Cecil Travis, who played his entire twelve-year major league career with the Washington Senators, excelled as both a fielder and a hitter. From 1934 to 1941 he was one of the best shortstops in the American League. In seven seasons he batted .317 or better, and he compiled a lofty overall batting average of .327. Travis earned all-star honors three times, and in 1975 he was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.
Cecil Howell Travis was born to Ada and James Travis on August 8, 1913, on the family farm in Fayette County, near Riverdale. Former American League shortstop Kid Elberfeld saw Travis play sandlot ball and gave him a tryout at Tubby Walton’s “Baseball University” in Atlanta. Impressed that Travis could hit curveballs, Walton signed him to a contract with the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Southern Association. During two years with the Lookouts, Travis batted more than .350 each season.
Travis debuted in the major leagues on May 16, 1933, at the age of nineteen. He hit safely in his first five at-bats, tying a record set in 1894. That performance foretold what he would accomplish during the next nine seasons. A left-handed batter, Travis had the uncanny ability to slap the ball to the opposite field for base hits.
Travis’s best season was in 1941. He batted .359, second in the American League behind Ted Williams, who hit .406, and two points higher than Joe DiMaggio. Travis finished fourth in the American League in doubles, second in triples, and fourth in total bases. He scored and batted in more than 100 runs, and his 218 base hits led the major leagues by a wide margin. In 1941 the Sporting News selected Travis as the best shortstop in baseball.
In late 1941 Travis was drafted into the U.S. Army, and he reported to Fort McPherson on January 7, 1942, soon after the United States entered World War II (1941-45). Later that year he married Helen Hubbard, with whom he had three sons: Cecil Anthony, Michael, and Ricky. During the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, Travis suffered severe frostbite on the toes of both feet. Discharged from the army in 1945, he returned to the Senators late in the season but struggled to achieve his previous level of success. He retired from baseball after batting .216 for the 1947 season.
Travis denied that the frostbite caused the decline in his ability and believed instead that his absence from baseball for nearly four seasons robbed him of his quickness and agility. Many baseball historians believe that Travis’s military service cost him election into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame; had he continued to perform as he had prior to the war, he may well have reached 3,000 hits, a milestone that guarantees election.
Travis scouted for the Senators from 1948 to 1955 before retiring from baseball to raise cattle on his family farm in Riverdale. He died on December 16, 2006, and was buried in Atlanta’s Crest Lawn Cemetery.