It may surprise some Detroit baseball fans that Davy Crockett once played first base at Bennett Park. This Crockett wasn’t born on a mountaintop in Tennessee. He didn’t wear a coonskin cap. And he certainly didn’t die at the Alamo.
What he did do was spend a mediocre month or so in the summer of 1901 holding down the fort for the injured Frank “Pop” Dillon during the Detroit Tigers’ first season as an American League team.
David Solomon Crockett was born in Roanoke, Virginia in 1875. He was 18 when he broke in with the Roanoke Magicians of the Virginia League. He evidently took some ribbing over his name, which he spelled “Davey”—-a distinction most newspapers and sporting journals ignored.
Crockett was a big lad for his era, standing 6-foot-1 and weighing about 180 pounds. He batted left, threw right, and carried his grip in either hand as he journeyed through the low minors: Petersburg, Knoxville, Ottumwa, Indianapolis, Nashville. In July 1901, he was playing for Wilmington in the Class C Virginia-North Carolina League when Detroit manager George Stallings signed him as a free agent. He broke in during a Tigers loss at Cleveland on July 11, failing as a pinch hitter in his first big-league at-bat. Then, for most of the next few weeks, he was the Tigers’ regular first sacker as the club settled into a long home stand.
Crockett hit well, though in the field he had the mobility of a flag pole. Too many grounders got into right field, and on pick-off throws he was slow to put the ball on the runner. His awkwardness was hard to miss. Once, he “dropped the ball in a peculiar fashion” after retiring the final putout of an inning. The umpire called it an error, leading to a near riot at Bennett Park with players “shaking fists under his nose” and spectators hooting and hissing.
In that same game, Crockett made another peculiar play that turned out much better. The newcomer was standing with his legs far apart when pitcher Roscoe Miller tried to catch the runner napping. Instead of turning around to touch the runner, Crockett swung the gloved ball between his legs and touched him, reported the Detroit Free Press. “It was a new one for the local fans, and Davy was given a hand when he walked off the field.”
An injury caused his stick work to suffer. “That knock over the eye which Crockett received seems to have affected his batting, as he has made only two good hits since,” the Freep observed on July 28. “Batting was the principal feature of Crockett’s work, and to have a man on first base who could hit over .300 would have strengthened the team wonderfully. But if Crockett can’t do that the team will be no better off than ever.”
On August 12, Crockett was given his outright release. He’d played 28 games and batted a respectable .284. However, his expected power never materialized, as he could manage only four extra-base hits in 102 at-bats. One Detroit paper, noting his departure, described him as being nothing better than “a good minor leaguer.”
Indeed, Crockett went on to spend another 13 seasons toiling for such teams as the Davenport River Rats and Freeport Pretzels. After his playing days he returned to Virginia, where he died in 1961 at age 85. He hadn’t killed a bear when he was three or whipped his weight in wildcats or done any of the other wild things attributed to the famous frontiersman. But he had earned a couple of lines in the Baseball Encyclopedia, something his legendary namesake could never brag about.