There have been 30 players in major league history who have hit 50 or more home runs in a season, and as of today, the only ones who are active are Pete Alonso, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton.
Chris Davis, who hadn’t played this season and only got into 16 games last year, announced his retirement on Thursday, with one season still remaining on the seven-year, $161 million contract that he signed after a 47-homer campaign in 2015. Over the course of that contract, Davis hit .196 with 92 home runs and 762 strikeouts in 1,851 at-bats, and the Orioles slid from a wild-card berth in 2016 to complete irrelevance as the doormat of the American League East
The contract, rightly, will go down as possibly the biggest nine-figure bust of all time, but it’s just as wrong to think of Davis only for his precipitous decline (which started after a successful first year of the big deal) as it is to think about Albert Pujols only in terms of his godforsaken Angels years.
We talk a bunch in sports about generational talents, and not nearly as much about generational flourishes of greatness. Davis’ career is a brilliant case study in the latter.
Davis retires with 295 career home runs. Only three of the other retired members of the 50-homer season club have come up short of 300 lifetime dingers, with Stanton already having passed 300 among the active players, and both Alonso and Judge looking like good bets to eventually get there.
Not surprisingly, Davis also is part of a subset of the 50-homer club who hit more than half of his dingers in a four-year stretch. Those players?
Hack Wilson, 1927-30: 156/244
Hank Greenberg, 1937-40: 172/331
Ralph Kiner, 1947-50: 192/369
Roger Maris, 1960-63: 156/275
Cecil Fielder, 1990-93: 160/319
Brady Anderson, 1996-99: 110/210
Ryan Howard, 2006-09: 198/382
Prince Fielder, 2007-10: 162/319
Chris Davis, 2013-16: 164/295
Greenberg’s prime was interrupted by World War II. Kiner won seven straight National League home run titles and only played three more seasons. Cecil Fielder spent a chunk of his career in Japan, while injuries slammed Prince Fielder and Howard in their respective primes. Those guys all were stars. The category that Davis fits, along with Wilson (the longtime National League single-season home run king), Maris (the longtime major league single-season home run king), and Anderson (the author of the most unlikely 50-homer season ever), is something more like a meteor.
And meteors are amazing. They light up the sky, flashing brilliantly as they appear suddenly and go out of sight just as quickly. Sure, you’ve got the constants at the other end of the spectrum — legends like Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez, and Babe Ruth, who hit less than 30 percent of their career homers in any four-year stretch — but there should be room to appreciate brilliance as much as greatness.
The Louvre doesn’t just have Michelangelo and da Vinci adorning its galleries, but also masterpieces like “The Raft of the Medusa,” by Thêodore Géricault — not a one-hit-wonder of Romantic art, but an artist whose heights were just as high as the legends, just not for the same amount of time, as he died at 32 from tuberculosis and a series of horse-riding accidents.
So, rather than dwelling on the past five years, here’s to Davis’ early-to-mid 2010s, a stretch of power-hitting as dominant as any in history, which propelled the woebegone Orioles to contention, and worthy of baseball’s own Louvre in upstate New York, even if they never give him a plaque there.
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