Welcome to the fifth edition of Around the Horn. If you’re still new to this space, this will be a recurring op-ed that riffs on whatever’s recently noteworthy in baseball, except it will have a more satirical slant. Think a stripped down Last Week Tonight or Daily Show in a column format, except all about baseball. There will be recurring segments about the good, bad, and ugly in the world of America’s Pastime. Additionally, as often as possible, we’ll end with an interview as well.
There’s a lot to discuss, so let’s get right to our first segment:
(Our Main Story)
Chris Davis has been in the news lately and it has nothing to do with hitting moonshots like he once did and everything to do with the fact that, for a while now, fans would rather watch the grounds crew rake dirt between innings than see him swing the bat.
Davis snapped a hitless streak of 54 at-bats with a two-run single against the Red Sox the other day. That 54 at-bat hitless streak is an MLB record for a positional player, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, an ignominious “achievement” to be sure. At the same time, such futility is absolutely noteworthy when a player has the fortitude to battle through such adversity and overcome it. After all, in 1971 Red Sox shortstop Luis Aparicio was 0-for-44 when he ended his hitless streak one short of the record with a grand slam against the Indians in Cleveland. The next day, as Peter Gammons noted, Aparicio received a telephone call from President Richard Nixon.
Seriously. That happened.
There’s something about a streak, good or bad, that captivates fans. The country was enthralled by Roger Maris chasing Babe Ruth. Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak captivated the nation. Cal Ripken captured the heart of every baseball fan everywhere just by showing to the field up every day… 2,632 times, as two decades passed and three more presidents took office. However, America loves an underdog story, too.
Davis had not recorded a hit since September of 2018. Getting booed by thousands in the stands had become a ritual and fans had begun to give standing ovations when Davis was lifted for a pinch hitter. It’s hard to qualify the damage to the psyche that can occur when you’re treated like a pariah in front of your own fans. In fairness, the outrage doesn’t stem from as much from the hitless streak as much as it does from Davis’ contract, which might go down as the worst in baseball history. After hitting more than 150 bombs in just four years, Davis signed a $161 million deal with Baltimore and he’s only hit 80 homers since (38 of them came back in 2016, to give you some context). Davis hit .168 with a .243 OBP last season, striking out in nearly half his at-bats. For those clamoring for big name free agents to get paid for past production, Davis has become Exhibit A for why teams should not do so.
Davis hears the boos, but he also hears the supportive cheers as well. In an interview with ESPN’s Eddie Matz, Davis showed both class and dignity when he had this to say:
We won the game and I went 0-for-5, and I knew that the media was going to want to talk about it. For me, that was just such an unprofessional thing to do, to sit there and talk about my own personal circumstances when we had so many things to be excited and encouraged about as a ballclub. I want these guys to enjoy playing in the big leagues. I want them to enjoy playing for the Orioles, playing for the city of Baltimore. I want them to understand that it’s a privilege to be able to put on this uniform night in and night out. I want them to do as much as they can to have the best outcome possible, and I don’t think it’s fair for me to bring all the baggage that I have with me right now and dump it on those guys.
As the hitless streak gained notoriety and began trending on Twitter, more and more fans began tuning in to see Chris Davis hit. Some hoped he would quickly begin a slow walk back to the dugout, fascinated with morbid curiosity by how long such a streak could truly continue. Others wanted to see the elation that could perhaps come with doing one of the most basic things every MLB position player is expected to do: get on base.
When you’re in a rut, it can feel like you’re wandering in a dark tunnel and there’s no way out of it. Most of us carry our burdens privately, agonizing over our failures on the car ride home or on the subway, with eyes closed and earbuds drowning out the noise around us but not the deafening self-doubt inside our heads. Davis has had to wear it in public, fighting to keep his chin up among thousands who jeer him in the only city where he used to be cheered for playing a major part in resurrecting its downtrodden franchise.
So, when he finally registered a hit — an RBI hit — his reaction would, of course, be… priceless:
🍻 Cheers, #Baltimore!
Chris Davis knocks a 2-run single in the 1st. 💪 pic.twitter.com/E9emfDa6B5
— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) April 13, 2019
Yes, he asked for the ball. No, it may not be worth much to you or me, but it sure meant a lot to Chris Davis and the story and lessons behind it might be some of the most profound he’ll ever share with his daughters Ella, Evelyn, and Dorothy. For them, that ball will hopefully serve as a sentimental and personal reminder from their father of what grit, perseverance, and resiliency look like.
And what the game of baseball, much like life, can look like sometimes, as well.
