The Baltimore Orioles franchise began in 1901 as the Milwaukee Brewers. They spent one year there and became the St. Louis Browns in 1902. The franchise moved to Baltimore in 1954 and won their only three World Series (1966, 1970, 1983) as the Orioles. While there were a couple of players from the Browns who could be considered, such as Hall of Famers George Sisler or Bobby Wallace, no one had the impact the four listed below had. Let’s get to the Baltimore Orioles Mount Rushmore.
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Brooks Robinson (1955-1977)
The Orioles signed Robinson out of Little Rock HS in Arkansas in 1955. After playing sparingly over the first few years, he got his shot in 1958 appearing in 145 games. He didn’t hit well, batting .238 with only three home runs. In 1959, Robinson had 333 PAs and improved at the plate hitting .284 with four HRs. It would be the last year until 1975 that he wouldn’t be an All-Star.
Bringing in the 60s, The Human Vacuum Cleaner hit .294 with 14 HRs and 88 RBI. He finished third in AL MVP voting behind Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. After a subpar season in 1963, Robinson bounced back with his most productive offensive season. He won the AL MVP in 1964 along with his usual Gold Glove. Robinson hit career highs in batting (.317), HRs (28), and RBI (118). Although the Orioles still hadn’t made the playoffs since 1944, their fortunes would change soon.
Robinson and the Orioles faced the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1966 World Series. It was Frank Robinson who took home the MVP, and the pitching did not allow a run after the third inning of Game One. The O’s swept the series and secured their first World Series title. The Miracle Mets shut down the Brooks and the O’s in 1969, but they would bounce back. In 1970, Brooks was a one-man wrecking crew throughout the playoffs. In eight games against the Minnesota Twins and the Cincinnati Reds, Robinson was unstoppable. He went 16-33 with eight runs, eight RBI, four doubles, and two HRs. This time he took home World Series MVP. His defensive contribution wasn’t lost on Reds manager Sparky Anderson either when he said, “I’m beginning to see Brooks in my sleep. If I dropped this paper plate, he’d pick it up on one hop and throw me out at first.”
Robinson’s last full season was in 1975. At 38 years old, he batted .201 and wasn’t an All-Star for the first time since 1959. He did win his 16th consecutive Gold Glove that year. Robinson is, by any metric, the best defensive third baseman to ever play by a decent margin. Although DRS does not go back that far, baseball-reference has Total Zone Runs. For third basemen, Robinson has 293 with Adrian Beltre a distant second with 168. To also put this in perspective, Robinson had 65 TZR in 1967-1968. Nolan Arenado has 68 TZR…for his career!
Robinson’s Number 5 was retired by the Orioles immediately following his last season in 1977. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983, his first year on the ballot.
Jim Palmer (1965-1967, 1969-1984)
Palmer signed a minor league contract after graduating Scottsdale HS in Arizona in 1963. He made his debut for the Orioles less than two years later in 1965. In 1966, Palmer was an integral part of the rotation going 15-10 with a 3.46 ERA in 30 starts. He also pitched a shutout against the heavily-favored Dodgers in Game Two of the World Series in his first playoff appearance. He defeated Sandy Koufax in what was Sandy’s last major league appearance. Palmer started off 1967 3-1 with a solid 2.94 ERA, but after only 49 innings, he was sent down to the minors for rehab. The pain persisted in his arm and he had surgery, missing the rest of the season and 1968.
Not knowing what to expect, the Orioles left Palmer unprotected for the 1969 expansion draft. Luckily for them, he was not selected and returned to the O’s that season. He went 16-4 with a 2.34 ERA completing 11 of his 23 starts. Palmer did not fare well against the Miracle Mets in the World Series as they lost in five games. The next year Palmer would prove his arm was fully back. In 1970, he led the AL in IP (305) and went 20-10 with a 2.71 ERA in 39 starts, completing 17 of them and finishing fifth in Cy Young voting. He then dominated the Twins with a 12-strikeout CG victory in the ALCS. Palmer did his part in the World Series against the Reds and came away with his second ring.
That 70s Show
Palmer was the winningest pitcher in the 70s with 186 victories. With the exception of 1974 when the elbow started barking again and 1979, he won 20+ games each season of the decade. He also won three CYAs, finishing top-5 four other times, and four GGs. Palmer had an ERA of 2.58 for the decade and also finished nearly half of the games he started (175-352).
