Chris Davis, the disaster within the disaster that was the 2018 Orioles season — the worst in the team’s history and the source of more misery than the Jones Falls after a deluge — must be the most self-conscious man in the country. I mean, wouldn’t you be?
A few years ago, he was Crush. Now he’s Crash. (And even that nickname doesn’t work because it’s already taken, permanently engraved in baseball culture by Kevin Costner’s portrayal of a minor-league catcher by that name in “Bull Durham.”)
I won’t go into the statistics because they are too shocking and painful to put into print again. Besides, by now, everybody knows about Chris Davis and his epic collapse as a slugger, a collapse so severe he might never recover. And, of course, all the millions in his seven-year contract compound and amplify the calamity.
I am not he. You are not he. Only he is he. Only Davis knows how Davis truly feels about what happened this past season. I assume the man must be profoundly embarrassed by the paradox of his hitting decline and his financial ascent. I mean, you would have to have the emotional constitution of a door — or Donald J. Trump — not to be. I will even speculate that Davis feels guilty about all the money.
But I have called this meeting to stick my nose in his business because, for one thing, unless the Angelos family finds some way of cutting him loose, Davis is going to be around for a while.
More importantly: We still care about the guy. No matter how awful he looks at the plate, he is still Crush to most Orioles’ fans. A lot of us were pleased and relieved that, after hitting 47 home runs in 2015 — a tragic and tense year in Baltimore — Davis signed that big contract to stay here. We want to see him smile again. We want him to be happy, not miserable, with his millions.
Nobody, including Davis, asked me, but I think he has three options:
Option 1: Hit the reset button. This is the obvious thing, and it is probably what Davis has in mind — to double-down on his off-season training, and come back next year and try again. Totally understandable and admirable. The baseball cognoscenti believe he is in a long tailspin, with his batting prowess in permanent decline, and they might be right. Davis is 32. We might have seen the last of his 30-plus home run seasons. But other sluggers have punched back hard after being on the ropes. It could happen with Davis.
If Davis can shake his self-consciousness about his lousy 2018 season and about the millions he makes, he might be able to get his groove back.
And he only needs a 60 percent comeback, according to Stan “The Fan” Charles, who analyzed Davis’ career with the Orioles for a recent piece in Press Box.
“If the Orioles can get 60 percent of the best version of Davis,” Charles wrote, “that comes out to about 30 home runs, 82 RBIs and solid if not spectacular defense, which isn't horrible for $17 million a year.”
Option 2: Walk away. Retire from baseball. Savor the memories and enjoy the significant cash you have already accumulated. Relieve the Orioles of the remainder of the huge contract, theoretically freeing up millions for new players as the team rebuilds.
Davis would not be the first to do this. During the 1994 season, future Hall-of-Famer Ryne Sandberg walked away from the Chicago Cubs and what at the time was one of baseball’s fattest contracts. Sandberg believed his skills had slipped beyond repair. He gave up about $16 million guaranteed.
"It's never been a big part of my thinking or why I played the game," Sandberg said of the money. "It's not the thing that motivated me."
In the winter of 2011, a Kansas City Royals relief pitcher, Gil Meche, left the game and $12 million behind. He was 32 years old and felt guilty about the loot. “Once I started to realize I wasn’t earning my money, I felt bad,” he told The New York Times. “I was making a crazy amount of money for not even pitching. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I deserved it.”
For Chris Davis, there would be no shame in doing this.
Option 3: Play out your contract and take the Orioles’ money, for as long as you feel right about it, but give half of your annual earnings to charities, and let everyone in Birdland know what you’re doing. This might make Davis feel a little better about his predicament — even if the 60 percent hitting comeback does not happen and he ends up on the bench.