If Ori­oles’ Davis steps away from mil­lions, it’s not un­heard of

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY DAN RODRICKS

It lasted for about four sec­onds dur­ing the first minute of the 1 o’clock hour 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 RBIs – or, given he al­ready has 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 team’s 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 re­cent Baltimore 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 rest 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 age 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 dur­ing 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 went on a sud­den tear against the Red Sox, we can re­visit this sub­ject.

MICHAEL DWYER AP

Baltimore’s Chris Davis ends his ma­jor league record 54 at-bat hit­less streak in his first at-bat Satur­day at Boston when, lin­ing a bases-loaded, two-run sin­gle in the first in­ning.

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