A pennant race away from a top spot, Mora climbs the ranks of team history
By Christopher Heun
When you think of the Orioles franchise – not this year’s team, much of which is probably better left forgotten, but all the players over the last 53 seasons – which names come to mind?
Probably Cal and Brooks, Eddie and Boog. Those guys, along with Mark Belanger, have played the most games in an Orioles uniform. It’s no surprise, then, that we’re on a first-name basis with them. Same for Brady, No. 6 on the list.
Now that Melvin Mora, the longest-tenured current Oriole who ranks No. 25 in games played in Baltimore, has finally been signed to a three-year contract for $25 million, it’s time we start considering him as a face of the franchise. Because by the end of this season, assuming he plays in 100 of the 114 remaining games, he’ll finish with about 860 under his belt and move up seven places on the list, just past Doug DeCinces and behind Mike Devereaux.
At that point, he will need 386 games to pass Rick Dempsey for No. 10, which averages out to just less than 130 games every season. It would mean that only nine other players will have appeared in more games in their Orioles career.
The next guy on the list after Dempsey is Al Bumbry, at 1,428. Mora could conceivably pass him, too, if he came back for a fourth season, the option year of the contract, and played every day.
That’s heady territory, among the top rungs in team lore. This is what’s been missing in all the talk about the new contract: the fact that Mora has a chance to finish his career as one of the team’s most treasured players, his name uttered in the same breath as guys like Dempsey and Bumbry and Ken Singleton. Sure, he’s no Brooks or Boog, but you’ve got to love the guy for reasons I’ve already chronicled.
And granted, simply playing in a lot of games is not the same as hitting home runs in a pennant race, but the statistic is a useful substitute for the other, more interesting offensive numbers. Mora would not have played so much if he hadn’t been producing. In fact, his career totals for homers, RBIs and runs scored rank roughly the same as his games played. (He's 11th in AVG, 13th in R, 17th in RBI and 19th in HR)
Recently, Mora’s place in team history has been overshadowed by a deluge of fans frustrated that the front office seemed willing to let him follow B.J. Ryan out the door to free agency, as well as the debate, most vocal in the blogosphere, about the wisdom of a three-year deal for a player who will be 37 in the final season of the contract.
[About that I will say this: The season he turned 41, with his skills obviously diminished, Cal Ripken Jr. made $6.3 million, third-most on the club. Of course, he is a special case, a legend not just for the team but the entire sport. However, it points to a larger question of what each home run and extra point of batting average is “worth” on the open market. Alex Rodriguez made $48 million the last two seasons, nearly $42 million more than Mora, and produced an extra 11 hits, 30 homers and 44 RBI. Is that worth it? For that matter, is Mora worth $900,000 less than David Bell or four times more than Hank Blalock?]
What’s most gratifying about his contract is that the Orioles actually have a nucleus of everyday players worth keeping and the front office has acted, however slowly, to retain them. Mora, Miguel Tejada, Brian Roberts, Ramon Hernandez, and Jay Gibbons are all signed through 2009.
On the mound, Erik Bedard, Daniel Cabrera and Chris Ray are signed for three more years with Kris Benson around for 2007 and an option year.
Youngsters like Nick Markakis and Sendy Rleal look like they’re going to develop into quality players. Those two, along with Gibbons, Roberts, Bedard, Cabrera, and Ray, have never worn a major league uniform other than the Orange and Black. Nothing looks better than home-grown talent.
Gibbons (650 games) and Roberts (552 games) made their Orioles debuts in 2001, a year after Mora, and aren’t that far behind him on the team’s all-time games played list. Because they are both younger than 30, they’ve got a chance to wind up even higher.
What they need to really earn their stripes in Orioles history is a winning season, a pennant race that teases fans and makes heroes out of players. Rick Dempsey wouldn’t bring half as big a smile to our faces without the 1983 World Series. The nail-biting "Why Not?" season of 1989 made a household name out of Mike Devereaux – remember the homer he curled around the Memorial Stadium foul pole?
This current group of O’s will get a chance in the next three years to create their own magic. After all the losing they’ve been through, it will be so much sweeter when they finally do.
The Top 20 list of games played for the Baltimore Orioles, in case you’re wondering:
Cal Ripken 3,001
Brooks Robinson 2,896
Mark Belanger 1,962
Eddie Murray 1,884
Boog Powell 1,763
Brady Anderson 1,759
Paul Blair 1,700
Ken Singleton 1,446
Al Bumbry 1,428
Rick Dempsey 1,245
Rich Dauer 1,140
B.J. Surhoff 1,001
Rafael Palmiero 1,000
Davey Johnson 995
Gus Triandos 953
Chris Hoiles 894
Mike Devereaux 878
Doug DeCinces 858
Gary Roenicke 850
Frank Robinson 827
The complete list, including players dating back to the St. Louis Browns, can be found here.