Former Orioles Manager Buck Showalter Reflects On Chris Davis’ Time In Baltimore

Longtime Orioles slugger Chris Davis announced his retirement Aug. 12 in the sixth year of a seven-year, $161 million contract. Davis underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left hip labrum in May. The injury had caused him to miss the entire 2021 season.

Davis retired having hit 253 home runs as an Oriole, sixth in club history, and having served as a key part of a club that won the most games in the American League from 2012-2016. However, Davis hit .196/.291/.379 after signing his free-agent contract ahead of the 2016 season, and his body eventually broke down.

Former Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who was with Davis from 2011-2018, joined Glenn Clark Radio to discuss Davis’ time in Baltimore.

PressBox: You stayed in touch with Chris after you had moved and as he went through his struggles. Can you share anything about what he was dealing with and what, if anything, you tried tell him? I can’t imagine what it must have been like for everyone who cared about Chris Davis to watch him go through what he went through the past couple of years.

Buck Showalter: I think a lot of people forget very quickly Chris played 160 games for the Orioles twice in a season, 157 another year. Drove in over 100 runs twice. It was pretty magical the things he did there on the field. I just challenge people to dwell on that as much as they can. Believe me, Chris wanted to be on the field. It wasn’t a matter of want to. You go through a period where in Texas people doubted you. [Peter] Angelos was the one who really pushed for him to be included in that deal when he and Andy MacPhail and the organization were doing that. He came in the Tommy Hunter deal where we traded Koji Uehara [in July 2011]. Chris took the responsibility of the contract almost to a fault, too deeply. You can want something too much. I used to keep telling him, “You didn’t make this contract happen. You did it with your play on the field. You can only do what you can do.” He cared about being a good teammate. He always wanted to do the right thing. I think he’s in a good place right now, all things considered.

PB: You mentioned that Peter Angelos pushed for him. There was not the assumption at that point that you guys had received this surefire middle-of-the-lineup bat. Everyone knew about his power potential, but it was not a sure thing. Why did it work? What happened that made it work?

BS: In Texas he had all these gaudy numbers he was putting up. He would come up and it wouldn’t happen right away. I think you saw it some with Joey Gallo with Texas. I think the atmosphere and the team — capital letters — we were able to put around him and with him where the focus wasn’t there all the time. There was Adam [Jones], there was Nick Markakis, there was [Matt] Wieters, there was [J.J.] Hardy. There was Manny [Machado] and [Jonathan] Schoop later. He wasn’t the total focus all the time. Through it, he was in a real comfort zone. When you trade for somebody, you’re basically telling them publicly, “We want you.” He knew that he had a safety net, so to speak. Quite frankly, when you make a trade, you want that trade to succeed really, in my mind, for both teams, so one, they’ll trade with you again. You want your baseball people and front office people to look like they know what they’re doing. Both those players were very useful pieces for us, to say the least. And so was Koji.

PB: I remember talking to Mark Reynolds about Chris years ago. Was being around Mark beneficial to Chris as he was developing?

BS: We had a lot of fun. We had a lot of guys who were a lot of fun to be around because they didn’t take themselves too seriously. I think that’s what Mark brought for Chris. Not saying you welcome or condone failure, but it’s about how you deal with the failure in this game that you have a lot of it in. I think Mark really made Chris not take himself so seriously and more importantly not take it home with him. I used to talk to Chris. I said, “The two greatest challenges you’re going to have in your life are being a good father and being a good husband.” When it’s all said and done and they pull the dirt over you, that’s really what you’re going to be remembered as, so be sure you get that right as you go forward in your life. I think Mark was cut from that same cloth. Believe me, they were two competitive guys. They hated to fail to a fault, but they also knew when to kind of take a step back and go, “Listen, you’re not that important.”

PB: How significant did Chris become to the next group of guys in the way that you talked about the Mark Reynolds relationship with him? How significant did he become to the next guys that were coming to the big leagues?

