Chris Davis might want to shut up and keep hitting home runs without trying to revise baseball history to suit real or imagined whims. It is not his place to tell baseball or its fans whose single-season home run record is legitimate.
The Baltimore Orioles first baseman leads the major leagues with 37 home runs through 95 games, going into Friday’s game against the Texas Rangers. Much was made about the game’s fresh new faces during this week’s all-star festivities, and at a time when commissioner Bud Selig is mulling over slapping substantial penalties on some of the game’s biggest names as a result of their alleged connection to an anti-aging clinic based in Coral Gables, Fla., an unsullied (so far) run at Barry Bonds’s 73 homers would be the gift of gifts.
It’s going to take a Herculean effort by Davis, who has a better shot at Roger Maris’s total of 61 homers hit in 1961 – a record that remains the American League standard, but was surpassed three times by Sammy Sosa while he was with the Chicago Cubs and by Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals, who homered 70 times in 1998, before Bonds set the existing single-season mark in 2001.
Bonds, Sosa and McGwire are considered to be the steroid era’s principal sluggers, and Davis – a 27-year-old whose career high was 33 homers in 2012 – has started to experience some of the scrutiny familiar to Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays. When Bautista hit 54 homers in 2010 at 29 to became the first ‘wow’ slugger of the post-steroid (or, perhaps more accurately, drug-tested) era, he became the first hitter after Bonds et al whose spike in power led to raised eyebrows.
Bautista dealt with it answering questions and dealing with innuendo in a very matter-of-fact manner. He did not attempt to make himself Mr. Clean in the manner of Davis and he certainly was never brazen enough to suggest that the real single-season record was 61 homers.
That is what Davis did earlier this month in an interview when he said, “There’s a lot of things that have been said about the guys who have come after him [Maris] and have achieved the record, but I think as far as fans are concerned they still view Maris as being the all-time home run record holder, and I think you have to.”
Davis’s peers almost unanimously disagreed with that assessment when queried about the record in New York this week and rightly so. It is by now apparent that there has been a change in attitude among players toward increased suspensions and pursuit of players who use performance-enhancing substances – there is a malleability to the Major League Baseball Players Association that never existed under Marvin Miller or Donald Fehr – but what is also apparent is that there is little appetite to rewrite the record book and start adding asterisks willy-nilly beside any record set during the late 1990s or early 2000s.
Perhaps it’s as simple as Joey Votto’s take on it, that Davis knows he can’t approach Bonds’s number so he’s attempting to devalue it. (Davis is on pace for – tah-dah! – 62 homers.) Marketing 101, no?
Perhaps Davis hopes to set himself up as some kind of wholesome, All-American alternative to the bad, old druggie sluggers of yore. That, too, is marketing 101 and it is to be hoped that the game’s chattering classes exercise prudence when joining Davis or sanctifying somebody as “clean.” Because all that word means in the context of any athlete is that he or she has never been caught that we know of; the truth is nobody knows with 100-per-cent certainty what has gone into making somebody the player they are, not managers or teammates and certainly not anybody in the media.
So let the drug cops do their thing. Let the fans put their own asterisks on things. Segregation, recreational drug use, juiced balls, elevated and lowered mounds, day baseball versus night baseball – smarter people than Chris Davis have been struggling to deal with the many textures of baseball.
He might want to be careful who he’s pushing out of the way to get on top of the pedestal.
Tampa Bay Rays (55-41) at Toronto Blue Jays (45-49)
Friday, 7:07 p.m. (ET): RHP Esmil Rogers (3-4, 3.64 ERA) vs. LHP David Price (3-5, 3.94).
Saturday, 1:07 p.m.: LHP Mark Buehrle (5-6, 4.89) vs. RHP Jeremy Hellickson (8-3, 4.67).
Sunday, 1:07 p.m.: RHP R.A Dickey (8-10, 4.69) vs. RHP Chris Archer (4-3, 2.96).
The series at Rogers Centre is the first for both teams following the all-star break and for the Blue Jays, the ramifications are huge heading into baseball’s second half. The Blue Jays’ 11-game winning streak, which started in June, seems like an eternity ago. The Jays undid most of that by then going 7-13 to remain in last place in the American League East with a losing record of 45-49. The Blue Jays are 11 1/2 games back of the Boston Red Sox for first in the division and 8 1/2 behind the Texas Rangers for the second wild-card slot, so they have a lot of ground to make up. A good start against the divisional-rival Rays, which begins a 10-game home stand, is imperative. … David Price takes the mound for Tampa in the first game, and he has owned the Blue Jays in his career, with a 12-2 record and a 2.28 earned-run average. … The Rays begin the series just 2 1/2 games out of the division lead. … The series will afford Toronto fans their first opportunity to see Brett Lawrie in action at second base. After returning to the lineup July 13 after missing more than six weeks with a high ankle sprain, Lawrie has been at second base rather than third for two games. The energetic competitor has gone 1-for-8 at the plate since his return. … … Tampa third baseman Evan Longoria has also been struggling with the bat, hitting .136 with one home run and five RBI in his past 18 games.
With files from Robert MacLeod