Once upon a time, Chris Davis was one of the most fearsome sluggers in baseball
By now you've probably seen the headline: Thanks to an 0-for-5 night against the A's on Monday, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis is now hitless in his last 49 at-bats, a new Major League record. Davis' last base hit was a double against the White Sox ... on Sept. 14, 2018. He's struck out 29 times since. It's not going great.
But the story here isn't simply "man struggles to hit MLB pitching." Something like 99.99 percent of the population, tons of baseball players included, would and do struggle to hit MLB pitching -- it's absurdly, almost incomprehensibly difficult! You try squaring this up with a skinny piece of lumber without immediately assuming the fetal position:
99 mph shouldn't move like that. 🤯 pic.twitter.com/MHx38w33TS— MLB (@MLB) April 3, 2019
I mean, look at that thing. It's not weird to have a hard time hitting that; it's weird to actually be able to hit that. Which brings us back to Davis: Sure, he's in the slump to end all slumps right now, but the streak is so fascinating because, not too long ago, he was among the best hitters in the world.
That's really not an exaggeration. From 2012 to 2016, Davis was a monster, averaging 40 homers a year and leading the league in dingers twice -- including a whopping 53 in 2013, when he finished third in AL MVP voting. And he didn't just hit home runs. He hit moonshots:
That dinger is Davis distilled -- even more jaw-dropping than where he could park a baseball was just how easy he made it look. Aaron Judge is the current king of turning even the most casual fly ball into a heart-in-your-throat moment. But years before he came along, Davis was baseball's Paul Bunyan: He had size and strength that the game had hardly ever seen before, and the ease with which he could do its most outstanding thing -- hit a ball out of the ballpark -- seemed almost mythic.
For most, a homer is a feat to be proud of, the confluence of a million little things lining up just so. All Davis had to do was wave his bat at the ball like he was swatting a fly with a newspaper:
OK, sorry, just one more:
Yes, 0-for-49 is 0-for-49. Davis has his name next to one of the most futile marks in the Major League record book, and he probably will for a very long time. He's a professional athlete, this is the job, and no one, especially not Davis himself, is asking you to feel too sorry for him.
But it's worth remembering that this isn't just some guy off the street, or a light-hitting middle infielder with a career average hovering around the Mendoza Line. This is the same man who was once one of the funnest at-bats in the league, and what he's going through right now is really a testament to how unforgiving of a game baseball can be: Davis once had one of the rarest skills a person can possess, then watched it evaporate in front of him. Hitless streak or not, it's fascinating -- and deeply humanizing -- to watch him try to get it back.