Mavis: From long shot to Travelers Star
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette March 15, 2005
Bob Mavis entered professional baseball as a 26-year-old minor-league rookie and became a major-league prospect at 31, a combination that possibly stands as some sort of record.
World War II player shortages gave him a belated opening in 1944, and he spent 47 years as an infielder, manager and scout.
Mavis, who died March 1, a few weeks shy of his 87 th birthday, moved directly from amateur baseball and softball leagues in Milwaukee, his hometown, to star status with the Little Rock Travelers of the Southern Association.
Most wartime replacements were swept aside when established baseball players returned from military service in 1946, but Mavis had no trouble adjusting. Quite the opposite, in fact.
He batted above. 300 in each of five seasons with the Travelers, 1944-1948, and was called up by the Detroit Tigers for a September inspection after hitting. 301 for Class AAA Toledo in 1949. He got into one big-league boxscore, a small but significant triumph when measured against the improbable circumstances of his career.
Classified 4-F for military service because of a heart murmur, he had excelled as an amateur several years without drawing attention from scouts. "Nobody approached me about signing, and I was a naive kid I didnt know who to approach or how," Mavis said in a 1995 interview. "I was playing for my companys team, Falk Corp, and our manager, Charley Sanhuber, was also a bird dog [part-time scout] for the Chicago White Sox. The White Sox had a working agreement with Little Rock. It was arranged for me to go to spring training with the Travelers, who trained here in their own park in those days.
" Im grateful I got the chance. Otherwise Id always wonder about it. "I had a good spring and made the club as the starting shortstop, although they soon switched me to second base, where I belonged. My wife and I liked Little Rock so much, we moved here full time in 1945." "He asked his boss for two weeks off so he could go try out with Little Rock," Vi Mavis, his wife of almost 64 years, said Monday. "He made the club, so he never went back."
George "Shotgun" Shuba, one of the Brooklyn Dodgers "Boys of Summer" in Roger Kahns book, was a Southern Association contemporary, playing for Mobile. Visiting Little Rock for some event a few years ago, Shuba volunteered an emphatic Mavis tribute. "Bobby was a real class act," Shuba said. "Little Rock never had a strong club, but Bobby played like he was in first place. He was as good as the best around second base, and hed get two or three hits every night. He was a contact hitter nearly impossible to strike out."
In 1946, for a typical example, Mavis struck out 20 times in 568 at-bats, while hitting. 319 in 149 games. He also led the leagues second basemen in putouts and assists. "The English language was good enough for Bobby," said former Travelers teammate Duke Doolittle. "I never heard him use any of the rough words you can hear around a baseball club. He proved you can be a nice, dignified gentleman in every respect and an intense competitor at the same time."
A 5-7, 160-pound left-handed batter, Mavis was "hardly ever fooled", Doolittle said." As the saying goes, he hit the ball where it was pitched. He had everything except power. "
Mavis thought he might have a chance to win the Detroit second base job in 1950, until the Tigers traded for Gerry Priddy, an established American League second baseman then at the peak of his career." Obviously Priddy would play, "Mavis said." I did the rest of my playing with Toledo and Buffalo. "
His total baseball career extended to 1990. He managed minor-league clubs and scouted for Detroit, then scouted for the Milwaukee Brewers and Atlanta Braves.
He started the 1955 season managing a Travelers team even more futile than any hed served on as a player. He resigned June 27 with the club headed for 52-102.
" It was awful and it really worked on me, "he said years later." For the sake of my health I had to get out of there. I had good teams other places in the Detroit organization. "I loved managing, playing and scouting. I loved baseball."
Anyone familiar with his career could have taken that for granted.