Baltimore Orioles: Ranking 20 Greatest Athletes in Team History

Corey HanleyContributor IIIOctober 17, 2011

Baltimore Orioles: Ranking 20 Greatest Athletes in Team History

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    The Orioles have had some great athletes in their 57-year history, and that has translated to some great times and some really bad times.

    Among the athletic beasts to be mentioned are six Hall of Famers, and the awards piled up between the 20 players in this list include a mountain of Gold Gloves and some MVPs.

    When ranking athleticism, I considered a variety of factors—including speed, power, durability, fielding ability and range, among others.

    Remember, this is strictly about athletic ability and not focused on overall value as a baseball player.

    Here are, as I see it, the top 20 athletes in the history of the Baltimore Orioles.

20. Rafael Palmeiro

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    I don't know exactly how much athletic ability Palmeiro was born with, but he definitely acquired athleticism.

    Palmeiro definitely has the power part of the game down, as he is one of the 25 members of the 500 home run club. I won't bring up any asterisks on this number, but it's pretty clear that not all of the home runs were courtesy of Palmeiro's hard work.

    Palmeiro also earned a spot on this list for winning three consecutive Gold Gloves (two with the Orioles) from 1997-1999.

19. Jerry Hairston Jr.

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    Hairston is No. 9 on the all-time steals list for the Orioles and didn't swing a major bat, but he holds a special place in my memories for thinking to much of his athletic ability.

    I went to a game in the '90s as a young Orioles fan looking to enjoy a game with his father. I left jaded because Jerry Hairston blew what could have been a terrific finish.

    The Orioles were trailing by a run in the bottom of the ninth with two outs. A ball got hit into the outfield and Hairston was heading to third when an outfielder retrieved it. The third-base coach gave an exaggerated stop sign, but Hairston wanted none of it and barreled right through. Unfortunately, Hairston was gunned down and the game ended.

    That's why my favorite active Hairston is Scott.

18. Davey Johnson

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    You may know him now as the manager of the Nationals. You may have known him from the last time the Orioles were winning, when he managed them. You may not remember all the way back to when Davey Johnson was the Orioles second baseman.

    Johnson makes the list because of his three consecutive Gold Gloves at second. His range made him a valuable asset and his defense was part of what allowed the Orioles to win the 1970 World Series.

17. Jim Palmer

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    There aren't many players that mean more to the Orioles as much as Jim Palmer, who was on all three World Series teams. He was also a three-time Cy Young winner. One thing that is dwarfed by his other accolades is his defensive ability.

    Palmer was one of the best defending pitchers of the late '70s, winning four straight Gold Gloves from 1976-1979. He probably didn't need to help his own cause that much because he was such a terrific pitcher, but it didn't hurt.

    One thing about Palmer that sets him apart on this list is his underwear ads. My mom knows very little about sports and is not a Baltimore native, but knows that Jim Palmer was the guy that used to be in the Jockey ads

16. Mike Mussina

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    Most people now think of the "Buehrle meter" when considering defensive pitchers because Mark Buehrle may be the best defensive pitcher in the AL these days, but the last guy to have that honor for a while was the Moose.

    Mussina took home the Gold Glove as a pitcher seven times in his tremendous career in the majors. I really only like to count his first four though because he won three with the Yankees after skipping town in 2001. That's a pretty good measure of a solid athlete.

15. Corey Patterson

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    Corey Patterson is known for his speed and the Orioles got to see a whole lot of that in both of Patterson's stints with the club.

    Patterson's steal numbers are nothing short of incredible when you put them into perspective. His first time with the club lasted for two seasons, in which he stole 82 bases. He came back for a little more than a half season in 2010 to steal 21 more.

    Putting all of Patterson's swipes together leaves him at 103 steals for the Orioles, which is the eighth most in team history. Pretty amazing to do in just 357 games.

14. Melvin Mora

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    Melvin Mora wasn't particularly known for speed during his career, although he did steal 82 bases for the Orioles, so he did have some wheels.

    When I look back at Melvin Mora's career, I think a little of Chris Bosh. He can carry the offense at times on his own, but sort of took second fiddle to a better player most of his career and played the role well.