Out of the Park
(A Look Beyond the Boxscores for the Best in Baseball This Week)
Brandon Belt and Chris Davis don’t figure to have much in common outside of the fact that both play first base in the major leagues. However, both players have consistently drawn the ire of their respective fan bases over the years and they each turned in what might have been the most interesting week of their respective careers for different reasons.
Belt hasn’t had nearly the same trouble as Davis when it comes to production on the field, though staying on the field hasn’t been easy. The fact he hasn’t played more than 112 games the last two seasons has certainly left both the Giants and their fans frustrated with Belt, though most of his ailments have hardly been his fault. After all, it’s hard to stay on the field when people are throwing baseballs at your head.
Nonetheless, a lot of what has made Belt underrated has also made him the object of negative attention over the years. Belt has a career OBP of .356 during his nine seasons in the big leagues. He has a discerning eye, to a fault, many Giants fans would say. They’d much prefer Belt abandon walks for increased aggression with pitches in and around the strike zone to finally give the team a middle-of-the-order threat capable of more than 20 home runs, as a 6’4″, 235-pound first baseman should. Fans can’t move past the idea of a player who boasted a 1.075 OPS across three levels in the minors at age 22, flying through the Giants’ lower levels in his quick rise to the majors. Belt has always been a polarizing player among Giants’ fans. Even the San Jose Sharks left him hanging and gave him the cold shoulder after he opened the door for them:
Brandon Belt opens the door for the Sharks before game 1 🙌 pic.twitter.com/VJ7q2EmKWq
— Sharks on NBCS (@NBCSSharks) April 11, 2019
And yet, Brandon Belt might be baseball’s most interesting player. No, the “Baby Giraffe” moniker is not the reason why. Believe it or not, it has everything to do with what he does on the field rather than what he does not. Regardless of whatever gripes some fans may have with Belt’s bat, his glove seems to be working just fine:
It weirdly didn’t count because of a balk but this was a Gold Glove play by Brandon Belt: pic.twitter.com/vog3edE2bE
— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) April 13, 2019
When asked by John Shea about playing left field if needed, Belt responded, “I’m going for the double Gold Glove Award this year.” The guy is just unfazed these days.
Sure, that power stroke Belt showed in minors hasn’t truly translated for the Giants, though playing half his games at Oracle Park (formerly AT&T Park) hasn’t helped. Belt will likely never put up the kind of power numbers Giants’ fans hoped for at first base, but he may have already cemented his legacy among those fans with this moniker:
“Mr. 18th inning.”
Brandon Belt has now scored in every 18th inning he has ever played in. pic.twitter.com/qCZXUXkpvg
— Tim Martinez (@MoreSplashHits) April 13, 2019
That dinger ended the 18-inning marathon that was Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS. Well after midnight this past weekend, Belt hit a monstrous double in the 18th into “Triples Alley” that probably would have been a tape measure homer in almost every other MLB ballpark. He would later come around to score on this play:
#MLB 18 episodios en 5hrs y 35 minutos, para que San Francisco Giants vencieran a Colorado Rockies, por 3-2, hasta se retó esta jugada.
Erik Kratz impulsó a Brandon Belt para anotar la de la victoria de #SFGiants.
— Bitácora Deportiva (@BitacoraPma) April 13, 2019
Mr. 18th inning, indeed. Always ready… except when a Final Four game is on TV, of course:
I counted the number of times Brandon Belt was sneaking a peak of the Final Four game during his postgame interview. 😂 It was a lot. #SFGiants pic.twitter.com/V7OMwjI8fV
— Ryan McGeary (@RM_Geary) April 7, 2019
(Where Baseball Got Caught Looking)
Seriously, what in the blue hell happened here?
I can’t even begin to describe this. You have to watch. pic.twitter.com/ihYQsP20T7
— Jeff Fletcher (@JeffFletcherOCR) April 13, 2019
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) April 10, 2019
2019 has already become legendary.
Billy Hamilton vs The Freeze would be the best All-Star event ever:
Developing story: Billy Hamilton is fast.#AlwaysRoyal pic.twitter.com/ChezuiAvOB
— Kansas City Royals (@Royals) April 10, 2019
Also, I don’t know how you don’t confuse this moment with something detailed on parchment about crossing the Delaware after signing the Declaration of Independence.
jason vargas was “confused” about his outing and i’m confused about this whole scene pic.twitter.com/RLkFAYzyHn
— alexis lamarsh (@clutchmarp) April 14, 2019
Either way, history is usually cooler when you wear it:
Time Travel Is Amazin’ #LGM
🔥👕 available only at:https://t.co/9WMyKXiWEQ pic.twitter.com/KaNWiAMt28
— RotoWear (@RotoWear) April 14, 2019
And that’s the ballgame for this week!
(Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)