BS: He tried a lot. Jim Thome and I used to talk about this and still do. What you’ve done in the past is important and gets your foot in the door, but at some point you have to perform on the field. But Chris was not afraid — he wasn’t going to knock somebody’s door down to share knowledge with them — because he had gone through all the ups and downs that young players have. They basically did not think that he would ever reach the heights that he reached in Baltimore in Texas. I remember distinctly that Peter Angelos just didn’t want to make the deal without Chris Davis in it. He just thought that was a good fit for us. Thank goodness he did.

PB: Did you know anything then that there was a chance, because of who he was or anything about him, that the contract would become a challenge for him?

BS: You don’t ever think you know for sure exactly what it’s going to do with anybody. You’re around somebody as much as we are, you say, “Well, this will never affect him,” or, “This will never do this,” or, “This will affect him,” nobody’s right all the time. I remember at first base [during BP] one time. I knew there was some talk going on. During BP I was talking to him. He said, “What do you think?” He used to ask. And I’d go, “Well, Chris, how much is enough?” I said, “How much is enough?” … It’s not like he was playing for free at that time, either. He knew that. But how many of us would walk away from that? Put yourself in his shoes. Chris wore it on his sleeve. It ate at him, not being able to return statistically what the contract dictated. Let’s face it, the Orioles paid him for what he did in the past and hopefully was going to do in the future. Mr. Angelos felt a real commitment to the city to try to bring Chris back. At the time, everybody was clamoring for it and loved the idea. It was kind of a behind-the-scenes thing. I didn’t know a whole lot about it until it really happened. It was impossible to duplicate some of the seasons he had had there. They’re historic.

PB: A lot has been made in recent years about his unwillingness to adjust. Just because we can’t see something doesn’t mean there isn’t an adjustment. Was it fair for him to face the criticism in recent years for an unwillingness to adjust?

BS: What’s fair? A lot of people weigh in on things they don’t really know about. I don’t talk to pilots about how to land the plane. I’m not going to tell a surgeon how to do heart surgery. But at the same time, I saw Chris try to make adjustments. It would be at 2 o’clock on the field with nobody there. I remember he and [former Orioles hitting coaches] Jim Presley and Scott Coolbaugh doing all types of things. When you’ve had so much success doing things a certain way, a drastic change — what do you want to do, choke up and start punching the ball the other way? Chris’ contact-to-damage ratio was off the charts. Chris worked so hard to be physically fit and physically able to do the things that he did. A lot of it was natural. But I mean, when we took this guy he could run. One of the reasons we took him, we thought he could play the outfield or third base if someone came along who could only play first base, which he did. … Adjustments, he tried to make them because he didn’t like the failure. But it just didn’t work out for him.

PB: What was the conversation like when you decided to pitch Chris in Boston? For all the home runs, it’s the one that Orioles fans cling to forever. (Showalter knew Davis had pitched at Navarro Junior College in Texas.)

BS: I was thinking about it a couple innings before. You always try to think about, “What if?” as a manager. You never assume anything a couple innings ahead. I had a feel for where this game was heading, and at some point we were getting into diminishing returns. You could win that game but lose the next three because of the way you won it. So sometimes in a long season you may not put your best foot forward in order to maintain the health of your club and everything. So I knew we were about out of pitchers and I wasn’t about to extend anybody and not have them available for us the next two series. It’s just not smart. Chris was DHing that day. I was consulting some people to make sure I was right about the fact that he could stay in the game as a hitter because he is the DH, and could you put the DH in the game? Making sure I was right about the rule.

Bobby Valentine with the Red Sox questioned it, but he ended up copying us about an inning later and put his guy in. But what do they say is the greatest form of flattery? Imitation. I didn’t want to tell Chris in advance. I didn’t want it even in his brain because he was going to have to hit or anything. It was just a matter of, “Chris, grab your glove, go down to the bullpen between innings and start warming up. We may have to use you.” He gave me that look and, “OK.” I asked him first. I’m not going to make anybody do it. Chris was all-in. He goes, “Yup.” He had very little time to think about it. We were talking about it later on the plane and he said, “It was great because if I had two innings to think about that, I don’t know what would’ve happened.”

For more from Showalter, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Luke Jackson

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