Melvin Mora enters the Orioles Hall of Fame on Friday night. It’s well-deserved. Mora was one of the most underrated players in team history. He’s one of my five most underappreciated.
1) Ken Singleton
In the words of my friend and colleague Jim Henneman, who’s seen more Orioles games than anyone else, Singleton was certainly valued.
“One might make a case that Singy was the O’s MVP from the mid-70s to mid-80s, but never the team’s most heralded player,” Henneman said.
Singleton was voted the Most Valuable Oriole three times, but for much of his Orioles career (1975-84), he played with a true Hall of Famer, Eddie Murray, and outstanding pitchers.
His best year was 1979 when he finished second in the Most Valuable Player voting to Don Baylor and hit 35 home runs, driving in 111 runs. (Murray never hit 35 homers.)
Singleton is in the team’s Top Ten lists in several important categories: games, hits, home runs and RBIs yet he’s somehow overlooked.
2) Melvin Mora
Did you know that Mora has the highest single-season batting average in team history?
In 2004, Mora hit .340 and led the American League with a .419 on-base percentage.
That year may have been an aberration, but he hit over 20 home runs three times and drove in more than 100 twice.
Mora played every position but catcher and pitcher though he’s remembered for playing a dependable third base for the last six seasons of his career.
He did all this despite never playing for a team that lost fewer than 88 games.
And, he’s the only Oriole to father quintuplets.
3) Al Bumbry
Bumbry was Henneman’s all-time favorite underrated player.
“Considered a below average defender primarily because of a weak arm, he transformed himself into a dependable defender in left field—and then remade himself as a center fielder,” Henneman said.
Bumbry succeeded the great Paul Blair in center field. Blair won eight Gold Gloves, but with Bumbry in center, the Orioles won the 1983 World Series.
He had 205 hits in 1980, the fifth highest single-season total, and is 10th on the team’s all-time list in that category.
Bumbry had great speed. His 252 stolen bases trail only Brady Anderson and Brian Roberts in team history, and he’s one of six Orioles to win Rookie of the Year.
4) Scott McGregor
My original inclination was to put Mike Flanagan here, but independently, three friends who I consulted with, Henneman, Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun and Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com, each argued that McGregor was the truly underrated one.
My argument was Flanagan’s tragic 2011 death had obscured his accomplishments. They each said that he was a Cy Young Award winner, and truly not underrated.
McGregor was best known for winning the last World Series game the Orioles played in, Game 5 in 1983.
He allowed just five hits to the Phillies. Murray hit two home runs and the World Series MVP Rick Dempsey hit one in the 5-0 win.
McGregor pitched 13 seasons—all with the Orioles, and his 138 wins are sixth all-time, and just three fewer than Flanagan.
While not a strikeout pitcher, McGregor is eighth on the team’s all-time list.
His biggest season was 1980 when the Orioles won 100 games and still fell short of the postseason. McGregor won 20 games, and didn’t even lead the team that year. Steve Stone won an Orioles record 25.
In his career, McGregor averaged just over two walks per nine innings, and in 1979, led the American League with just over one walk per nine innings and a 3.52 strikeout/walk ratio.
5) Chris Hoiles
The Orioles have had great players at every position—except one. They don’t have a Hall of Fame catcher.
For the oldest fans, they may think Gus Triandos was the team’s best. I think it’s Matt Wieters.
The more sentimental fans vote for Dempsey, who caught the most games in team history and had an underrated throwing arm.
But, with his continuing presence in the area, Dempsey is hardly underappreciated.
Hoiles’ career ended in 1998 when injuries wore him down at 33. He hit more than 20 home runs three times, and batted .310 in 1993.
His defense wasn’t bad, either. In 1993, while catching 124 games, Hoiles threw out 41 percent of runners who tried to steal.
HONORABLE MENTION: I’ve been in Baltimore since 1980, and focused on players who I’ve watched or covered in the past 35 years. I’ve also excluded current Orioles.
There are several others who could be on this list: Harold Baines, Mike Boddicker, Tippy Martinez, B.J. Ryan and B.J. Surhoff.
Mora, John Lowenstein, Gary Roenicke and longtime scout Fred Uhlman, Sr. will be inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame before Friday night’s game with Oakland.