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

Perhaps the closest call of any position, it won’t be easy to select a shortstop. Like third base, the history of the franchise is littered with strong shortstops, either with the bat or the glove.

Players like Mark Belanger and Cal Ripken Jr. have defined the position for the Orioles over the decades. Living up to their legacies this century were a number of talented players. 

Mike Bordick was the first Opening Day shortstop in Baltimore other than Ripken in years. Miguel Tejada was the biggest free agent splash for the Orioles in the decade. J.J. Hardy brought a steady, veteran presence and leadership for a young squad making its first foray into postseason baseball.

In between them were a number of players whose names can only make Orioles fans laugh. Brandon Fahey, Freddie Bynum, Alex Cintron, Luiz Hernandez, Cesar Izturis and Robert Andino filled the gap between Tejada and Hardy, a who’s who of people that make you ask, “Who?”

 

Once again, there are multiple deserving winners at this position. Here are the top contenders at shortstop, in chronological order.

The Contenders

Mike Bordick (2000-02)

For a certain generation of fans, Bordick may be better known now as one of MASN’s analysts for Orioles games. But for another, Bordick was the solid, reliable shortstop who filled the biggest possible shoes: Ripken’s.

By the time 2000 came around, Bordick was a grizzled veteran. His WAR totals in Baltimore his three seasons this century were 2.6, 0.7 and 2.4. Unremarkable totals, but better than some others at the position in the decade.

Bordick’s impact mostly came in the previous decade, but his role as an analyst and instructor within the organization has kept him relevant in the minds of O’s fans in the years since his retirement. 
He’ll have an uphill battle against the two others on this list, however.

Miguel Tejada (2004-07)

When Tejada signed with the O’s as a free agent prior to the 2004 season, it was a milestone of sorts. He had won the AL MVP award in 2002 with 34 home runs, and followed it up with 27 home runs in 2003. Good numbers for a shortstop, even in the Steroid Era.

Tejada got his payday at a time when teams were still willing to spend big on players in their 30’s, and it paid off for the Orioles. He set a franchise record with 150 RBI in his first season in Baltimore, leading all of baseball.

In his first three years with the team, Tejada played 162 games three times - a feat O’s fans were used to from their shortstops. He led baseball in RBI one year and doubles the next, winning two Silver Sluggers at the position. He was an All-Star all three seasons and finished top-five in MVP voting in 2004, finishing with more WAR than any of the players ahead of him.

Tejada was a bat-first shortstop who was passable in the field, enough to make him a true star in Baltimore. Along with Melvin Mora and Brian Roberts, he formed one of the best infields in baseball for multiple seasons.

J.J. Hardy (2011-17)

Hardy came up in Milwaukee, establishing himself as a reliable Major League shortstop with the Brewers. When he joined the Orioles in 2011 he had hit just 17 home runs across the previous two seasons after launching a combined 50 the two years before that.

Not only did he regain his power stroke in Baltimore - he hit 30, 22 and 25 home runs in his first three seasons - but Hardy also solidified the position defensively. He won the Gold Glove every year from 2012-14, which just so happened to be the peak of the team’s competitive window during their turnaround. His role in that was paramount.

 

In 2013, Hardy made the All-Star Game while winning both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger in the American League. Additionally, young stars Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop raved about the leadership and veteran presence he provided.

Those two, and their manager Buck Showalter, had nothing but praise for the experience and mentorship Hardy brought with him, helping shape the Orioles core while they were discovering what it meant to play winning baseball.

The Winner

We did warn you, this is a very difficult decision between the final two candidates. Hardy brought so much to the table, but he never enjoyed the MVP-caliber seasons Tejada did.

Ultimately, the Best Oriole of the Century at shortstop is Miguel Tejada.

Like so many of these debates, this comes down to subjective value between peak and longevity, and while Hardy has him beat in longevity, that matters less when the counting stats still favor Tejada. The latter averaged 5 WAR per season from 2004-7, including 7.4 in 2004. Hardy, meanwhile, had 15.7 total WAR in his 7 seasons in Baltimore.

Hardy hit 107 home runs, but Tejada had 109 in two fewer seasons. It’s hard to ignore Tejada’s .305 batting averaged compared to Hardy’s .252. And Tejada blows him away in OPS as well.

Even adjusting for the eras, Tejada is clearly the superior bat, while Hardy was the better glove as evidenced by both the hardware and stats. Hardy, of course, won a lot more than Tejada, but was it the latter’s fault that his pitching staff was so dreadful?

Hardy would have been an excellent choice, and he represents one of the shrewdest pickups the O’s made all century. But Tejada was a rare free agent signing that paid off, and his 2004 season was a true MVP level Hardy never matched.

By the slimmest of margins, Tejada completes the infield for the Best Orioles of the century, joining Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, Briant Roberts and Manny Machado.

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