    Mora had some nice power. He is eighth on the all-time home runs list for the Orioles with 158 long balls thanks to his terrific stroke and physical frame.

    The part of Mora's game that was the strongest was always his defense. I'm a little disappointed that Mora never received any awards for his defense, especially considering he was moved to third from the outfield. Mora had unbelievable range and in my opinion, he was the second greatest defensive third baseman in Orioles history.

13. Don Baylor

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    I never got to see Don Baylor play because he stopped playing before I existed, so it's funny for me to see him now and then look back at his numbers. He must have let himself go just a little.

    Baylor began his career with the Orioles and made some pretty big contributions before eventually getting traded to Oakland for Mr. October, Reggie Jackson.

    Baylor didn't really develop his power until his final year in Baltimore, but he had a ton of speed to help the team. Baylor is seventh on the Orioles' steals list with 118. Unfortunately, he had a career year in steals the year after the O's traded him when he took 52 for Oakland.

12. Bobby Grich

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    Bobby Grich wasn't much more than a good baseball player for the Orioles, but he was a great athlete and that's why he's pretty high on my list.

    The Orioles got rid of their Gold Glove winning second baseman Davey Johnson to make room for Grich and it paid off pretty well, as Grich took home four straight Gold Gloves in the early 70s. He was touted for his excellent range at second.

    The best display of athleticism was Grich's 1973 season, in which he set the major league fielding percentage record at .995. He later broke it, but it was 12 years later and for the Angels.

11. Mark Belanger

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    If there was anything that could detract heavily from Belanger's athletic resume, it would be his horrendous offense. Other than that, he was a model of athletic ability.

    Belanger is still one of the greatest defensive shortstops to ever play the game. He managed to win eight Gold Gloves with the Orioles and retired with the highest career fielding percentage for all AL shortstops.

10. Eddie Murray

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    Eddie Murray isn't really on the list for speed, but he was truly one heck of an athlete. I might actually be putting Murray too low, but it's tough to rank some of these guys comparatively.

    Murray ranks among the top on a lot of the Orioles stats. He's top three in hits, doubles, home runs, and RBI. All of these require a pretty high level of athleticism.

    Murray was also pretty slick with his glove, taking home three Gold Gloves, all as an Oriole.

    One of Murray's signature stats is that he is one of the four players in history with 3000 hits and 500 home runs, the other three being Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Rafael Palmeiro (who's not in the Hall for a reason). He's the only one of them that hit switch, which takes some serious athletic ability.

9. Cal Ripken Jr.

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    I'll start this off by apologizing a little because it kills me to put Cal this low, but I've never really seen him as a supreme athlete that much.

    Cal was clearly in great shape, enough to be the most durable player in history. He's the Orioles' leader in almost every category, but he's never really had much speed.

    Cal wasn't known much for his range at short and eventually got pushed to third, which was a knock on his athleticism for me.

    Cal Ripken is my favorite athlete ever, but he just isn't the most athletic player in Orioles history.

8. Adam Jones

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    Now I'm going to preemptively defend placing Adam Jones here, but this time for being a little high.

    Jones may not have earned to be this high yet as he is young and hasn't completely shown off his athleticism to the fullest potential, but he has done some great things.

    Jones doesn't steal much at all, but set a career high in steals this year with 12. He mostly shows off his athleticism in the field.

    He won his first Gold Glove in 2009 and has an outside shot at winning another this year. The funny thing is that Jones probably deserves it more now than he did then.

    Adam Jones also has great power and seems to move well on the bases when reading the ball.

7. Roberto Alomar

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    Although he is probably better known for his stints in Toronto and Cleveland, Roberto Alomar made a huge impact on the Orioles and was a big part of the last successful Orioles team.

    Alomar had all of the tools to be a terrific second baseman, including unbelievable range. Alomar had enough range to get to balls that were going straight up the middle and turn them into outs. His defense earned him 10 Gold Gloves in 11 years (stupid Chuck Knoblauch!), two of which came while he was an Oriole.

    Alomar also had decent speed and averaged double digit steals in three seasons, but had more power to show for his game while in Baltimore. His athletic ability propelled him to All-Star games in all three of his Oriole seasons.

