Chris Davis finished the 2012 season, and started the 2013 season, on a massive tear. His offensive numbers were so gaudy for a while there that people were legitimately wondering if Chris Davis would challenge Roger Maris's AL record of 61 home runs. Since the All-Star Break (and some would say more pointedly, since the Home Run Derby), Davis's pace has slowed quite a bit, and as a result I'm going to lead off with two assumptions: First, that Davis will not dethrone Maris, and second, that Davis will unseat Brady Anderson, who currently holds the Orioles franchise home run mark (50 home runs in 1996).
Anderson, of course, set that franchise mark during an insane 1996 season so good that it has led to unsubstantiated whispers about so-called "performance-enhancing drugs" (anabolic steroids) that have dogged Anderson ever since. Whether any of that's true or not, we'll never know, and I prefer to avoid aspersions in the absence of meaningful evidence. Either way, Anderson had a massive season where he OPSed 1.034 and hit those 50 dingers, breaking Frank Robinson's franchise mark of 49, which had been set in 1966.
The interesting thing about Anderson's season is that he's been remembered for that home run mark. Brady was a good -- but not great -- ballplayer who did some things very well, others less well, didn't have the best longevity but had a pretty impressive peak. And the peak of that peak was an incredible offensive season with lots of great numbers, but just one historic mark, that franchise record for home runs. And so a mostly unremarkable mid-1990s outfielder, who might otherwise have been a faint but pleasant memory by now, has been remembered for quite some time simply for surpassing that one mark.
Which brings us to Chris Davis. Davis has always had a ton of raw power, but his career has been through peaks and valleys as he's struggled with contact and patience, all of which eventually led to his trade from Texas to Baltimore in 2011. Since the end of the 2012 season, a switch has seemed to flip, with Davis showing better contact and patience, allowing his power to come through naturally against major-league pitching. He's hit home runs to left field, right field and center; he's hit line drive homers and outrageous moonshots onto Eutaw Street; he's hit them in hitters' parks and pitchers' parks alike. What Orioles fans don't know yet is whether they're witnessing a new beginning for Davis -- a late bloomer coming to life -- or an Anderson-like burst of production. I certainly hope it's the former, of course, but the great thing if Davis finishes 2013 with 51 or more home runs is that, in at least one respect, it won't matter.
A franchise record in a "big" statistic like home runs, strikeouts, wins or hits is the kind of stat that doesn't get much national attention (unless the franchise in question is the Yankees), but can instantly sear a player's name into the collective memories of fans. A real fan can tell you about their team's franchise record holders, even if they can't name a single one for another team. I still remember being at the game where Erik Bedard broke Mike Mussina's single-season Orioles strikeout record in 2007. It was a meaningless game against the Twins in a lost season, but the team drew a decent crowd, handed out little orange "K" signs, and the moment that Bedard whiffed his 219th batter, the crowd went wild. When Chris Davis hits #51, the moment will be even more electric, because home runs are the most prototypical of all baseball records.
And even if (god forbid) Davis's career ends up more like Anderson's than a Hall of Famer's, once he hits #51, he'll etch himself a place in Orioles lore for a long time to come. If there are 25,000 people in the stadium when #51 goes over the wall, 50,000 people will be talking about how they saw it happen (but I swear, I really was there for Bedard's mark). People who take home Davis's bobblehead at the end of the month will associate it with the mark and keep it as a piece of team memorabilia that's just a bit more worthwhile than their Brian Matusz and Nolan Reimold figurines from recent years. The Crush Davis t-shirts from May will be worn with pride around the mid-Atlantic until the paint fades off.
A franchise mark isn't a league mark or a full-blown record, but it's something special for a team's fans to share with one another. In the midst of a 2013 season that has simultaneously exceeded naysayer expectations and frustrated fans with missed opportunities at every turn, a big shared milestone for the Orioles' collective memory will be a big positive takeaway. It's not a pennant flag, and it doesn't make up for everything that's gone wrong, but maybe it'll do.