Dear Chris Davis: Do The Ethical Thing, Be An Ethics Hero. Quit.

Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis is making baseball history, and not in a good way. Once a fearsome slugger—Davis led the American League with 53 home runs in 2013, and hit 38 as recently as 2016—he has lost whatever it is that allows a baseball player to hit a ball thrown at him at up to 100 mph. Last season, at the advanced baseball age of 32 when most players, not all, but most, begin to decline, Davis fell off the metaphorical cliff.

His batting average was .168, the worst  in major league history for a regular, with  a  horrible .539 OPS (On base percentage plus slugging percentage), and a -2.5 WAR, meaning that the Orioles would have won 2.5 more games with a borderline major leaguer from the minors playing in his place. There were no injuries or other explanations for Davis’s sudden morph into an automatic out, and sometimes, not always, but sometimes, players bounce back a little bit after such a so-called “collapse” season.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that this won’t happen in Davis’s case. So far in 2019, Davis is 0-for-23 with 13 strikeouts this season and is hitless in 44 at-bats since last September 14. That’s within two outs of the record for consecutive hitless at-bats by a non-pitcher.

Want to know why baseball’s free agents over the age of 30 didn’t get the big long term contracts they expected this off-season?  Look no further than the Orioles’ predicament with Davis. They had to pay him 23 million dollars to be the worst player in baseball last season, when Baltimore lost 118 games. They are on the hook for the same amount this year, and three more seasons after that.

The Orioles don’t want to not play their highest paid player, though eventually they will have no choice. (Last year’s manager, Buck Showalter, was foolish to play him as much as he did, though it’s possible the manager was  being ordered to do so.) Davis can’t be traded, and if he’s released, the Orioles still have to pay the whole amount they owe him now.

Chris Davis is reputed to be a good team mate and an admirable man. If he is, then the ethical course should be clear. He can’t do the job he was paid to do. He’s killing the team. If he were injured and unable to play, the Orioles could have collected the insurance on his salary, but you can’t get insurance to cover a player’s  just losing it.

Assuming Davis doesn’t suddenly rediscover his batting stroke in a couple weeks, an increasingly unlikely scenario, he should call a press conference and do what some baseball players better than he have done when they realized they could no longer play at the level they were paid to. Quit. Retire. Say that he has too much respect for the game, his team mates, Baltimore, the Orioles, its fans, and himself to keep  on with the embarrassing futility of trying to play major league baseball when he no longer has the skill to do so while receiving millions to fail.  Then he should walk away, an Ethics Hero, and a model of integrity.

Now let’s not over-estimate the sacrifice this would entail. Davis would be forfeiting 69 million dollars plus whatever’s left for 2019, but he already has earned almost 119 million. It’s not like his family will be eating cat food, and he will have the pleasure of proving that he didn’t want to get millions for a job he could no longer do well, or even adequately. Moreover, he will be helping his team be better by quitting than he would by playing the only way he can—badly.

If Davis wants to cushion the blow, of course, he could negotiate a buy-out of his contract. Th e Orioles would certainly be thrilled to pay many millions to save many more. But he shouldn’t do that. He should just quit. Last season he was an albatross on the Orioles, an aviary monstrosity.

This season he can be a hero. Much better.


17 thoughts on “Dear Chris Davis: Do The Ethical Thing, Be An Ethics Hero. Quit.

  1. Jack: “If Davis wants to cushion the blow, of course, he could negotiate a buy-out of his contract. Th e Orioles would certainly be thrilled to pay many millions to save many more. But he shouldn’t do that. He should just quit.”

    Unless you advocate ball clubs paying players more than contract if they have a better than expected season, I disagree.

    I understand the personal integrity of throwing in the towel when you can’t play the way you would like. But, the Orioles should not get off cheap. They agreed to pay him. They both took chances. They both should re-negotiate in good faith; the onus does not fall down on one side.

    At the same time, I can’t help but think he thinks he is in a slump that he can pull himself out of. Right or wrong, can you expect him to judge his position clearly? When he steps up to the plate, he knows his job is to connect, to put the ball in play and see what happens. All of your statistical arguments are fine; he does not look at himself as a statistic. He thinks he just needs to hit the ball.