6. Brooks Robinson

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    Brooks Robinson isn't just one of the greatest Orioles of all time. He's one of the greatest baseball players of all time.

    Robinson was never really that highly touted for his offensive ability, but he was no slouch either. Brooks hit well enough to hold most of the career offensive stats until Cal Ripken Jr. came along. Either way, it was not Brooks' offense that made him a first ballot Hall of Famer.

    Robinson's defense was unreal. There will never be another player to ever cover third as consistently and as well as Brooks Robinson. Brooks Robinson made the Gold Glove voting easy for 16 years from 1960-1975 by vacuuming up anything that came remotely near him. His defensive prowess alone makes him a supreme athlete.

    The only thing keeping Brooks from the top is his speed. Brooks only managed 28 steals in his 23 years for the Orioles.

5. Al Bumbry

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    Al "The Bumblebee" Bumbry was one of the fastest players in Orioles history.

    Bumbry was a rangy center fielder that made up for his lack of power with a ton of speed. Bumbry played in 13 seasons for the Orioles and stole 252 bases. That is the third most steals in team history.

    Bumbry's shining season came in 1980, when he hit .318 and stole a career high 44 bases. His speed was also a key in the 1983 World Series, the last one that the Orioles were victorious in.

    I really hope that Bumbry's speed is genetic because his son Steven is currently working his way up through the Orioles minor league rosters to make it to where his dad did.

4. Luis Aparicio

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    Luis Aparicio was known for two things in his major league career: speed and fielding ability.

    Aparicio amassed an incredible 506 career steals, although only 166 were for the Orioles because he played a lot for the Chicago White Sox. In his five seasons for the O's, Aparicio set franchise records for speed. In his first two seasons, he led the AL in steals and in the second year, he set the Orioles all-time single season steals mark at 57, which still holds to this day.

    Aparicio also had a stellar glove for the birds. He won two of his nine Gold Gloves as a Baltimore Oriole.

3. Paul Blair

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    I grew up hearing stories about the defensive ability of the great Paul Blair. My dad still loves to tell me about the time he went to Memorial Stadium and saw Blair throw a guy out on a strike from the center field wall. I believe him.

    Before Adam Jones, Paul Blair was the only Orioles outfielder to win a Gold Glove. In fact, he not only won a Gold Glove, but eight, including a streak of seven in a row.

    Blair matched his speed in the field with speed on the bases. While never having one breakout steal year, Blair had a solid stream of great years that ended with him now fourth on the franchise career steals list.

2. Brian Roberts

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    It's hard to deny the fact that Brian Roberts is this generation's greatest Oriole and despite whatever may happen to him in the future, he will always have a special place in my heart, as well as the hearts of many Orioles fans of the 2000s.

    Roberts is simply a doubles and steals machine. He has the franchise record for doubles in a season with 56 and became the fourth player in history to amass three or more 50 double seasons, along with three Hall of Famers. Roberts is almost always pushing for an extra base and his aggressive base-running has caused a speed bump in his career.

    One thing that many people overlook is Brian Roberts ability to steal third. He has always used that ability to be a catalyst for the Orioles offense.

    Despite missing significant time for the last two years, Roberts is eighth in the majors in steals since his first full year in the league in 2003.

1. Brady Anderson

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    People love to hate on Brady Anderson because he had a "fluke" year in 1996, where he hit an uncharacteristic 50 home runs. The fact is that Brady Anderson always possessed all of the tools to be a supreme player because he was such a phenomenal athlete.

    Anderson is toward the top of the list in almost every one of the Orioles offensive categories. He had something that Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken, and Brooks Robinson didn't have, which is incredible speed.

    Brady Anderson is the Orioles all-time steals leader because he was so athletic and it comes from his work ethic. Anderson is known for having a strict workout regimen. Players today go to Anderson's home in the offseason to help get into better condition for the season and it showed pretty good results this year in the form of Nolan Reimold and Mark Reynolds.

    Anderson's ability was mostly squandered as he suffered many injuries in his career, but it makes you wonder what could have been if number nine had more healthy seasons.