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.

We started with catcher and then moved to first base. Now it's time for the keystone position: second base.

Unlike first base and catcher, second base has two options so clearly ahead of the rest of the pack that it didn't make sense to include any other options as a finalist.

Jerry Hairston Jr. and Delino DeShields enjoyed short stints at the turn of the century that most O's fans remember, Ryan Flaherty became synonymous with the versatile Orioles of the mid 2010s, and Jonathan Villar was the second-best player on the 2019 team. And who will ever forget Robert Andino's starring role in the greatest regular season day in baseball history, the finale of 2011?

But this is a position dominated by two names: Brian Roberts in the first decade of the century, and Jonathan Schoop in the second.

They controlled the game with different styles: The former, speed and smarts. The latter, power and flash.

 

Both are deserving choices. Who will be the choice?

Here are the top contenders at second base, in chronological order.

The Contenders

Brian Roberts (2001-13)

Roberts spent more than a decade with the team, though it was a decade without any winning. The always-smiling second baseman was in town during the lean years, but it didn't stop him from winning over fans with his record-breaking doubles and stolen base totals.

He topped 50 doubles three times and 50 steals once. His best season came in 2005, when he hit a career-high 18 home runs to pair nicely with his speed and glove. It was also the only year in which he hit over .300.

Roberts was part of one of the best infields in baseball, along with Melvin Mora and Miguel Tejada, in the middle of the decade.

According to FanGraphs, Roberts (29.4) is actually just 0.1 WAR away from tying Adam Jones for the most total WAR this century in Baltimore, and Melvin Mora is the only player within 10 WAR of him in the 2000s.

It's a shame that he wasn't around to enjoy the team's best years from 2012-16, but Roberts was one of the franchise's most impactful players at any position this century. There's a reason he was a fan favorite and the face of the franchise for several years in a row.

He's also stayed involved with the organization, lending his talents post-retirement as an analyst for games on TV and radio.

Jonathan Schoop (2013-18)

Schoop, an international free agent signing, came up through the minor league system at the same time as superstar Manny Machado, which meant he often was in his best friend's shadow.

That never stopped him from flashing his trademark smile or turning some of the most impressive double plays in Orioles' history.

Schoop wasn't blessed with elite range, but what he did own was the strongest arm for any second baseman in baseball. He regularly gunned down runners when it seemed impossible. And the field wasn't even where he showed off most of his strength.

The second baseman was a power bat and a free swinger. He never walked more than 35 times in a single season, but he did hit at least 15 home runs over five consecutive seasons, peaking with 32 in 2017. That was his lone All-Star season, and he finished 12th in AL MVP voting.

Schoop's peak was strong. Was it strong enough to be named Best Oriole second baseman of the century?

The Winner

Schoop puts up a worthy fight, especially when you consider his role on the playoff teams in 2014 and 2016, but this title belongs to Brian Roberts, the face of the franchise for a generation of fans who grew up without many stars in orange and black.

Roberts trails Schoop in home runs, but he paces him in most other categories. He played twice as many games in Baltimore as Schoop, making two All-Star Games in the process. 

Yes, Roberts finished his career in pinstripes, but 13 of his 14 seasons were spent in Baltimore. His late-career injury issues frustrated fans, but Roberts was the best, most exciting player on the team for multiple years. He was the prototypical leadoff hitter, and his longevity gives him twice as much WAR as well.

 

His best season, 2005, put him in MVP territory with 7.3 WAR. He has the peak, he has the length, he has the leadership, and he has the status of fan-favorite as the best player on the team pre-Markakis/Jones.

The only thing missing is the winning, but otherwise, Brian Roberts was the total package. At second base, he is the Best Oriole of the Century.

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