When the Orioles arrive in Sarasota, Florida for spring training, Chris Davis will be missing for the first time in a decade. Davis, who retired quietly last August 12th, was supposed to be preparing for the final year of his seven-year, $161 million contract, but a hip injury wouldn’t let him play any longer.
Each offseason since 2017, when Davis vowed that his performance would improve after a disappointing season, there were storylines. He’d come to spring training leaner—or he’d come with more muscle. He’d change his batting stance, anything to help a stunning decline .
Now, there’s no offseason Davis drama, and the big first baseman isn’t around to represent his teammates with the Players’ Association. He isn’t making generous public contributions like the one he made to the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital after the 2019 season, either.
Last spring training, Davis wasn’t even in an Orioles uniform after the first Grapefruit League game when he took two at-bats and then was hurt.
He didn’t play much in 2020. In that 60-game, pandemic-shortened season, Davis was sidelined because of a knee injury and made just 55 plate appearances. He hit only .115.
His last game before Oriole fans came on September 22nd, 2019. In his final at-bat, he homered, providing the winning margin in a 2-1 win over the Seattle Mariners.
It was a rare happy moment in another sad season in which he hit .179 with 12 home runs. In 2018, he hit .168 with 16 homers.
Those final sad seasons shouldn’t obscure how entertaining, and productive, Davis was in his first years with the Orioles.
In 2012, he pitched two scoreless innings at Fenway Park, the 16th and 17th, in a dramatic May game that helped show the baseball world that the Orioles could be a contending team. Davis hit 33 home runs and batted .270 that season.
In 2013, the legend of “Crush” was born when Davis led the majors with 53 home runs and had 138 RBIs.
The following year, Davis’ first child, Ella, was born. The Orioles won the American League East title, but Davis couldn’t play in the postseason because he was suspended for 25 games for use of a stimulant without a therapeutic exemption.
He hit only .196 that season, but in 2015 he was was dominant in the final two months of the season. He hit 22 home runs in August and September. In the final month, he hit 12 homers, drove in 25 runs and hit .318 with a 1.211 OPS.
He was a free agent after that season, and most assumed he was going to leave. But he didn’t want to and his agent, Scott Boras, negotiated that gigantic contract with the team.
Davis’ 2016 and 2017 seasons were disappointing when compared with his earlier years, but in retrospect a 38 home run, 84 RBI year followed by 26 homers and 61 RBIs doesn’t seem so bad. His average dropped from .262 with a .923 OPS in 2015 to .221 with a .792 OPS and .215 with a .732 OPS in 2016 and 2017.
The 2018, 2019 and 2020 seasons were disastrous, and Davis ended his Orioles career with 253 home runs, sixth most in franchise history. His 1,550 strikeouts are also the most in team history.
So how will Davis be remembered? Are the first joyous years with the long home runs more memorable than the 54 at-bat hitless streak that spanned the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019? Is that enormous contract going to make fans forget that early Sunday evening in Fenway when he pitched for the first time since junior college?
Davis’ early seasons shouldn’t be completely obscured by the awful seasons that ended his career.
Even when Davis was flailing away, the majority of fans at the ballpark encouraged him. There were boos, but in 2020, the year he hardly played, there weren’t any fans at all.
Who knows what Davis will do now that his baseball career is over. He’s been a devoted father to his three girls and has all the time he wants to spend with them and his wife, Jill.
Undoubtedly, he’ll continue to be active in a number of charities. Besides the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital, there were many he donated to and was involved with.
Someday, he’ll return to Baltimore to celebrate those enjoyable teams of the last decade and perhaps take his place in the team’s Hall of Fame. The guess here is that the fan’s reaction to Davis will be positive—overwhelming so.