No amount of money will make this hitless streak easier for Chris Davis

MLB columnist
Yahoo Sports

No amount of money shortens the distance from the batter’s box to the dugout. No amount of money covers the hard right at first base to the far dugout stairs, not after a while. No house is big enough to soften the looping and hopeless left turn to the dugout on the other side of the field. No fancy car is so smart it would refuse to deliver him to the ballpark, or quite dumb enough to leave him there.

He is oh-fer-ever, has gotten rich for it, and this is the oh-fer-ever part of the story, that he stinks, and extra stinks because he’s paid to be great and isn’t, isn’t close, refuses to be, has no pride, and I don’t believe it. This is what it looks like to fall, to have it all go wrong, to endure it publicly and personally. Who knows why. Not him, clearly. The money is not the soft landing, however. It is – or can be – the burden, which almost no one would view as the burden, which doesn’t make it not so.

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No amount of money mutes the personal disquiet, the ballpark rancor, the public condemnation, the uneasy nights, the sleepless early mornings. The laughter, for which there is no defense. The pity, which is intended otherwise and equally unhelpful. The pretend routine, when there is no pretending and there is no more routine.

Chris Davis hadn’t a hit going on seven months, 206 days, and probably it didn’t matter much that they didn’t play baseball on 184 of those days, and he was benched on some of the days they did. The issue is, Chris Davis is a professional hitter who’d hit .175 for the first 5½ months of last season and .000 after that, including the first 1½ weeks of this one.

Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis set an unfortunate MLB record on Monday night. (Getty Images)
Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis set an unfortunate MLB record on Monday night. (Getty Images)

From the beginning of the 2016 season, so, basically, from the day he agreed to the $161 million contract that keeps him in the lineup, to Monday afternoon, Davis was a .199 hitter. He also hit 80 home runs and walked nearly 200 times and struck out more than 600 times. His on-base percentage was less than .300.

You probably knew all that, or could ballpark it. That, and Chris Davis, 33, grown man, professional ballplayer, human being, Baltimore Oriole, had been hitless in 44 consecutive at-bats since Sept. 14, two at-bats short of the record for a professional hitter and non-pitcher. So, yeah, there’ve been something like 20,000 major league players, the vast majority of whom have posted at least 46 at-bats, and only one position player among them – Eugenio Velez, eight years ago – accumulated 46 in a row without a hit. Already in 2019, through Sunday, 396 players had recorded a hit. Many were good hitters. Some, not so much. Some were pitchers. Hits bounced off bases. They hid themselves in the sun. They spun away from infielders. They died leaning against a foul line. They outsmarted shifts, some intentionally. They were born of sympathetic official scorers. They skipped off shins and other body parts and umpires.

Chris Davis had none of those dating to last September, only outs, in the air, on the ground, and 27 – of the 44 – by strikeout.

And so on Monday afternoon he got into his car, drove to work, showed up, initiated the routine that clearly can’t be trusted, and learned he’d be playing first base and hitting sixth against Oakland A’s right-hander Marco Estrada, against whom he’d had six hits in 36 career at-bats, which counts as hope.

“I’m pulling for him, you know?” manager Brandon Hyde said on the pregame TV show.

Davis’ streak has endured through, now, two managers.

“He’s up front with it,” Hyde, who followed Buck Showalter to the top step, told reporters in Baltimore. “We talk about that and talk a lot about other situations as well. I don’t want to hide anything and I don’t want to try to mask his struggles and what he went through last year. So we’re taking this thing head-on. And I appreciate that from him too, in that he’s open to talk about things with me. Now we are where we are. We’re still talking about it a little bit. So, hopefully we can turn it around.”

Wherever you land on Davis and his part in where the Orioles stand today, which is not yet in last place in the AL East, but they’re probably getting there, as they were last year and the year before that, you cannot look upon his at-bats without feeling something like heartache. How those at-bats must hound him. Torment him. Or maybe that’s just us. He was an All-Star once. He was almost an MVP. Now batting, usually, seventh. Hidden. On Monday night, sixth.

It's been that kind of season for Chris Davis. (AP Photo)
It's been that kind of season for Chris Davis. (AP Photo)

The world turned as usual, and folks went about the business of it, and some would be good at it, others not so good at it, and a few went to the baseball game down the block to see how that’d go. They applauded Chris Davis, much as they could, and sighed when he flied to right field in the second inning, and cheered when the A’s second baseman dropped his foul pop in the second, figuring Davis’ luck was turning, then sighed when Davis flied to left anyway, tying the iconic Velez at 46 consecutive hitless at-bats.

He grinned the way you would if your kid painted his walls with pancake syrup. He took a hard right into the dugout. He accepted the dugout attaboys for a reasonable at-bat. He hung his arms over the dugout rail and watched a baseball game go on without him again. He has a wife and three kids and parents and friends and a dry cleaner and pharmacist and grocer and neighbors, a gardener perhaps, who maybe aren’t keeping track, who maybe weren’t even following his third at-bat Monday night, when he flied to left field, his 47th consecutive without a hit, the record.

So then it wouldn’t much matter anymore, right? Then it would go back to being a slump, a horrible, unthinkable slump, and a guy caught between swings, between pitches, between routines. Then maybe he can start again, restart the career that brought all that attention, all that responsibility and, sure, all that money.

So, be disappointed he isn’t the player you thought or hoped he would continue to be. It’d also be OK to feel for the person – Chris Davis – who isn’t the player he thought he would continue to be.

Because then he came to the plate in the seventh inning and struck out.

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