This is a symbolic week in Orioles history. The far past, immediate past and a hopeful future come together.
On Sunday, Mike Mussina joined the Baseball Hall of Fame. A day later, the Orioles faced Adam Jones for the first time since he left the Orioles, and later this week, Adley Rutschman could play his first of many games in Maryland.
Ever since Mussina was elected to the Hall six months ago, fan reaction was divided. Some were happy that perhaps the second-best pitcher in Orioles history was duly honored. Others were miffed that Mussina decided not to be identified with either the Orioles or the New York Yankees on the cap on his plaque.
Mussina’s reasoning was quite thoughtful. His career was roughly divided between Baltimore and New York, and he couldn’t have made the Hall, he’s said, without the work he performed for either team.
Why should he offend one fan base by choosing the Orioles or the Yankees?
The Yankees have countless members of the Hall, and sharing the stage with Mussina in Cooperstown was Mariano Rivera, the first player elected unanimously, another Yankee.
While two other onetime Orioles, Harold Baines and Lee Smith, were among those enshrined, no one seriously considers them as lifetime Orioles.
With Mussina eschewing the Orioles cap, there are only six true Orioles Hall of Famers: Brooks and Frank Robinson, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr., Jim Palmer and Earl Weaver, and the odds are that it will be many years until other Oriole joins them.
It likely won’t be Jones, who has had an excellent career, but not a Hall of Fame one.
Jones’ numbers are very good, but he’s still 92 hits away from 2,000 after his three-hit game in Monday night’s 6-3 Diamondbacks’ victory over the Orioles. His power numbers are good, too (279 lifetime homers), but his WAR is 32.7, a respectable mark, but far from one worthy of immortality.
It had to be jarring for Orioles fans to watch Jones play for the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday.
One of the most popular of all Baltimore athletes, Jones was the key player on each of the Orioles’ three playoff teams.
While he downplayed playing against his former team to reporters in Phoenix, it was hardly the story it might have been had the Diamondbacks come to Baltimore.
When Manny Machado returned to Oriole Park late last month with the San Diego Padres, he was greeted warmly and the crowds were relatively large.
If it had been Jones, he would have received even a warmer welcome, and the attendance would have been even higher.
Jones will be 34 next week, and with his advancing baseball age, the changing economics of the game and the vagaries of the schedule, it’s possible that he’ll never play another game in Baltimore. That would be a shame.
His Orioles reunion must be strange. Jones doesn’t know manager Brandon Hyde or most members of the coaching staff. Many players with the team are unfamiliar with him as well. Another series in Oriole Park would be a chance for thousands of fans to say “thank you” to Jones.
While Jones’ days with the Orioles are over, Rutschman’s days with the team are just beginning. He’s played only two games for Gulf Coast, the entry-level team in the Orioles’ system.
In this two games, Rutschman has been the designated hitter and catcher, hitting .250 (2-for-8) with a home run. The Orioles’ plan was to have him catch some games for Gulf Coast before his scheduled promotion to Short-Season Aberdeen, perhaps later this week.
The IronBirds are likely to reap the benefits of Rutschman. With Aberdeen accessible to most area fans, Rutschman will be watched closely, and that will be the case throughout his time in the Orioles’ minor league system.
Oriole fans will hope that Rutschman gives them as many thrills as Mussina and Jones did.
Minor Honor: Bowie right-hander Michael Baumann was named Eastern League Pitcher of the Week. Baumann pitched a no-hitter on July 16.