So how exactly should we reflect on the career of Chris Davis now that he’s announced his “retirement” from baseball?
(Retiring players don’t typically collect the rest of the money due on their contract. This is a polite parting of ways. Not that it matters all that much.)
It’s a question that Orioles fans attempted to attack in the immediate aftermath of the news. A group of fans reacted predictably, offering a bit of a “sayonara” to the embattled slugger. Others used the moment to reflect on some of the more pleasant memories they had of the first baseman’s early years in orange and black before things went south and some of the nice things he’s done in the community with his wealth.
And then a third group popped up. That third group is the group that exists within every fan base, within every subgroup in all of humanity. They’re the gatekeepers. They’re the fans that believe they somehow get to set the standard by which others in the group should be judged.
For gatekeeping Orioles fans, they’re the ones who can’t JUST say, “I’m trying to remember the good times” and leave it at that. They’re the ones who instead have to go a step further and say something like, “THE ONLY THING THAT ANYONE SHOULD BE TALKING ABOUT WHEN IT COMES TO CHRIS DAVIS IS HOW HE WAS A GREAT PLAYER ON SOME GREAT ORIOLES TEAMS AND THAT’S LITERALLY ALL THAT MATTERS.” Or … something like that.
I need you to know that it’s absolutely OK to feel conflicted (or worse) about Chris Davis as you reflect on his retirement. I need you to know that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with struggling to embrace the positive memories when it comes one of the worst players in the sport for the last few years. There’s nothing strange about that. And I need you to know that it’s OK for you to recognize the bad but choose to reflect on the good … as long as you don’t attempt to shame those who can’t.
Let’s dive in. Chris Davis was a hell of a baseball player for a little while. Strangely, his best years (2013 and 2015) didn’t match up with the best Orioles team of the era (2014). In fact, it was exactly the opposite. Davis struggled significantly in 2014 before a suspension ended his season right when the Orioles could have used a surge. But he had solid seasons in the Orioles’ other playoff years (2012 and 2016), and his best years were absolutely phenomenal even if the Orioles weren’t quite as good as a team.
Because of all that, it’s not strange to associate Davis with some of our fondest memories as Orioles fans. In fact, he’s directly responsible for a few of them via walk-off home runs, Opening Day home runs and a totally random appearance on the Fenway Park mound in 2012.
His generosity to the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital is well known. Perhaps not as well known is that he’s done a lot for other charities, including Helping Up Mission. Not only would Davis make physical donations and visits to the shelter, he would often times provide tickets to the folks who were recovering in the program so that they could have the opportunity to attend games.
There are a lot of positives when it comes to Chris Davis.
But that’s not all there is. As much as it is understandable to associate Davis with some of our fondest Orioles memories, it’s equally understandable to associate him with the era in which the Orioles have become the worst team in the world (besides the search team for a new Jeopardy host). We can’t hide from it or pretend it isn’t real. Davis became a putrid baseball player beginning in 2017. We all saw it. It was terribly uncomfortable and coincided with the destruction of the Buck Showalter-Dan Duquette era.
Of course, it isn’t Chris Davis’ fault that the Orioles made him THE ONLY PLAYER they’ve ever paid a nine-figure contract to in their history. It’s not Chris Davis’ fault that the team insanely decided to let Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis walk — still very much at the height of their careers — only to sign Davis long term instead. It’s not his fault that the team balked at signing anyone else for real money after they signed him.
But it doesn’t make it unreasonable to associate him with those things, either. As a human, it is difficult to not recognize the disparity between the income someone makes and the production they offer society for that salary. If we find out that someone in our own company is making a certain amount of money, we often tend to judge them through that prism. It’s human nature.
So if you couldn’t help but feel a bit of relief that you wouldn’t have to think about Chris Davis again, I get that. It’s OK. No one should shame you for that. The Orioles are terrible and he became a clear reflection of just how horrendous things have been.
I also don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that at some point in the next decade, even the negative feelings will start to dissipate a bit. A number of Orioles fans have proclaimed Davis as an “obvious” choice for the team’s Hall of Fame. They might well be right. As we know, the standard for players is not overwhelming. Solid but not spectacular players from good teams and exceptional, short-tenured Orioles have been inducted in the past. Davis PROBABLY fits the qualifications, albeit while recognizing that his lows were far lower than any previous player inducted.
My suggestion? The Orioles wait a little while. Markakis, Adam Jones and Buck Showalter are the next obvious candidates for induction, and we can debate how Matt Wieters and Chris Tillman and even Duquette (who didn’t want to give Davis the contract) stack up as candidates. So wait. Hope the team gets good again. If the team returns to contention in a few years, even the grinchy hearts of the angriest fans will likely grow and be more willing to greet Davis pleasantly.
We should all be able to think fondly of the many positives about Chris Davis. But it’s OK if that’s not today. Don’t let the gatekeepers tell you otherwise.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox