Strictly speaking, I should be writing something about Jackie Robinson today. It is, after all, his day in MLB. Everyone is wearing his number and his name is on everyone’s lips.
And maybe that’s part of my problem–and I emphasize “my” here. Yes, I have strong contrarian tendencies, but that’s not in play here. I wouldn’t not write about Mr. Robinson solely because everyone else is. That would be a form of disrespect for the man and his accomplishments. I try to be better than that.
In truth, the other Jackie said it best: “What Can You Say About Jackie Robinson that Hasn’t Been Said?” She found something, as she so often does. It’s good to be reminded that the Jackie Robinson story didn’t begin in Brooklyn in 1947, or Montreal in 1946, or even Kansas City in 1945. Go read her piece.
I, on the other hand, don’t have anything new to contribute. So, rather than rehash what everyone else is saying about Jackie Robinson, I’d like to say a few words about a different player. A current player.
He’s not going to be remembered as long or as fondly as #42. Or, if he is, it won’t be for the right reasons.
If you follow the sport, you’ve probably already guessed I’m talking about Chris Davis.
I have a sneaking admiration for Mr. Davis.
In 2016, he struck out 219 times. The all-time record for strikeouts in a season is 223, set by Mark Reynolds in 2009. Certainly, baseball has become more accepting of strikeouts since the turn of the century. The highest strikeout total before 2000 was 189 (Bobby Bonds in 1970–and he also had 187 in 1969. Ouch.)
Two hundred nineteen is an impressive record of futility, but it’s not what Chris Davis will be remembered for. Because Chris Davis does hold an MLB record.
Fifty-four consecutive at-bats without a hit. For what it’s worth, 54 is the number worn by Goose Gossage throughout his major league career, including the 1977 season when he struck out 151 batters. Imagine the result if Davis faced Gossage.
Both of them in their respective primes, I mean. Today, Gossage is 67 and he’s probably lost a bit of velocity since ’77 (though history suggests he could still strike Davis out.) And in ’77, Davis wouldn’t have been much of a hitting threat, seeing as how he was still a decade away from being born. Talk about your awkward silences if he’d been announced as the next hitter. And pace of game? Forget it.
But I digress.
I said I admire Davis. Not for his hitting prowess, though to be fair, when he does hit, he hits well. No, I admire his persistence and his ability to put the pressure of the slump aside.
By all reports, he stayed calm as his hitless streak reached historic levels. As George Harrison said, in a slightly different context, “All Things Must Pass“. He didn’t rant and rave, he didn’t bemoan his fate to the media. Equanimity. Grace under pressure. And persistence.
On Saturday, Davis broke the streak in classic fashion, collecting three hits and four RBIs. Mind you, he went 0-4 Sunday and as I write this on Monday morning, he’s 0-1. But the gorilla is off his back. After lugging the five hundred forty pound ape around, a fifty pound chimp is no big deal.
Persistence. He’s still up there swinging. He could be dogging it, playing out his contract–$17 million a year through 2022 and about $40 million over the next fifteen years–or even retiring. But that’s not Chris Davis. And sure, $100 million pays for a lot of patience. Therapy, too, if necessary.
Heck, pay me half of what Chris Davis is making this year, and I’ll go 0-600 on the season with a smile on my face.
But I wouldn’t be getting paid to hit. Chris Davis is. He knows the Orioles’ management is considering their options for getting rid of him. But he still goes out there every day and does what he does.
And that’s why I admire Chris Davis. In his position, I’d have blown up long ago.