Welcome to the All-Time Franchise Starting Lineup, where we go through one of the current MLB franchises every other week to determine the players most deserving of making the squad. This week it’s the Baltimore Orioles‘ turn. If you missed our first two installments, check out the Arizona Diamondbacks and Atlanta Braves lineups. Below are the selection process parameters for those who are new to the segment:
The Ground Rules
- The player’s WAR with the franchise is the primary driver of the selections. However, other considerations are made at our discretion when the WARs close.
- We only count statistics earned with the franchise in question for each player. For example, someone like Albert Pujols won’t be the Dodgers’ first baseman since he only played there for part of a season near the end of his career.
- Players with multi-position eligibility can play any position they played for a reasonable period with the team.
- Outfielders can be shifted between center, left, and right as long as it makes sense defensively – especially for center field.
- Since we have universal DH now, we will assign one DH per team. Doing so also allows us to get more deserving hitters into the lineup who played at a log-jammed position.
- Three pitchers will be named – one right-handed starter, one left-handed starter, and one reliever.
The Baltimore Orioles‘ inception began in 1901 as the Milwaukee Brewers. However, after only one season, the franchise moved to St. Louis, where they became the Browns. The team remained in St. Louis until 1953, at which point they relocated to Baltimore and became the Orioles. The Browns did not enjoy much success in their 50+ years, with a .433 winning percentage and only one pennant. Their best season was 1944, when they advanced to the World Series but lost in six games to the cross-town St. Louis Cardinals.
The Orioles, on the other hand, have fared better. Though their winning percentage is only slightly over .500, they have made it to six World Series, winning three of them. The high point of the franchise came between 1966 and 1983. All six of their World Series appearances occurred over this 18-year span, and many of the players below were a part of that run. Since their last World Championship in 1983, the Orioles have not enjoyed much success, making the playoffs only five times.
Catcher: Chris Hoiles
Chris Hoiles got the nod at catcher, but it wasn’t an easy choice. Rick Dempsey was also considered as he played over 350 more games with Baltimore than Hoiles and their WARs were close. In the end, Dempsey’s .238 lifetime batting average swung the vote over to Hoiles, who was an excellent offensive catcher.
Hoiles got his first taste of the big leagues in 1989 but wasn’t a regular until 1991. His best season came in 1993 when he hit .310 with 29 HRs and 82 RBI. Hoiles was the Orioles’ primary catcher from 1991 until the team released him in the spring of 1999. Hip and back injuries forced him to retire at the age of 33. Hoiles remains the all-time Orioles leader in HRs among catchers.
First Base: Eddie Murray
Murray was a pretty easy call for first base, though George Sisler (who ended up at DH) also was deserving. Murray ranks third in WAR among all historical Orioles and was a dominant force for the team from the moment he was called up in 1977. Murray won rookie-of-the-year that season, his first of many career accolades. During his tenure with the team, he would also represent them at seven all-star games and win three gold gloves and two silver sluggers. During the strike-shortened 1981 season, Murray led the league with 22 HRs and 78 RBI.
Murray got to two World Series with the O’s. The 1979 team lost in seven to the Pittsburgh Pirates, while in 1983, Murray won his only ring when Baltimore took out Philadelphia in five games. After the 1988 season, Murray was traded to the Dodgers. He returned to Baltimore via another trade in July 1996, playing another 64 games for the franchise. Murray retired after the 1997 season and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2003 on his first attempt.
Second Base: Brian Roberts
Brian Roberts edged out Bobby Grich for second base. Grich had a higher WAR, but Roberts was with the team much longer and eclipsed many of Grich’s stats with the Orioles. Plus, Roberts played all but the last season of his career with Baltimore, while Grich was with the Angels for the majority of his career.
Roberts debuted with the team in June 2001 and mainly played shortstop that season. He became a starter in 2003 and established himself as the O’s second baseman for the next seven seasons. From 2010 to 2013, Roberts suffered a myriad of injuries which kept him inactive more often than not. He finally left Baltimore in 2014 and signed with the Yankees, from whom he was released later that season. Roberts was a 2x all-star and led the league in doubles twice and stolen bases once. His 278 SBs are a third in franchise history.
Shortstop: Cal Ripken Jr.
