 1963: A10. Larry Littlefield, “Hoover Shades San Diego in 10-Inning Game, 5-3,” San Diego Union, March 20, 1963: B8.
7 “Knights Halt Comets, 8-1,” San Diego Union, March 4, 1964: B7. “Heavy Hitters Keep Knights in Metro Race,” San Diego Union, April 23, 1964: A32. “Two Warriors Make 1st Team,” Gardena (California) Valley News, May 21, 1964: 21. “Trujillo Given SDCC Honors,” San Diego Union, May 28, 1964: A43. Fred Claire, “Mountie Homers Topple San Diego,” Pomona (California) Progress-Bulletin, May 23, 1964: 6.
9 “MCRD, Mesa Nines Triumph,” San Diego Union, February 21, 1965: G6. “Comets Succumb to PSC Leaders,” Daily Times-Advocate (Escondido, California), May 11, 1965: 12. “Comets’ Jaroncyk Gains Berth on All-PSC 1st Team,” Daily Times-Advocate, May 18, 1965: 14.
10 “10 From Area in Diamond Draft,” San Diego Union, June 10, 1965: A18.
12 “Ocean Beach, La Mesa Collegiate Nines Duel,” San Diego Union, June 30, 1965: B8. See also Note 6.
13 Doug Krikorian, “FSC Nabs Win, Tie in Westmont Doubleheader,” Fresno (California) Bee, March 20, 1966: 1S, 13S.
14 “Team Averages,” (Portland) Oregonian, May 27, 1966: 3-3. “Young Earns MVP Award,” Capital Journal (Salem, Oregon), May 30, 1966: 27.
15 Lakey. For a version of this anecdote that excluded Lasorda, see Neal Russo, “DaVanon Welcomes Fourth Term as Cardinal,” The Sporting News, January 22, 1977: 36.
16 “Majors Draft 9 Area Ball Players,” San Diego Union, June 8, 1966: A30. “Cards Sign DeVanon [sic],” San Diego Union, July 12, 1966: B5.
18 Henry, “There’s More Time at St. Pete.”
19 “Sonics Take Travs in 10th, Take Lead,” Arkansas Gazette, July 16, 1966: B1.
20 “Jay DeVanon [sic] off to Fast Pro Start,” Abilene (Texas) Reporter-News, July 19, 1966: 8A. The AP story printed on July 19 said he stole his first base in his fourth game, but that contradicts the July 16 account of his first game – see previous Note – in which it was stated that he had stolen his first base late in that game (affirmed in the box score).
21 “Newton Saves It after Huntz’s HR,” Arkansas Gazette, July 26, 1966: 2B.
22 Henry, “There’s More Time at St. Pete.”
23 Neal Russo, “Dierker Crowds Cards’ Starting Cast,” The Sporting News, December 11, 1976: 46.
24 See Note 5.
25 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide, 1972: 58.
26 “Mrs. DaVanon,” San Diego Union, September 12, 1968: D1.
27 Russo, “DaVanon Welcomes Fourth Term as Cardinal.”
28 Phil Collier, “Padres Stress Youth, Speed; Avoid Older Stars in Draft,” San Diego Union, October 15, 1968: C1, C4.
29 “Guzman, DaVanon Out,” The Sporting News, July 25, 1970: 40.
30 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide, 1972: 58.
32 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide, 1972: 58.
34 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide, 1972: 58.
35 “Pro Transactions,” New York Times, March 31, 1975: 58.
36 “Quotable Quotes,” La Crosse (Wisconsin) Tribune, August 29, 1976: 27. This same tale was reprinted off and on for some time, including 11 months later in “Halting Idea Gets Short Shrift,” Miami Herald, July 29, 1977:2-F.
37 Harry Shattuck, “DaVanon Gets Top Mileage as Astro Bench Rider,” The Sporting News, September 11, 1976: 10.
38 Neal Russo, “Dierker Crowds Cards’ Starting Cast,” The Sporting News, December 11, 1976: 46.
39 Lakey. The Texas Divorce Index available via Ancestry.com indicates they divorced on April 22, 1981.
40 Their late-1982 wedding date is from Ancestry.com’s Texas Marriage Index; see also Lakey. For her academic position, see http://publications.uh.edu/preview_entity.php?catoid=41&ent_oid=3070&returnto=14789. The publisher of her 2019 book, Word Study: An Assessment-Based Approach to Phonics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Instruction, provides her academic credentials at the tome’s barnesandnoble.com entry.
41 “The Semi-Great Sportz Quiz,” PD (St. Louis Post-Dispatch Sunday magazine), April 13: 1980: 4, 5, 7.
42 Joe Donnelly, “Touching the Bases Once Again,” Newsday (Long Island, New York), July 29, 1980: 79.
43 “Inside Pitch – California League,” Modesto (California) Bee, May 24, 1998: C-5.
Frank Gerald DaVanon
August 21, 1945 at Oceanside, CA (USA)
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