    I never learned to hit a curve ball (one of the most difficult tasks in all of sports). He has. Without an injury or something to explain it, it is all about bat speed, reaction time, and a good eye. Whether he still has it, only the stats tell him he doesn’t, but, at every plate appearance, he probably thinks he can do it.

    (Of course, if he has realized that he is done, he should graciously acknowledge reality, and the Orioles should be equally gracious toward him.


    • Except that ethical clubs DO reward players who wildly exceed what their salaries paid for. Look at what the Braves just did for Ronald Acuna Jr. They weren’t obligated to pay him more than the major league minimum for several more years, but gave him a huge raise anyway. Players who exceed expectations know they will be rewarded one way or the other; its not a good analogy. I can’t think of any team-favoring equivalent of a Davis situation. Can you?

      And sure, some people are incapable of self-awareness, resort to denial, and put off dealing with reality while others suffer. That’s an explanation, but no excuse. It’s like seniors who insist on driving despite ample evidence that they can’t.

      • Unfortunately, at least for now, Davis still has the same thing going for him that aging seniors have – a powerful amount of clout and probably a powerful agent advocating for him. That said, his clout diminishes every day he performs poorly, and may get to the point where it means nothing. On the other hand, the senior lobby will retain its power for quite some time to come. Individuals will lose their licenses when they are at fault in fatalities, but no state is going to put a system in place in which senior citizens must have yearly eye tests and other tests to keep their licenses.

        • UPDATE: Davis is now 0-49, and set a new MLB record for batting lousiness. Last night, O’s broadcasters kept harping on the fact that Davis hit some balls hard that were caught. It’s all very sad.

          • I was at the game last night, every time he went up to bat there was a substantial increase in cheering for Chris Davis, out of what felt like legitimate support. If I were in his shoes I would quit, when the fans stop booing your poor performance and start cheering out of pity, any sense of self respect requires you to step down. It was embarrassing.

      • Except that’s not really what the Braves did. What they’ve done, and Acuna has done, is paid out salary through the next 8 years at what they both think is a reasonable amount for each year being it’s guaranteed. If Acuna plays anywhere near his potential, this contract is a win for the Braves. They will have an excellent player locked up through his arbitration and early free agent years at a good price. (the deal tops out at $17mil a year, and that’s the last 2 years when he would be a free agent. And the Braves can buy those out for $10m). If he doesn’t, or gets hurt, then Acuna wins in getting paid even if he doesn’t pan out. Notably, Acuna is “only” (in baseball terms) getting paid $1m, each, for the next 2 years when he could get minimum, which is over $500k anyway, so not much more. That’s not a huge raise at all. I can’t really think of any teams that truly give a huge raise (or bonus) to a player having unexpectedly good years. Blake Snell won the AL Cy Young last year for Tampa, barely makes more then minimum then, or this year. Neither does Aaron Judge and many other top young players. Right there are two huge team-favoring equivalent situations. If they play another two excellent seasons and get hurt, or fall apart, they’ll never get paid.

  2. Just walk away? The club can sit him and have remedial batting coaching. Why are they not sitting him? I assume there is a reason although there are certainly minor league players who can field the position, as well as a couple of players who are not currently starting. The club, not he, made the “mistake” — if there was one — on the contract. The ONLY ethical thing for the club to do is live up to the contract (which they seem to be doing). Is it really unethical, in your view, for a player to accept what the club agreed to pay? Would that also mean that a player who cannot play due to minor injury should simply accept the medical treatment but not the pay? I am on the other side of this one. If the club believes they have no further use for him, the club should be the one coming to him, telling him they believe his productive playing career is over, and negotiating a buyout. On the other hand, as I believe that politicians who are clearly fading in effectiveness should retire, maybe I am being hypocritical? (The buyout could be in the form of, essentially, an “enhanced retirement” paid over many years. )

    • Sure, it’s unethical to accept money when you can no longer provide the services they paid for. Davis has no incentive to accept any accommodation by the Orioles rather than full payment, except a sense of decency. That wasted money hurts everyone and everything he works with and for. It makes the team worse, it loses games, it hamstrings management. Meanwhile, he’s already rolling in the money he DID earn.

