The impact of Muhammad Ali’s death reverberated throughout the A’s clubhouse, and it cut across generations.
Left fielder Khris Davis isn’t old enough to have watched the boxing legend in the ring, but he’s in tune with the impact Ali made both as a boxer and as a symbol of social change. Davis’ father, Rodney, a longtime baseball scout, made sure his son was educated about Ali’s life.
“He’s definitely been an influence in my life,” Davis said. “I’ve written school reports on him, I’ve watched his documentaries. I definitely picked at his mental game. Just his confidence. My Dad would show me different clips of his interviews, how much he believed in himself.”
A’s third base coach Ron Washington, however, does have memories of watching Ali in the ring. Growing up in New Orleans, he remembers going down to a movie house at age 11 and watching Ali’s first bout with Sonny Liston in 1964.
“I saw the first fight, when everybody thought it was a fake knockout,” Washington recalled. “It wasn’t no fake. That hand was just too quick for the eyes to see.”
Decades later, Washington would get to meet the three-time heavyweight champ when Ali visited the A’s spring training clubhouse in the mid-2000’s. Ali was showing the effects of Parkinson’s disease, but he still carried his swagger.
“I didn’t have a chance to hold a conversation with him, but at least I got to shake his hand. I got to touch him,” Washington said. “He definitely was talking (trash), and that’s the thing I admired most, was that even through the times when it was getting a little rough, he continued to have that confidence and belief.”
In the aftermath of Ali’s passing Friday at age 74, numerous retrospectives have spotlighted his life beyond boxing, including his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War based on his religious beliefs, his impact on the civil rights movement, and his many humanitarian efforts.
Davis, aware that many of Ali’s actions put him under public fire, said he admired how Ali stood up for his convictions.
“It’s easy to feel confidence when things are going good. but he had to stand up for himself, for the things he believed in,” Davis said. “You can’t really care what others think, and you have to believe in your beliefs.”
A’s reliever Sean Doolittle said watching and reading about Ali in the past few days has been an eye-opener.
“There’s a lot about him that I didn’t know,” Doolittle said. “I’m learning about him more as a person and what he did outside the ring. I can’t imagine everything he went through just because of what he believed and what he felt was right. It cost him everything. He got stripped of his title, couldn’t box anymore, was facing jail time. … He stood for a lot more than what he did in the ring.”
Marcus Jensen, the A’s assistant hitting coach, said he spent much of the weekend hopping from ESPN to HBO to other channels absorbing all he could about Ali.
“It was almost like my own little mourning,” Jensen said. “He used his talent, used his skills, as a platform for a much bigger purpose than just boxing. It was more so, the impact he had on people afterward. It appeared to be his life purpose.”