If there’s a face of the franchise, it’s Cal Ripken Jr. We all know about Ripken’s consecutive game streak, but beyond his incredible durability, he was a great player. Ripken leads the Orioles in several categories, including games, plate appearances, hits, doubles, HRs, runs, RBI, and WAR. In addition, his career accolades are numerous. He won rookie-of-the-year in 1982 and made the all-star team every year from 1983 through his last season in 2001. Add to that two gold gloves, eight silver sluggers, and two MVPs in 1983 and 1991.
Despite his long career, Ripken’s Orioles only made the post-season three times. The first was the 1983 World Championship, and after that, not again until 1996 and 1997. Ripken performed well in the post-season, batting .336/.411/.455 in 124 PAs. After the 2001 season, he finally called it quits at the age of 40. In 2007, Cal Ripken was elected to the Hall of Fame in a near-unanimous vote.
Third Base: Brooks Robinson
The man right behind Ripken in many of the Orioles record books is Brooks Robinson. Like Ripken, Robinson was a lifelong Oriole, spending parts of 23 seasons with the club. He made his debut in 1955 as a fresh-faced 18-year-old and in 1960 made his first of 18 all-star appearances. You can’t talk about Brooks Robinson without referring to his defense. He is considered by many the best defensive third baseman of all time and can back it up with an incredible 16 gold gloves. In 1964, Robinson was the AL-MVP after hitting .317 with 28 HRs and a league-leading 118 RBI.
The back half of Robinson’s career was the franchise’s heyday, and he handled the hot corner for the Orioles in four World Series. Baltimore split the four series, but Brooks did his part, especially in 1970 when he was World Series MVP. In the five-game victory over the Reds, he hit .429 with two HRs and six RBI. Robinson finally retired in 1977 and joined the group of elite players in Cooperstown in 1983.
Left Field: Boog Powell
Boog Powell played far more first base than left field for the Orioles, but we slid him into the outfield with Eddie Murray and George Sisler blocking him at 1B. Powell was another iconic player from the 1960s and 1970s Orioles. After a cup of coffee in 1961, Boog became a regular in 1962 at only 20 years old. He played mostly left field his first few seasons, but by 1966 was a fixture at first base, where he would remain until he was traded to the Indians in the spring of 1975.
Powell made four all-star teams with Baltimore and took home the AL MVP award in 1970. He slugged 35 HRs and drove in 114 that season while batting .297. Like Brooks Robinson, Powell played on four World Series teams and is a two-time champion. Boog’s 303 HRs with the club give him the third-highest total in franchise history.
Center Field: Brady Anderson
There were several center field candidates for the Orioles’ all-time starting lineup. In addition to Anderson, Paul Blair, Adam Jones, and “Baby Doll” Jacobson all merited consideration. Blair had a slightly higher WAR than Anderson, but it was almost entirely due to his stellar defensive play. Anderson was a far more accomplished hitter and thus got the nod.
Anderson was drafted by the Boston Red Sox but was traded to the Orioles along with Curt Schilling in July 1988 (for Mike Boddicker – good job Red Sox). Initially, he was a part-time player but established himself as a starter in 1992. That season, Anderson stole 53 bases and made the first of his three all-star appearances. As he aged, Anderson developed more power, highlighted by the 50 HRs he hit in 1996. This mark stands second in Orioles’ history behind the 53 by Chris Davis in 2013. Anderson’s tenure with Baltimore came to a close after the 2001 season, and he played his last game a few months into the 2002 campaign as a member of the Cleveland Indians. Anderson is the all-time leader in games played in the outfield for the Orioles, and his durability is often overlooked.
Right Field: Frank Robinson
There were a few other Orioles’ outfielders with higher WARs with the franchise, but we felt it would be a crime to leave Frank Robinson off the list. Robinson was only with Baltimore for six seasons, but they were sensational. He joined the club in 1966 after the Reds traded him in December 1965. At 30, Robinson had already accomplished much, including winning the 1961 MVP. The Reds likely regretted this trade when Robinson went on to win the 1966 triple-crown. He hit 49 HRs, drove in 122 runs, and had a .316 BA on the way to his second MVP. The team also won the World Series that season and Robinson was the series MVP. Not a bad debut!
