BALTIMORE — It lasted for about four seconds during the first minute of the 1 o’clock hour on Thursday, in the second inning of the Orioles-Athletics game at Camden Yards. It happened just as a yellow helicopter appeared in the sky beyond center field. You’d think maybe Chris Davis would have stayed out of the batter’s box until it passed. You’d think a hitless hitter would want to avoid all distractions, particularly the clamorous arrival of a helicopter in the vast tableau behind the opposing pitcher.
But Davis swung his bat, and the bat hit the ball, and the ball sailed out on a line to center field. For a moment, it appeared that our long, nationally ridiculed nightmare would end, that the gruesome spell would be broken, that Davis would be off the schneid.
The fallen slugger’s swing resembled his swing of legend. The ball had been hit hard. It had the makings of a line-drive single, maybe even a double.
But, somewhere near the warning track, the Oakland center fielder came into view, and he appeared to be tracking the ball smartly. As he reached for it, he gave a little hop-skip and landed a few feet from the wall, the ball snug in his glove.
And that was the end of that.
Half an hour later, Davis grounded out. In the seventh inning, he managed to draw a walk and score a run. In his last at-bat, he struck out. The Birds lost, and headed to Boston for the weekend. Watching the eager, young Orioles in this rebuilding time is interesting and sometimes fun. Watching Chris Davis is not.
Thursday’s official attendance was 8,374, and each time he came to the plate, Davis received encouraging cheers and chants. That says a lot about how Baltimore feels about the guy, though we’d feel better if he could reach even half of his best form — 25 home runs, and maybe 70 runs batted in — or, given that he’s already collected millions, announce some concession about his huge salary.
I suggested last fall, after Davis’ epic collapse — a disaster within the disaster of the 2018 Orioles — that he continue to take the Orioles’ money, but, unless he reaches certain self-imposed batting goals, give half of his earnings to charities, and let everyone in Birdland know about it.
While many fans wrote to say they found merit in that idea, they didn’t think it would happen. As a former Orioles economic adviser, Stephen J.K. Walters, pointed out in a Sun op-ed, the $92 million the Orioles still owe Davis through 2022 is considered a “sunk” cost that must be paid. Davis has a contractual right to it.
Unless, of course, something rare happens. Unless Davis refuses to accept it.
That’s another option I suggested last year. Davis, 33, could retire and relieve the Orioles of the remainder of his huge contract, theoretically freeing up millions for new position players and better pitchers as the team rebuilds. There would be no shame in that.
And it’s not unheard-of.
A pitcher, Gil Meche, had built a successful record with the Seattle Mariners before signing a five-year, $55 million contract with the Kansas City Royals. As his performance faltered and he pitched less, Meche decided to walk away from the Royals and the $12 million left on his contract.
In parting from baseball in 2011 at the age of 32, he said some remarkable things: “When I signed my contract, my main goal was to earn it. Once I started to realize I wasn’t earning my money, I felt bad. I was making a crazy amount of money for not even pitching. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I didn’t want to have those feelings again. … Making that amount of money from a team that’s already given me over $40 million for my life and for my kids, it just wasn’t the right thing to do.”
Where does that kind of thinking come from? I never studied anatomy beyond high school, but I believe it comes from the gland that produces integrity and an ethic of gratitude.
As someone who rooted for Davis to get a good contract with the Orioles in December 2015 — at the end of a terrible year in the life of our city — I would feel a lot better if, in 2019, he offered some kind of concession, some evidence that he recognizes the bigger picture, that the Orioles need to move on and rebuild.
Of course, if, against all odds, the big guy goes on a sudden tear against the Red Sox, we can revisit this subject next week.
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