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 yesterday, and now it's time for the first basemen.

This is another position that saw more than its fair share of turnover in the first decade of the century, only to finally stabilize as the Orioles briefly became one of the best teams in baseball.

Names like Jeff Conine, Rafael Palmeiro (for a second time), Kevin Millar, Aubrey Huff, Ty Wiggington, Mark Reynolds and Derrek Lee littered box scores until 2012, when Chris Davis solidifed himself as one of the best hitters in baseball.

Most of these names found success at various points in their careers, but much of it came in other cities and decades. Still, it's an eclectic group to man the position, giving Baltimore some of its biggest names during its leanest years.

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

The Contenders

Jeff Conine (2000-03, 2006)

Conine spent most of the 1990s experiencing moderate success with the Marlins. He made a couple of All-Star Games, but his 1999 arrival wasn't overly exciting as a replacement for the legendary Rafael Palmeiro. He was the first Oriole first baseman of the century, however, and he played the second-most games at the position of anybody.

 

2001 was his best season in Baltimore thanks to his .311 batting average, but he hit just 14 home runs. As a first baseman in the heart of the Steroid Era, that just wasn't enough. More than his on-field production, Conine provided clubhouse leadership as a World Series champion veteran who joined the team at 33 years old.

Kevin Millar (2006-08)

Millar also got started with the Marlins before coming to Baltimore, though he is best known for his stop in Boston in between the two franchises. He helped the Red Sox snap their title drought during the iconic 2004 World Series run before coming to Baltimore two years later.

Millar was yet another veteran free-agent signing, joining the Orioles at the age of 34. He hit 15, 17, and 20 home runs in his three seasons in Baltimore, never amassing more than 1.3 WAR in a single season. 

He was also known as an outspoken jokester, parlaying his experiences in Boston into a role as clubhouse leader with the Orioles, before eventually retiring to become a talk show host for MLB Network. 

Chris Davis (2011-present)

Like Wieters for catchers, Davis is not only the longest-tenured Oriole this century, but also the one whose rise coincided with the team's return to relevance.

It's no surprise Davis' best seasons came from 2012-16, the five-year stretch in which Baltimore made three postseason appearances and won more games than any team in the American League. Interestingly, Davis' two best years, 2013 and 2015, came in the two seasons the Orioles missed the playoffs. But even his "down" seasons during this stretch saw him rank among the most feared sluggers in all of baseball.

Today, Davis is remembered for his mammoth strikeout totals, rather than his mammoth power. He's also derided as one of the most overpaid players in the sport. But during his five-year reign of terror against opposing pitchers? He was a sight to behold.

The big first baseman - who, thanks to his athleticism also saw time at third base, in the outfield and even on the mound - averaged 39.4 home runs per season, despite missing chunks of games in two of them. To put that in perspective, the Major League leaders in home runs in each of those seasons averaged 43.8, and again, Davis missed significant time twice.

Davis' athleticism made him a strong defender at first with an even stronger swing at the plate. The Orioles' gamble on him in a 2011 trade with the Rangers paid off better than any fan could have possibly imagined.

The Winner

This was another particularly easy choice, with Chris Davis the runaway winner for Best Oriole of the century at first base.

Once again, longevity plays a key role here, with Davis' 1,135 games in Baltimore dwarfing both Conine (612) and Millar (417) this century. And, much like catcher, Davis is the only contender who will be remembered as an Oriole first and foremost.

 

But peak seasons weigh heavily in Davis' favor as well. The powerful first baseman set an Orioles record with 53 home runs in 2013, easily leading the league. And it wasn't a case of a juiced ball - only one other player, Miguel Cabrera with 44 - had more than 36 home runs. Davis also led baseball in RBI and total bases that season, a remarkable year for the ages.

His top-three MVP finish in 2013 was the high point in a career full of powerful swings. In 2015, Davis led the league in home runs again, this time with 47.

Though the high strikeout totals eventually caught up to him, and his contract remains one of the most notrious albatrosses in baseball history, Davis' impact from 2012-2016 cannot be overstated. Conine and Millar had fun stretches and were clubhouse leaders, but their combined career WAR in Baltimore (7.7) barely surpasses Davis in 2013 alone (7.1).

Davis' was the best power hitter on the best power-hitting team in baseball for a five-year stretch. He is the obvious choice as first baseman of the century in Baltimore.

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