Robinson played in two more World Series for the club and made the all-star team during five of his six seasons in Baltimore. After the 1971 season, the O’s traded him to the Dodgers, ending his magical run with the franchise. Despite a relatively short stay in Baltimore, Robinson’s number is one of five Orioles players that the team has retired. The BBWAA elected him to the Hall of Fame in 1982 on his first attempt.
Designated Hitter: George Sisler
George Sisler is the only member of the St. Louis Browns to make the all-franchise team. There’s no doubt he deserves a place in the lineup, though, as his WAR of 49.8 ranks him fourth in franchise history. Sisler debuted with St. Louis in 1915 and was with the team until they sold his rights to the Washington Senators in December 1927 for $25k. In addition to playing first base, Sisler pitched for the Browns his rookie year, hurling 70 innings with a 2.83 ERA.
Despite his promise on the mound, Sisler’s destiny was to be an offensive force. As a Brown, he led the league in hits twice, triples twice, and stolen bases four times. He brought home two batting titles in 1920 and 1922, winning the AL MVP along with the second one. Sisler played three more seasons after leaving the Browns and retired in 1930. In 1939 he was elected to the Hall of Fame with 86% of the vote.
Right-Handed Starter: Jim Palmer
Jim Palmer is sort of the Cal Ripken of pitchers for the Orioles. So his inclusion here was a relatively easy decision, though Mike Mussina also deserved consideration. Palmer is the O’s all-time leader in games, innings pitched, and WAR. When you think of Orioles’ greats, he’s on the shortlist.
Palmer made Baltimore’s roster when he was only 19 in 1965. He pitched primarily out of the pen that season, but by 1966 he was in the rotation, where he remained for another 18 years. Palmer became one of the premier pitchers of the 1970s, winning Cy Young’s in 1973, 1975, and 1976. Additional accolades included four gold gloves, six all-star appearances, and two ERA titles. His tenure coincided precisely with the golden age of Orioles baseball, and thus he pitched in six World Series. His record in the Fall Classic was 4-2 with a 3.20 ERA in 64.2 innings.
Time caught up to Palmer in 1984. After a handful of ineffective appearances, the team released him, and he subsequently retired. He didn’t have to wait long to get into the Hall of Fame, as his election came on his first attempt in 1990.
Left-Handed Starter: Dave McNally
The choice of left-handed starter was more difficult, as Dave McNally and Mike Flanagan have very similar WARs. We chose McNally as his numbers were slightly better and because Flanagan spent a few years working out of the bullpen at the end of his career.
McNally made one appearance as a 19-year-old rookie in 1962. He threw a complete-game shutout. Talk about making a good first impression! The following season he made the team and remained with the club through the 1974 season. Despite his success, he asked to be traded that offseason for a change of scenery. He was accommodated and sent to Montreal, where things did not work out as he hoped. After 12 starts and a mediocre 5.24 ERA, McNally abruptly retired at the age of 32.
Dave McNally was a three-time all-star for the O’s and pitched in four World Series. He had a 4-2 record with a 2.34 ERA in his 50 innings of work in the series play. McNally ranks second behind the great Jim Palmer in several Orioles categories, including starts, innings pitched, and wins.
Reliever: Dick Hall
Dick Hall gets the nod as the all-time best reliever for Baltimore, but it was not an easy decision. Three others had WARs similar to Halls, including Gregg Olsen, Tippy Martinez, and B.J. Ryan. Olsen and Ryan, however, threw far fewer innings for the franchise, and Martinez’s numbers just didn’t compare. Thus we went with Hall, who had a very interesting career.
Hall’s started with Pittsburgh in 1952 as an outfielder. He transitioned to pitching in 1955, and when he was traded to the Orioles in 1961, he was still a fairly mediocre one. Hall found something with Baltimore, however, and quickly established himself as an integral member of their staff. He spent six years with the team until he was traded to Philadelphia after the 1966 World Series (which he didn’t pitch in). After a few seasons with the Phillies, Hall returned to the Orioles in 1969 and spent three more years with the club before retiring after three straight trips to the Fall Classic. Hall’s biggest claim to fame was his excellent control. His 1.47 BB/9 ratio is the best in Orioles’ history (minimum 200 IP).
Despite their long history, most of the Orioles’ all-time starting lineup was built from the great teams of the 60s and 70s. Up next in two weeks is another franchise with a long history: the Boston Red Sox.
Featured Image Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)