The news that Nick Markakis quietly confirmed his retirement shouldn’t be a surprise. Markakis, who told The Athletic that he was ending his outstanding career, was the most underappreciated of the last decade’s Orioles, except by those who played with him.
Markakis played his first nine years with the Orioles and then six seasons with the Atlanta Braves. Although he consistently compiled solid statistics, that wasn’t why he continued to play.
When Markakis was drafted by the Orioles with the seventh overall pick in 2003, he joined an organization that he later referred to as “minor league”—until manager Buck Showalter came along.
Markakis’ best statistical seasons came in his early years. In 2007, his second season, he hit .300 with 23 home runs and 112 RBIs along with 18 stolen bases. Those last three stats were career highs.
But the number I’ll remember is games played. Except for 2012, which was his first winning season in the major leagues, Markakis played at least 155 games in every season from 2007, when he was 23, to 2018, when he played all 162 at 34.
Markakis played in losing seasons under Sam Perlozzo and Dave Trembley before the Orioles hired Showalter in 2010. Showalter knew he had a player who embodied his baseball philosophy, and Markakis had a manager who wouldn’t stand for foolishness on the field.
Markakis, catcher Matt Wieters, who was drafted in 2007, and centerfielder Adam Jones, a 2008 trade acquisition from Seattle, helped turn the team around.
Sadly, Markakis missed the first trip to the postseason in 2012. After missing time because of hamate bone surgery, the New York Yankees’ CC Sabathia drilled him, breaking a thumb, and ending any chance he’d play in October that year.
Jones, who was the media darling of those early Showalter teams, admired Markakis’ grit. It was no accident that Jones insisted on playing every day, too, a quality that was often overlooked.
Markakis was there when Manny Machado made his debut. After his bat-throwing incident against Oakland, Markakis admonished the young star, telling him his actions could harm the team.
Playing the right way is a cliché, but it meant something to Markakis. He wanted punitive penalties against steroid users and prided himself on doing things with his natural ability and work ethic.
In 2014, Markakis was ready to re-sign with the Orioles until they unwisely withdrew their four-year contract offer for medical reasons. Markakis, who underwent neck surgery, accepted a four-year deal from the Braves instead and responded with six solid seasons, including his only All-Star selection in 2018.
Markakis, who was overlooked in All-Star voting with the Orioles, insisted he didn’t care and was happy with a few days off in July to spend with his family.
Although he was never about the numbers, they were still strong. He leaves with 2,388 hits, trailing only Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Robinson Cano among players still active in 2020.
His Orioles stats were impressive. His 1,547 hits are seventh all-time behind only Cal Ripken Jr., Brooks Robinson, Eddie Murray, Adam Jones, Brady Anderson and Boog Powell. Markakis’ 316 doubles were the sixth most in club history.
Markakis was a Gold Glove winner twice, in 2011 and 2014. He won one for the Braves in 2018 when he also won the Silver Slugger.
Two years after the Orioles’ surprising playoff run in 2012, Markakis got to play in his first postseason. That 2014 group was the Orioles’ best team with solid performances by the starters and an outstanding group of relievers.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a complete team. Wieters underwent Tommy John surgery and missed most of the season, Machado needed a second knee surgery, and Chris Davis was suspended for use of a drug without a therapeutic exemption.
Markakis hit his only postseason home run in Game 2 of the Orioles’ sweep of Detroit in the Division Series. In Kansas City’s four-game sweep in the ALCS, the Orioles’ offense was silent, although Markakis did hit .263. That winter he was off to Atlanta. ‘
In December, Markakis, designated Nelson Cruz and reliever Andrew Miller signed elsewhere. Although the Orioles remained competitive for an additional two-plus seasons, they searched fruitlessly for a replacement in right field for several years.
A year after Markakis, Cruz and Miller left, the Orioles made sure that Davis didn’t follow them, and I wonder if Markakis’ tough love could have helped Davis out of his slumber, but that’s a story for another day.
Markakis got to play in the postseason in the past three seasons for the Braves, reaching the National League Championship Series in October. He leaves baseball quietly, knowing that he could still contribute.
There will be no symbolic one-day contract so that he could retire as an Oriole, and that’s fitting.
What’s more fitting is that he’s remembered as the solid, efficient player who helped teach Showalter’s group that coming ready to play every day was paramount.
In Markakis’ final year, as he kept climbing the team’s all-time leaderboard, Showalter knew that others in the organization didn’t share his appreciation for Markakis. Often, you don’t appreciate a player until he’s gone, he’d say. He’s gone, but he won’t be forgotten around here.