Orioles

Orioles

With fans stuck inside and no live sports for entertainment, it's time to look to the past. Over the next few weeks, NBC Sports Washington is putting together a Best of the Century team for the Baltimore Orioles. Through the past two decades, there has been a surprising amount of star power to come through Charm City, and now we can determine who has truly been the cream of the crop.

Previous positions:
Catcher
First Base
Second Base
Third Base
Shortstop

Spoiler alert: this is going to be a really easy position. In fact, it won't be a surprise if the fan poll is 100% unanimous. That's what happens when a longtime face of the franchise is involved.

The century began with Albert Belle, in his final season, in right field, and saw five different players log at least 10 games at the position the following year. Jay Gibbons brought stability, though not stardom, in right, before Nick Markakis took over and defined the position, and organization, for nearly a decade.

The O's have struggled to fill his void in right field, seeing five different players lead the team in games in right field in the five years since Markakis departed. Gerardo Parra, Mark Trumbo, Seth Smith, Joey Rickard and Trey Mancini have all taken cracks at it, with Mancini the most successful of the bunch. His 3.5 WAR (wins above replacement) at the position in 2019 actually ranks third-highest among all individual seasons this century, but it was his only year leading the team at the position.

 

Because of this, we've once again included just two finalists.

Enjoy the trip down memory lane, because the suspense for this one is already over. Markakis is one of the two or three most popular players to don the orange and black this century, and he is the overwhelming favorite to represent right field for the Best Orioles of the Century.

Here are the top contenders at right field, in chronological order.

The Contenders

Jay Gibbons (2001-07)

Gibbons was a power-hitting right fielder, though he didn't blow anybody away with his power and was consistently below average in the field.

He played 779 games with the Orioles in his seven seasons in Baltimore, though just 424 of them came with him in right field. It speaks to his longevity, and the longevity of the other finalist, that he is so clearly one of the two best performers at the position this century.

The lefty-swinging right fielder set his career-high with 28 home runs in 2002, his second season. He followed it up with 23 home runs and 100 RBI in 2003 and hit another 26 home runs in 2005 after missing 65 games in 2004. Those were the only seasons of his career in which he played more than 100 games as he struggled with durability.

Nick Markakis (2006-14)

One of the true faces of the franchise this century, Markakis is as heavy of a favorite as any Oriole, save the man who played a few feet over in center for much of his career.

A first-round pick in 2003, Markakis joined the team in 2006 as a 22-year-old and dealt with six straight losing seasons before breaking through with the 2012 team. Unfortunately, he suffered a devastating hand injury late in the year and was unable to play in the postseason.

The right fielder, had a cannon for an arm, consistently ranking near the top of the majors in outfield assists while in Baltimore. His range was less than elite, but he was as reliable with the glove as they come. And his bat was consistent as well — he recorded at least 180 hits every year from 2007 to 2011.

The power never quite developed as expected, though. He hit 20 home runs just twice in his career.

Markakis finally had his chance to play in October when the Orioles won the AL East in 2014, a culminating moment for a beloved player who had never been anything other than professional. He left the organization and signed with his hometown Atlanta Braves after that magical 2014 season, but his impact on the organization will never be forgotten by a generation of fans.

 

The Winner

No need to draw this one out. After a couple of difficult decisions at third base and shortstop, right field is a lock: Nick Markakis is the Best Oriole of the Century at the position.

Not only was Markakis the far superior fielder — his two Gold Gloves may have been awarded based on reputation more than statistics, but Gibbons never came close — but his 113 OPS+ shows he was clearly the superior hitter as well when compared to Gibbons' 101.

Markakis was also the more pure right fielder, having played 1,365 games in Baltimore, nearly all of which came in right. And while Markakis' year-by-year WAR is likely smaller than fans may remember — he ranged from 1.7-2.9 WAR in all but three of his seasons — he still finished with more than five times as many WAR as Gibbons had in Baltimore.

His peak was strong as well. In 2008, Markakis led the American League with 7.4 WAR, but it wasn't enough to earn MVP votes or even make the All-Star team, decisions that remain just as disappointing today as they did 12 years ago.

Not only is his statistical case definitive, but Markakis also has the intangibles. Gibbons was a steroid user, a claim never levied against Markakis. Plus, the latter was a key member of two postseason teams, helping bring October back to Baltimore for the first time this century.

Markakis was a leader, too, even if he was never as vocal as his teammates. When Adam Jones was pieing players right and left, he always deferred to Markakis. There was never any question whose clubhouse it was, and that means something when evaluating Markakis' career.

There's a reason most Orioles fans between the age of 20 and 30 have a No. 21 jersey somewhere in their closets. Nick Markakis was a consummate professional and terrific ballplayer, a deserving choice as Best Oriole of the Century in right field.

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