Every now and then I turn over the keys to the Tap Room to the patrons and allow them to pick the topic – or at least be the inspiration for the topic.
Sometimes, a new discussion develops from a previous conversation we’ve had. And that’s what’s happening today.
Earlier this week, I wrote a piece about the best catchers in Orioles’ history and tried to get a sense of how Matt Wieters fit into that conversation. Chris Hoiles was on the short list, and one reader, Bancells Moustache – what a great name, huh? – mentioned that he believes Hoiles may be the most underrated player in club history.
It’s a pretty good call. And an excellent topic for debate. So, let’s do it. Grab your thinking cap and your drinking cup and play along.
Who is the most underrated Oriole of all-time? Underrated doesn’t always mean underappreciated. In my mind, Eddie Murray was the most underappreciated Oriole, but it’s impossible to be underrated when you are a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Underrated, to me, means the player just didn’t get his due — nationally, locally, whatever. Hoiles could lead that parade. He never made an All-Star team, but he was a huge part of the excellent O’s teams of the mid-1990s. He was just overshadowed by Cal Ripken Jr., Roberto Alomar, Rafael Palmeiro and Brady Anderson, among others.
When I was writing my book, Rick Dempsey gave me his unsolicited pick for most underrated Oriole: Ken Singleton. He played 10 years for the Orioles, hit 182 home runs and had an outstanding on-base percentage of .388. Singleton (pictured above) made three All-Star teams and finished in the Top 3 of the AL MVP voting twice. But he was overshadowed by Murray and, later, Ripken.
My Dad, an Orioles fan since 1954, suggested Davey Johnson. There were so many great players on those clubs from 1966 to 1971 that Johnson was overshadowed offensively by Boog Powell, Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson and defensively by Mark Belanger, Paul Blair and Brooks. But Johnson, a three-time All-Star in Baltimore, won three Gold Gloves and had a .330 on-base percentage in nearly 1,000 games with the Orioles.
Another guy I’d consider is Gary Roenicke, who is best remembered as part of a tremendous outfield platoon with John Lowenstein. But, the truth is, during Earl Weaver’s tenure the right-handed hitting Roenicke played a whole lot more than a right-handed member of a platoon normally would, including plenty of games in the same starting outfield with Lowenstein.
In fact, Weaver routinely took offense years later when Roenicke would be mentioned as a Weaver platoon player, saying he only sat Roenicke against particularly tough right-handers. Roenicke played in 130 games or more in both 1979 and 1982; his true “platoon” year was in 1983 under manager Joe Altobelli, not Weaver. In eight years with the Orioles, Roenicke hit 106 homers and had a .355 on-base percentage.
Old-timers have told me that reliever Stu Miller has to be mentioned as an all-time underrated Oriole. He pitched for the team for five seasons, threw 502 innings without ever making a start and posted a cumulative ERA of 2.37. He won 14 games with a 1.89 ERA in 1965 and finished seventh in AL MVP voting – as a reliever. And yet he’s sort of a footnote in club history.
If you want to get a little more modern, how about Melvin Mora, who made two All-Star teams and won a Silver Slugger in his 10 seasons with the club? He had a slash line of .288/.355/.431 and moved all around the diamond, but the Orioles’ continual losing last decade may make Mora’s contributions more forgettable.
Or what about Nick Markakis, who never made an All-Star Game despite being on some awful O’s clubs? In nine seasons, Markakis compiled more than 1,500 hits and 150 homers and hit .290 while winning two Gold Gloves in right.
With this current squad, I think shortstop J.J. Hardy is often the forgotten man. He’s the glue of the defense, has more than 100 home runs as an Oriole and has hit .260 or better in four of his six seasons in Baltimore. He just has higher-profile players all-around him.
I’ll throw one more name at you: lefty Scott McGregor, who made just one All-Star team and never finished Top 5 in Cy Young voting. But he’s sixth in modern franchise history with 138 wins and fourth in innings pitched (2,140 2/3) in 13 seasons with the Orioles. And he had a 1.63 ERA in six postseason games, including a complete-game shutout in the franchise’s most recent World Series contest, Game 5 in 1983 at Philadelphia.
I guess my common theme here is underrated means overshadowed: Really good players who probably didn’t shine as brightly nationally because of circumstances beyond their control.
I’m offering a few nominees. I’m sure you’ll come up with others. There’s no right answer here, but it should be a fun exercise.
Tap-In Question: Who is the most underrated Oriole in modern franchise history?