      By the way, when I had to cut staff and salaries in a non-profit I was in charge of, I cut my own salary. I didn’t have to: I had a contract. But it was the ethical thing to do.

      • Jack: “Sure, it’s unethical to accept money when you can no longer provide the services they paid for. ”

        Two problems with this.

        First: he is not a DH. He is being paid to do more than hit, I presume. He is doing an adequate job at 1B, no? So, it is not a simple matter of his being a poor hitter. He is paid for more than that.

        The fact he hit a record, in and of itself, is not dispositive. His slump may be extensive but, unless you know who held the earlier record, you can’t make a good judgment about it. If the previous record-holder was a declining veteran with little hope of recovery, giving this guy some extra slack may be justified.

        I just don’t know. But, if Davis can hit the ball, that is the biggest thing. Put the ball in play; that is the best way to get a hit. If you can put the ball in play, your chances of getting a hit increase immensely.


        • He’s a decent first baseman, but he’s not being paid 23 million for his fielding. A low minors player could play the position well enough.

          Thanks for asking about the other players. The previous record was held by Eugenio Velez, a Dodger scrub in his final season. He was never a regular, and had a negative career WAR. Before him, the record was held by Bill Bergen, a Brooklyn catcher in 1909 who played 11 years and hit .170 for his entire career; Dave Campbell, another negative WAR career player who had a .213 lifetime average in the 1970’s; and by far the best of the group, Craig Counsel, a durable utility infielder who actually had some value. But he was still just a .255 hitter and had just 42 homers in 16 seasons. And he set his record, like Velez, in his final season.

          This is persuasive evidence that going that long without a hit is something major league hitters just don’t do, and if you do go that long, you don’t belong in a line-up, or on a roster.

  3. Davis’ slump is a record, maybe. But there surely are observations that keener observers than Jack and I are making about Davis that give them reason to keep him in the lineup and allowing him the opportunity to hit.

    I do not believe his being in the lineup despite hitting so poorly is all due to his contract. I just won’t believe that. Is he knocking souvenirs over the fence during batting practice? And what about those hard-hit balls that have been putouts? Be fair to the guy, at least.

    I recall a certain Alex Bregman of the Astros, whose first long string of times at bat, beginning with his debut, were mostly unsuccessful. Okay, so Bregman was just breaking in, and Davis is a veteran. So what? If I were the GM, I’d give Davis a little more time, a good bunch more ABs, before benching him. I don’t know all his hitting stats, but, maybe he’d do better, and well enough to help the team, if platooned.

    It is a sad thing to watch, when a hitter of earlier renown goes downhill to permanent mediocrity or worse. But baseball is a storybook about stories of comebacks. I think Davis has comeback in him – at the very least, comeback potential.

  4. Now batting— number 24… Willie Mays. This man is arguably the best baseball player to ever step into a pair of spikes. Hit for average, hit for power, speed, skilled base runner, arm like a canon … But he stayed at the dance a little too long and today many only remember him from his last seasons with the Mets, where he was barely average.

    Mr. Davis here, is now saddled with a dubious personal record. Thos earlier years as a terror to opposing pitchers will soon be forgotten; the new record will live for ever. His coming to grips with this and holding that presser will be his last best chance.

    • Willie was lucky: The Mets won the World Series in that last year (1973), and he was regarded as a good luck charm. He even had a key rbi in the Series. Willie wasn’t bad in the previous season—his OPS was .848, well above average. I think we can give a player one year to figure out it’s over, especially the great ones.

      It does make David Ortiz’s final season all the more amazing: 48 homers, .315 average, leading the Al in both slugging an OPS. And he was 41, just a year younger than Willie in 1973.

      • I agree, players have good and bad seasons through their careers. Slight changes in their play can influence a lot, plus things like injuries and good/bad luck can make a season vary. One or two seasons don’t show it’s over (just like one or two great seasons doesn’t mean a player is a breakout hit either).

        Side note, The Mets lost the 1973 World Series to the A’s (though they did take them to 7 games)

        • 1. Players don’t have THAT extreme a season, though, and still keep playing. That’s why Davis’s 2018 season was an all-time worst. It’s signature significance:uninjured players who are still any good literally never have a season like that.

          2. Correct. I was thinking of the play-offs where the Mets upset the Reds.

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