Few moments in history can be a turning point for a team that becomes a positive and then a negative in such a short time.
For all the history the Baltimore Orioles have, one person sticks out as one who was on the right side and then the wrong side.
For Orioles fans, it’s like nails on a chalk board when you mention his name. When you say his name, you may or may not be pelted by tomatoes, but you definitely would hear a venomous tone pick-up, where what he did for the Birds seems like a fantasy and nothing more. Of course, I would be talking about Chris “Crush” Davis.
A decade ago, the Baltimore Orioles were in the middle of a slight rebuild, working on improving their roster in places they struggled by purging veterans and adding players they could build around.
In 2011, the Texas Rangers were in the midst of a playoff run, and they had an over abundance of first basemen on their roster, with Mitch Moreland and Justin Smoak receiving a bulk of the playing time. They needed some bullpen help, and the Orioles had a reliever in Koji Uehara.
At the time, Uehara had pitched in 47 innings and carried a 1.72 ERA. When the Rangers came calling, the Orioles agreed to trade Uehara for one Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter. Both became main-stays for the Orioles over the next few seasons, with Davis making the biggest impact.
Davis played in 31 games for the Orioles in 2011. Over that time, he batted .272 with two home runs and 13 RBI. This was decent production over a small time frame to give Davis a shot as our full-time first baseman the following season. Of course, no one knew what was to come.
The 2012 season rolled around, and Chris Davis arrived ready to prove he belonged with a big league club. After changing his workout regimen and switching to a bigger bat, Davis came in looking to find a home for his career. This was the beginning of what we would discover to be a “crushing” good time.
Davis would go on to play in 139 games during the 2012 season. He would go on to put up a .270 batting average, but it was his 33 mammoth home runs that would steal the show. Of Davis’ 139 hits, 53 of them went for extra bases, showing Orioles fans that there was a great power hitter in the making. Chris would help lead the Orioles to a Wild Card birth and a knock-out of his former team that same year.
To add to his impressive offensive season, Davis also played a pretty good defense as well. Playing first base, left field, right field, and even winning a game on the mound, he committed only six errors on the season. If 2012 was an outlier on what was to come, then we should expect 2013 to be pretty close to the same, but, boy, were we wrong in the best way.
In 2013, Chris would become known as ‘Crush’ and backed that up by having a career year and one of the best in Orioles’ history.
‘Crush’ would go on to crush a league-leading 53 home runs. An amazing part of Davis’ year is that 58% of his hits went for extra bases. He was a danger at the plate and showed his worth by driving in 138 runs as well. If he wasn’t getting a hit, he also walked 72 times, with 12 of those walks being intentional.
It was a magical season, when Orioles Magic filled the air, and Davis made every at-bat filled with intense emotion with every swing. Sadly, we missed the postseason, but it wasn’t until the final week of the season that the Birds were eliminated.
Davis set numerous records in 2013, the biggest being hitting the most home runs in a season by an Orioles player. An All-Star in 2013, Davis became only the third player in Major League history to hit 50 home runs and 40 doubles in a single season, joining Babe Ruth (1921) and former Oriole, Albert Belle (1995). He set the record for most extra base hits in Orioles history with 96 and hit 28 home runs at home, surpassing Frank Robinson’s 27 at Memorial Stadium. Chris Davis officially arrived, and he “crushed” it in ways no one had before.
Along came 2014 and a crash back down to earth. Chris started off the season hitting the I.L. with an oblique strain, something most hitters take weeks, even months, to get over. It showed that season that our larger than life super hero became mortal, hitting a paltry .196, while also missing 25 games due to a suspension for Adderall.
Who we knew as ‘Crush Davis’ was more associated with ‘Crash Davis’, as he only hit 26 home runs and had a mere 72 RBI. He still did produce 70 walks, but the danger from 2013 was gone. His albatross of strikeouts was 173, not as high as 2013, but landing him for the third most in the American League. What did happen, however, was the Orioles becoming A.L. East Champions. Was Davis a one and done deal, or was this just a fluke year?
The Orioles began play in 2015 with high hopes and looking ready to take on the new challenges that came with being a playoff team and division winner. They would need their slugger to return to form if they were to succeed. Davis came into the season, and he did not disappoint.
‘Crush’ was back, and he would do all he could to help lead the Orioles back to the postseason by once again belting a league-leading 47 home runs, to go along with 117 RBI. Once again, more than 50% of Davis’ hits were for extra bases, and he picked up a then career-high free passes with 84.