As the decade changed, Palmer had a few decent years in him as he went 38-23 with a 3.59 ERA from 1980-1982. In 1983, he threw only 76 innings. He did not appear in the ALCS. He did win Game Three of the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies in relief, tossing two shutout innings. It was his last victory on a major league mound.
Palmer retired after being released in 1984. He is the only pitcher to win a World Series game in three different decades. He also never surrendered a grand slam or back-to-back HRs. His number 22 is retired by the Orioles and he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on his first try in 1990.
Eddie Murray (1977-1988, 1996)
Murray made it to the big leagues with the Orioles in 1977 and hit the ground running. He won the AL ROY award playing in 160 games and hitting 27 HRs with 88 RBI. This turned out to be pretty much what Murray would do in each of his 12 full seasons in Baltimore. “Steady Eddie” was incredibly consistent. With the exception of 1986 (17 HRs), Murray hit between 22 and 33 HRs each of those seasons with the Orioles. He never hit below .277 for them and also never had fewer than 84 RBI, except for the strike-shortened 1981 when he led the league with 78. From 1981-1985, Murray finished in the top-5 of MVP voting. Unfortunately, he never took home the award…although he deserved it in 1984.
From 1986-1988 Murray continued to produce. The Orioles though decided to trade the 12-year vet to the Dodgers. He just kept on doing what he did. He had a .798 OPS and averaged 22 HRs and 93 RBI the three seasons he was with LA. After the 1991 season, the Dodgers let the 36-year-old first baseman hit free agency. He signed with the New York Mets and kept on producing. He had a .776 OPS and averaged 22 HRs and 96 RBI in his two years with the Mets. Murray then moved on to Cleveland to be that veteran presence in 1994-1995. He would eventually retire in 1997.
Murray is one of only six players with 3,000 hits and 500 HRs. He is second among switch-hitters with 504 HRs (Mickey Mantle 536). Murray is 11th all-time in RBI (1,917). He also hit a HR from both sides of the plate 11 times. That is tied with Chili Davis for second-most all-time behind Mark Teixeira. Murray also has the all-time record for most sacrifice flies at 128. Murray came back to play for the Orioles briefly toward the end of his career. He naturally hit his 500th career HR at Camden Yards on September 6, 1996. Murray has a statue outside the stadium. His number 33 is retired by the Orioles and he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on his first try in 2003.
Cal Ripken Jr. (1981-2001)
He was one of the greatest shortstops ever…period. Aside from the Iron Man streak of 2,632 games, which will never be broken, he produced at an elite level for years. But let’s get the streak out of the way first. On May 29th of that season, he missed the second game of a doubleheader. He didn’t miss another game until September 20, 1998.
Despite a 5-39 start to his career in 1981, Ripken got his game going in 1982. He won the AL ROY with 28 HRs and 93 RBI joining Murray in the middle of the Orioles lineup. In 1983, Ripken dominated. He led the AL in runs (121), doubles (47), and hits (211) while taking home the AL MVP award. He also won a World Series that season, defeating the Phillies in five games.
From 1984-1991, Ripken hit at least 21 HRs and drove in at least 81 runs each season. It wasn’t only his hitting that made him elite. His defense was as well. He had 162 Total Fielding Runs between 1983-1995. He also never had a negative dWAR according to Baseball-Reference in his career.
In 1991, Ripken put up an 11.5 rWAR. To put this in perspective, it was the highest rWAR season by a shortstop, tying Honus Wagner in 1908. Also, aside from Carl Yastrzemski‘s 12.5 in 1967, it was the highest rWAR since 1927. He had 23 Fielding Runs and also led the league in Total Bases. Ripken set career-highs in HRs (34) and RBI (114) while slashing .323/.374/.566. He took home his second AL MVP award that year and his first GG.
Ripken made it back to the playoffs in 1996 and 1997. Although he played great in those two postseasons (28-77), the Orioles never made it back to the World Series. Ripken finally called it a career in 2001 after 3,001 games with the Orioles.
His statue is outside of Camden Yards and his number 8 is retired by the team. Not surprisingly, he made it into Cooperstown on his first try in 2007. The fact that eight BBWAA members didn’t vote for him is downright stupid. Through his career and even his work with youth baseball afterward, Ripken has always been a great player and ambassador for the game.
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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images