Vowing with a smile that he would never pitch again, Chris Davis, the newly-minted $161 million man, was back in Baltimore on Thursday night to be officially re-introduced as an Oriole at a press conference after his contract became official. The pending physical part is over. He's back and he's now in possession of the largest contract in franchise history.
"This feels familiar," Davis joked in the pause while he went through the ritual of putting on his "new" jersey to pose for photographs. It was a light-hearted comment that fit in with a theme Davis mentioned several times throughout the conference. This is the place he knows, and these are the people he knows, and those things both meant something to him - although surely so did the $161 million.
At the conference, Davis specifically mentioned that he was pleased to see both Matt Wieters and Darren O'Day making returns to Baltimore, as they are both players with whom he's enjoyed playing. Davis had clearly seen at least pictures of O'Day's conference as he chuckled about the "Wyatt Earp mustache" that O'Day has been sporting. As for whether any of the existing players had lobbied him, he mentioned that the clubhouse atmosphere is the best recruiting tool the O's could possibly have.
There's a strong temptation to scoff at comments like that at a press conference like this. Of course the player always talks about signing where they always want to be. But even if you accept that Davis is here because the Orioles offered him the most money, that doesn't mean he can't be happy that it worked out that way.
Davis told reporters that during the free agency process he tried not to get too emotional about everything and have that cloud his judgment. Still, he also spoke about how, after having signed the contract, he was talking to one of his buddies (unnamed) who mentioned how special it is in today's game of baseball for a player to get to spend the large majority of his career in one city and for one team.
Davis sounded to be genuinely proud to have the opportunity to keep having a chance to be successful for a franchise that, as he put it, "has had so much success in the past and has such a rich history." He can be happy about the money and be happy about that too. It wasn't mentioned at the conference specifically, but just for an example, seven years of Davis will have a pretty good chance to leave him as high as second on the franchise home run list.
What is it that makes the O's so special to him? His answer was probably not all that different from what a fan of the O's might say about the recent era of O's success. A reporter asked what the O's would have to do to get back to the competitive place it was in 2014. Davis answered by saying that it's "kind of our MO - that we've never been the sexy team, the easy pick to win the AL East."
He noted that the team is full of players who have been traded or otherwise passed on by other teams. That's created a kind of chip on the shoulder mentality, he said, either because they've adopted it for themselves or had it instilled in them. The phrase is straight out of the Baltimore sports true-believer playbook, so much so that, three years ago, when the O's Camden Yards neighbors the Ravens won the Super Bowl, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti told the crowd after the parade to never lose the chip on their shoulder.
Not much surprise, then, that Davis had people shouting towards him throughout the season, hoping he comes back, fans running into him on the street hoping the same. One particular fan who stuck out in Davis's mind told Davis it's been fun to watch the Orioles because they seem to have such a happy-go-lucky attitude - and Davis himself was aware that it's not like that everywhere.
We'll probably never know how likely it ever was that Davis might sign elsewhere. Davis's agent, Scott Boras, doesn't seem to be telling. He attended the conference and was asked by reporters afterwards about other offers. You can practically imagine there must have been a Cheshire cat grin in this response:
Scott Boras wouldn't say if Davis had any other serious offers. Said, "You don't go to a wedding and talk about girlfriends." Good point.— Brittany Ghiroli (@Britt_Ghiroli) January 22, 2016
But as far as how the deal came together, O's executive vice president Dan Duquette said that much of the structure of the deal had been in place and it came down to a late night phone call between Boras and O's owner Peter Angelos last Friday night to hammer out all of the details. One can imagine that's where all the deferred money was negotiated, an agreement that, if all goes well, will work out as a positive for both sides.
That's how you end up with the biggest contract in franchise history. And by the way, if you're wondering how Davis feels about the pressure that might bring, he will relish that pressure. "I hope there are expectations," he told the assembled reporters. "As a professional athlete, you're going to expect yourself to be great." You will sometimes hear manager Buck Showalter talk about how he always hopes fans hold the team accountable because it means they want success. No surprise that attitude has trickled down to his players.
When it came to handling the pressure, Davis pointed out that it is not for his own sake that he has those expectations, but rather that he does not want to let his teammates down. As he has gained experience and matured, he said, he has realized that there will be ups and downs over the course of a season. Still, as long as he works hard to prepare himself, he knows now that even if he struggles, everything will come back around.
It will take more than willpower for Davis to succeed for the length of a seven year contract, of course. At least fans can feel sure that he's beginning it all with the right attitude.
One reporter noted at the close of the press conference that another high-dollar Baltimore athlete, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, had welcomed Davis to the club. The reporter then mentioned that Flacco bought $20 worth of tickets for the recent gigantic Powerball jackpot. Had Davis decided to do the same?
No, he said, he did not buy any tickets. With a $161 million contract, perhaps he already felt like he had hit the jackpot. O's fans will be hoping the Orioles have also hit the jackpot with Davis. There are now seven years to cash in.