Some day a number of years from now, when I think about Chris Davis’s time on the Orioles, I will probably only think about the good things. There were a number of them, topped for me by Davis’s extra innings pitching performance in Fenway Park early in the 2012 season. That outing was special for a lot of reasons and the biggest one is that it was the first time that year where it really seemed like something great was happening with my favorite baseball team for the first time in my adult life.
Right now, as I sit in the aftermath of Davis announcing his retirement last week, it is not the happy memories of Davis that are the freshest ones. Since the 2017 season, Davis has been making increasingly negative memories in an Orioles uniform. You could cut together a lengthy montage of Davis watching strike three sail right down the middle, or one of Davis appearing to put in little effort going to his left as a ground ball snuck down the line for a double.
There was the time that Davis tried to start a fight with manager Brandon Hyde. There was the time he got called out for his refusal to make any kind of adjustment by Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, changed his stance for exactly one game in response, then went back to the exact same failure. There was a seemingly endless stream of articles, including one in Sports Illustrated, about how Davis was not going to change anything about his swing or approach or anything else.
In the middle of all of this, there was Davis setting new records for futility, like his record 0-54 streak. Even having watched every at-bat in that streak, I still can’t believe it happened even now. How does even a bad major league player not get a hit for 54 straight at-bats? When he’s as bad as Chris Davis was to start the 2019 season, that’s how.
Each spring training after a failure of a previous season brought fresh, foolish hope from fans that Davis might try something different this year, and he never did, until this spring, when he said he had made some changes. Due to pandemic disruptions of regular baseball coverage, beat writers were not able to see those changes in action. Davis suffered an injury in his first exhibition game and ultimately never played another game before deciding to retire. Were the changes even real? I guess we’ll never know.
Much like being floored by the 0-54 streak, it is flabbergasting to me to look at his combined batting line since 2018, when the Orioles hit rock bottom as a franchise. Davis hit .169/.251/.299 across 249 games, with strikeouts in an unbelievable 37.5% of his plate appearances.
The only thing that kept Davis from finishing in the top ten in career strikeouts was the Orioles mercifully cutting his playing time. Perhaps connected to that were a couple of injured list stints that felt sort of like they might be made up, like the time that Ubaldo Jiménez was said to have sprained his ankle stepping in a pothole when he got out of his car. Maybe that did really happen, but the explanation was peculiar and the timing was a little too convenient, so it’s always seemed suspicious.
The failure has been so substantial and gone on for so long that it has crowded out a lot of the happier memories of Davis. I recognize this is not how everyone in Birdland has processed the feeling. When Davis announced his retirement, many Camden Chat commenters were immediately ready to let bygones be bygones and only remember the Davis good times.
I’m just not there yet. Right now I don’t even feel like giving Davis much credit for being a big part of the 96-66 2014 Orioles - the best O’s team of my adulthood - because he was a below-average hitter that season. On top of that, Davis got himself suspended for most of September and the entire playoffs, so he was not a part of the fun “Clinchmas” celebration, or part of the improbable sweep of the Cy Young winner-loaded Tigers in that year’s ALDS. The most meaningful games that year didn’t have him even in the stadium.
Davis’s legacy for me, eventually, will chiefly be his being around for the 2012-2016 good times, without nitpicking the little details like that his two biggest home run seasons were the two seasons in that stretch where the team did not make the playoffs. Here in 2021, I’m remembering a whole lot of strikeouts and a whole lot of days wishing he would just stop playing baseball, or wishing that the Orioles would make that choice for him.
For several years before this, the days where Davis was not playing were a relief. There was even more of a relief when he did not play for a long stretch. Then there was no wondering about whether he would be taking up playing time that should be going to someone younger and potentially more interesting.
Davis’s retirement announcement made me feel the biggest sense of relief yet. I don’t have to watch him. He will no longer be a part of the present day struggles of my favorite baseball team. He won’t even be taking up a 40-man roster spot in the offseason to come. There will be no more fresh Chris Davis-related disappointment.
Even this last sentence is probably not true. Every July 1 from now until 2037, Davis is going to get a deferred payment from the Orioles. This will probably inspire another round of “lol Orioles” from the usual suspects in baseball media and social media. I will be 53 years old when Davis receives his final payment from the Orioles. I dread this yearly ritual already, much like I dread when those people decide that it’s funny to bring up the time that Buck Showalter left Zack Britton in the bullpen during the 2016 wild card game.
It is the Angelos family’s problem about that deferred money. By most accounts, it was the Angelos family that drove the $161 million contract Davis received. It’s money that was completely wasted by the franchise. You can probably sketch out a better recent past for the Orioles if they had signed Davis to a shorter contract, or if they had not signed Davis to any contract after the 2015 season. I have had the thought myself from time to time. What happened is what happened, so there’s no point dwelling on it too much.
Down the road, it will be nice when the Orioles franchise will have seen good times again and all of those years where Chris Davis was stinking up the joint won’t loom as large in my memory. With the Orioles sitting at 38-78, today is not that day and this year is not that year. Today, the thing that I’m most glad about with Davis’s Orioles tenure is that it’s finally over.