After announcing his retirement on Thursday, the Chris Davis era has has officially concluded, ending one of the most enigmatic Orioles careers this fanbase has seen. The beginning was electric; Davis quickly became a fan favorite during a time when the O’s were winning, and the mythos of Crush Davis was born.
The downfall was rapid and harsh, a reminder how cruel the game of baseball can sometimes be. The prodigious power hitter began producing at historic, major league-worst levels. The last three years have been discussed ad nauseum and the $161 million contract has been litigated to death, so there’s no need to rehash those things here.
Let’s talk about the stuff that made him a future Orioles Hall of Famer.
Davis (along with Tommy Hunter) arrived in Baltimore at the 2011 trade deadline when Koji Uehara was sent to Texas, a deal that will go down as one of the better transactions in modern Orioles history despite Uehara’s effectiveness as an elite relief pitcher for several subsequent years and Davis’s struggles at the end. Davis accumulated more WAR in 2013-14 alone (8.0) than Uehara did in his entire post-Orioles career (7.7). Even with the last three seasons shaving five wins off of his total, it’s unquestionable that Davis provided surplus value from a masterclass of a trade brokered by Andy MacPhail.
His 2012 season was above average by most standards: 33 home runs, .827 OPS, and 1.8 WAR. He also famously contributed a win from the mound. His athleticism, though, was the unsung hero.
When Manny Machado was called up and Mark Reynolds was shifted to first base, the team defense transformed almost immediately. This was made possible by moving Davis to right field (also to fill in for Nick Markakis after his thumb was broken by a pitch that month). While he was an obvious downgrade from Markakis, his ability to competently play the position cleared the way for Machado to receive the playing time he needed and played a big part in getting the Orioles back to the playoffs.
In 2013, Crush Davis reached the peak of baseball’s Mount Olympus, seemingly hitting a ball to the Aegean Sea every time he swung.
His 53 home runs set a franchise record. His 7.1 WAR ranks that 2013 performance 12th in Orioles individual single-season history, surrounded by the ilk of Ripken, Robinson, and Robinson. Accompanied by a winning team, Camden Yards was packed with people itching to see him go yard again. Davis became the first Oriole since Ripken to capture the attention of the national baseball audience. His home runs were featured on SportsCenter. Kornheiser and Wilbon were discussing him on PTI. He was a guest on marquee morning shows such as First Take and Mike & Mike. He appeared in that year’s Home Run Derby. He got a Sports Illustrated cover.
For once, we had a winning team and for once, we had an Oriole who mattered.
We all know what happened next. A wonderful 2015 was sandwiched by a disappointing 2014 wherein he was suspended for not following therapeutic use exemption protocols, missing the team’s entire postseason run, and the off-season where he signed the contract by which he’d be defined. Personally, I think that’s unfair; any of us would have taken that money, and Peter Angelos was going to retain Davis come hell or high water with no regard for future implications. Instead, I’d like to reflect on the good memories. Like the time he broke his bat:
And this bat
And this bat!
The time he hit a grand slam on opening day
The time he pitched in Fenway AND struck out a peak Adrian Gonzalez…with a change-up
The time he kidnapped Nate McLouth
The time he went to the Home Run Derby
The time he channeled his inner Kurt Angle and hit a home run with a broken freakin’ bat
And times he took the pies like an absolute champ
There are instances wherein the trajectory of our lives can be anything but linear and upward-facing, with a myriad of moving parts and variables beyond human control. It is almost assured that at some point, all of us will be faced with varying degrees of adversity that will test our resolve.
It is our hope that in those moments, we are afforded grace and believed to be the same authentic person, regardless of whether we’re experiencing the highest of highs or lowest of lows.
I hope Orioles fans do the same for Chris Davis, because even if a few tracks had some skips on them, my word that CD was fire.