Today’s franchise has an intriguing history. The questions for you is, do you want the history of the name or the franchise? The original Baltimore Orioles were an expansion team in 1901 for the American League. They played two years in Baltimore, before moving. If you’re an Orioles fan today, you might not want to hear this – they moved to New York, and became the New York Yankees! From 1903-1953, the team known as the Baltimore Orioles were a high minor league team – what we would consider today a AAA team.
As for the franchise that now resides in Baltimore, it began in Milwaukee in 1894 as a part of the Western League – a minor league. In 1900, the American League withdrew itself from it’s agreement with the National League to being a minor league, and two months later declared itself a competing major league. The Brewers became a part of the American League in 1901, and had one lackluster season before moving to St. Louis, to become the St. Louis Browns. For 20 years, the Browns outshone and outsold their cross-town rivals, the Cardinals. But, in 1920, Browns owner Phillip Ball allowed the Cardinals to move out of their dilapidated stadium, and share Sportsman’s Park. This was the beginning of the end for the Browns. Cardinals owner Sam Breadon and GM Branch Rickey used the money from the sale of their old stadium to build baseball’s first farm system. And in the coming decades the Cardinals quickly were producing much more talented players than the Browns. The Browns enjoyed some moderate success here and there – reaching the World Series in 1944, losing in 6 games to the Cardinals (to date, the only WS played entirely in one stadium). But, after the ’45 season, they never had another winning season in St. Louis – in fact, they only had 8 winning seasons in their last 31 years there. After the 1953 season, owner Bill Veeck saw the writing on the wall, and sold his team to a group led by Clarence Miles, moving them to Baltimore. They immediately changed their name to the Orioles, and have since attempted to remove all memory of their mediocre history in St. Louis.
So, with over 100 years of franchise history, and with 7 World Series appearances, there have been a number of great players for the Browns/Orioles. I’d like to give honorable mention to Frank Robinson. Frank ranks very highly in several offensive categories for Baltimore, but I chose guys who spent more of their career in Baltimore, because Frank is likely to show up on Cincinnati’s top-5. He only spent 6 years in Baltimore, but he did win an MVP, and helped lead them to three AL pennants, and a World Series title in 1970. So, without further ado, here are what I would consider to be the top 5 players in the Orioles/Browns franchise history:
5. Eddie Murray (’77-’88) – Murray exploded onto the scene in 1977, winning ROY by hitting 27 HR, driving in 88, and amassing an .803 OPS. Then, over the next 11 seasons in Baltimore, “Every-Day Eddie” essentially did the same thing – year after year after year. He finished in the top-5 in MVP voting five consecutive years from ’81-’85, but never finished higher than 2nd (’82 & ’83). He won 3 Gold Gloves, and appeared in 7 All-Star games for the Orioles. He ranks 9th in team history in career OPS (.868), 4th in hits (2,080), 3rd in total bases (3,522), 3rd in doubles (363), 2nd in HR (343), 3rd in RBI (1,224), and 7th in Adjusted OPS+ (139 – which takes into account the ballparks the players played in). The primary reason I have Murray this low is that his stats are mostly accumulated stats. He ranks so high in most of these categories in large part because he also ranks 3rd in franchise history in plate appearances. Murray was a fantastic hitter. But, there are plenty others who deserve a lot of credit in this team’s history.
4. Ken Williams (’18-’27) – the only Brown to make my list, Williams still holds the franchise record for career OPS (.961). He played for the Browns during their best years. He was the first player in major league history to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in the same season (1922) – a feat that wouldn’t be accomplished again for over 30 years! He ranks 2nd in franchise history in OBP (.403), 1st in SLG (.558), 3rd in batting (.326), 9th in total bases (2239), 5th in triples (70), 7th in HR (185), 6th in RBI (811), 11th in stolen bases (144), and 3rd in Adjusted OPS+ (144). But, the stats that really caught my attention were his 162-game averages, which allows you to compare him to guys who play more games in a season – 28 HR, 116 RBI, 35 2B, 11 3B, 22 SB, 327 TB. Compare that to a guy like Murray – 30 HR, 106 RBI, 32 2B, 3 3B, 6 SB, 305 TB – and, you get a much clearer picture of why he makes this list. And, in spite of all these offensive achievements, he doesn’t even crack the franchise’s top-50 in career strikeouts – just 240 in 10 seasons.
3. Brooks Robinson (’55-’77) – the “Human Vacuum Cleaner” is arguably the greatest defensive 3rd baseman in the history of the game. He won an incredible 16 consecutive Gold Gloves. That’s tied for the 2nd most ever won by any player, and also is the most ever won consecutively. Robinson also appeared in 15 consecutive All-Star games, won the MVP in 1964, and finished in the top-5 four more times. In spite of his vaunted defensive skills, Robinson was no slouch at the plate. He ranks 2nd in franchise history in hits (2,848), 2nd in total bases (4,270), 2nd in doubles (482), 6th in triples (68), 4th in HR (268), 2nd in RBI (1,357), and 2nd in runs created (1,355).
2. Jim Palmer (’65-’84) – the sheer gap between Palmer and whoever you want to consider the 2nd best pitcher in franchise history (Mussina?) is extraordinary. He holds the franchise record for wins (268 – 87 more than 2nd place), K’s (2,212 – nearly 700 more than 2nd place), and shutouts (53 – 20 more than 2nd place). He won 3 Cy Youngs in a 4-year stretch (’73-’76); finished in the top-5 in Cy Young voting five more times; appeared in 6 All-Star games; won 4 Gold Gloves, and had eight 20-win seasons. Palmer is considered by many to be the best pitcher of the ’70’s, which was an incredibly rich pitching era.
1. Cal Ripken, Jr. (’81-’01) – there aren’t any more admirable baseball players in recent years than Ripken. He played in an era that saw guys juicing toward 70+ home runs, and sub-2.00 ERA’s. But, Ripken never seemed to waiver. Consistent, hard-fought, grind-it-out baseball was his way. And it paid off. Yes, he holds the record for most consecutive games played in the history of the game (2,632), but it was so much more than that. He played hard every day. He played well every day. He’s the kind of player that you want your kids to look up to. And, fittingly, he’s at the top of so many franchise batting records: Games (3,001), Runs (1,647), Hits (3,184), Total Bases (5,168), Doubles (603), Home Runs (431), RBI (1,695), and Runs Created (1,729). He won ROY in ’82, followed by an MVP in ’83; 19 consecutive All-Star Games; 2 Gold Gloves; 8 Silver Sluggers; and another MVP in ’91.