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.

It started with the catcher, then first base and second. Now it's time for the hot corner: third base.

Through the course of Orioles history, third base is loaded. The position has seen both Mr. Oriole (Brook Robinson) and Mr. Oriole 2.0 (Cal Ripken Jr.), and this century's standouts include perhaps the most talented player in franchise history. In fact, the two favorites at third base this century have arguments as the second and third-best at the hot corner in O's history - the question is in which order?

From a star power perspective, this is the strongest position of the century for the Orioles, aided significantly by No. 8's brief tenure there before retiring in 2001.

Every finalist also spent varying amounts of time at other positions, showing off their versatility. Ripken is obviously most famous for his time at shortstop, the same position Manny Machado came through the minors playing. Melvin Mora, one of the most underrated Orioles in the last few decades, was a super utility player before settling in at third.

 

Any name would be well-deserving as the best of the century. Once again, it will come down to the star of one decade compared to the next. Who wins?

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

The Contenders

Cal Ripken Jr. (2000-01)

Obviously, Ripken isn't a serious contender for Best Orioles of the Century, considering he only played in two years, and they were his final two seasons in baseball. This is clearly a more sentimental choice.

For completion's sake, here are the stats this century: 211 games, 29 home runs, 124 RBI, 0.8 WAR, and a 6.87 OPS, not what you'd expect from a normal finalist.

Ripken isn't a normal finalist though. He defined baseball in Baltimore for the previous two decades and is the best player in the franchise's history. He, of course, set the consecutive games played record, perhaps the most unbeatable mark in sports.

You can't leave him off any Orioles list if he's eligible, and yes, he's eligible. So he's on the list. Those are the rules.

Melvin Mora (2000-09)

Mora is the forgotten star of the early Orioles this century. Fans remember him as a good player, but it was easy to first think of Miguel Tejada, Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis before landing on Mora.

Make no mistake, Mora was a star. He was worth 19.3 WAR from 2002-05, fifth-most among third basemen across baseball. He made two All-Star Games and won the Silver Slugger in 2004, thanks to his .340 batting average and AL-leading .419 OBP.

He wasn't a standout in the field, converting to full-time third baseman after spending his first few seasons as a super utility player. He eventually paired with Tejada to form perhaps the best left side of any infield in Orioles history, thanks to his excellent batting skills.

He is also a member of the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame.

Manny Machado (2012-18)

Machado is likely the most purely talented player the Orioles have ever had. He's a five-tool talent, with power, batting skills, decent speed, a cannon for an arm and one of the best gloves in baseball.

He came up a shortstop, but he joined the 2012 Orioles at the hot corner as a 20-year-old to help them make their first postseason in more than a decade.

From his electric debut - hitting two home runs in his second career game - to the literally countless jaw-dropping plays in the field, Machado was one of the faces of the O's resurgence from 2012-16. His unbelievable glove earned unsurprising comparisons to none other than Brooks Robinson himself, and he did it all with a smile on his face.

He hit at least 32 home runs in five straight seasons, finished top-five in MVP voting twice and won a Platinum Glove. His trade to Los Angeles at the 2018 trade deadline is the only reason he isn't a shoo-in for this spot.

 

The Winner

This is a tough call. Mora is really, really deserving as his career in Baltimore went underappreciated during the lowest points of the 14-year losing streak. But the correct answer is probably Machado.

In nearly 400 fewer games, FanGraphs gives Machado a 0.1 WAR edge in their careers in Baltimore. The gap on Baseball Reference is even wider. On offense, their outputs were remarkably similar. Machado hit four more home runs. His batting average was .003 higher.

Longevity has mattered in past debates, but in this case, Machado's counting stats hold up to Mora's and that doesn't mention the fielding. Mora was serviceable, while Machado set the gold standard at the position and is in the short conversation for best fielding third basemen ever. 

He also had the better peak, with multiple MVP-caliber seasons of 7.3 and 7.4 WAR. Mora was consistent, but never topped out above 5.6

When it's this close, it's also worth weighing the winning. Machado was the difference-maker on the 2012 team, the most fun season for a generation of fans, and his addition turned the team into the winningest in the AL for half a decade. Mora was terrific, and it's no fault of his that he never made the playoffs, but for a franchise like Baltimore winning is a worthy tiebreaker.

By a slimmer margin than expected, Manny Machado is the best Oriole third baseman of the century.

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