Davis also had one of his best defensive seasons, as he committed only three errors and ended the season with a .997 fielding percentage. He was a top-three finalist in Gold Glove voting as well. Sadly, the Orioles finished just outside the playoff mix, but the fun lasted until the end of season. ‘Crush’ the super hero was back and just as dangerous as ever.
Davis became a free agent after the 2015 season, and the off-season was full of tension. Would Davis re-sign with the Orioles? Rumors persisted of the Rockies being interested in signing the hulking first baseman. The Orioles originally offered a 7-year contract worth $154 million in December of 2015, only to have it balked at by Davis and super agent, Scott Boras.
With the off-season winding down, the Orioles offered free agent right fielder, Yoenis Cespedes, a 5-year, $90 million contract that seemed to grab Davis’ attention. It was on January 16, 2016, that an Orioles record contract was signed for seven years, totaling $161 million. This included $42 million that would be differed over 15 years at the end of the contract.
The 2016 season saw the Orioles make the playoffs once again, and the 29-year-old Davis was right in the middle of the push. He finished the season with 38 bombs and 84 RBI. He surpassed his career-high of 84 walks by adding four more, but teams started to figure Davis out.
The shift was used to adjust for Davis being a predominately pull hitter, and his average dropped to .221. Davis would also go on to set a career-high, while leading the league, in strikeouts at 219. Amongst other concerning numbers that season was that Davis only had 59 extra base hits. The home runs were there, but other areas of the game seemed to be going in the wrong direction.
It was the next four seasons of Davis’ career that most fans seem to remember most. These same fans, who once cheered our modern day superhero, began to jeer and turn into Boo Birds.
This was turning into the biggest second guessing of a signing in Orioles history. As sports fans, most of us go by the “What have you done for me lately?” motto. Unfortunately for Chris Davis, the once powerful player on the field would turn into one of the worst players in the league.
For Chris, 2017 would be the last season he ever saw 20-plus home runs; he ended the season with 26. His 61 RBI ended a five-season run of 84 or more runs brought home. This once larger-than-life player was turning into a shell of what fans expected and wanted. They hoped 2017 would be just like 2014 and that he would bounce back again in 2018. Sadly, 2017 would be Davis’ most productive season over the next four years.
Buck Showalter tried various approaches to help bring Davis back to the glory days, giving him extra rest, prolonged days off, and extra time with the batting coach. Davis showed up to the park early and stayed late, trying to expel his hitting demons. He sacrificed so much time that Davis’ defense soon became a liability as well. He was in quick sand and sinking faster than he could breath.
The final straw came when Davis had a hitless streak that spanned 54 at-bats crossing two seasons. In all places, Davis ended his streak in Fenway Park, with the fans there cheering, as the worst hitless streak in Major League history had finally ended. The bottom had been reached, and Davis would unfortunately never return from that place.
Since 2017, Davis has had 1453 plate appearances. In those appearances, Chris batted .185, with 54 home runs and an eye-popping 543 strikeouts. What once was considered a beautiful marriage had become a inescapable nightmare.
A lot of people don’t know how involved in the community Chris and his wife Jill are. Davis’ foundation, Crush’s Homers for Hearts, has a deep meaning to them. The foundation has raised $250,000 to date.
Their daughter, Evie, was born with a ventricular septal defect, which has led to Davis’ involvement with University of Maryland Children’s Hospital. Their donation in the sum of $3 million to the hospital was the largest philanthropic donation in the institution’s history.
I mention this because, despite all of Chris Davis’ struggles on the field, he still made sure the community was a part of his life, for kids and the city of Baltimore. People fail to see that our heroes on the field are bigger heroes off the field.
Davis had hip surgery back in May to repair a labrum. He was already going miss the entire 2021 season. He finally decided to call it a career on August 12, 2021, with one year remaining on his contract. He thanked the organization and, most of all, the fans.
For many fans, we remember a larger-than-life superstar, a man who could hit home runs that were absolutely majestic. A man we called ‘Crush’, who went from stardom to lightning rod. He still showed up and gave everything he had, because that’s the type of man he was. He may of stood from the cheers to the boos with a smile, but, in the end, he is a man we’ll never forget.
Thank you, Chris. Birdland will never forget all you did for our team and our city.
What do you think of the rise and fall of Chris Davis? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to follow The Baltimore Battery on Facebook and Twitter, and follow our podcast, The Walk-Off, on YouTube and Spotify! And, make sure to use the hashtag #baltimorebattery when sharing our content to show your Birdland swag!
Like Stephen’s content? Follow him on Twitter, @SrHeckman!