Quick, who is the greatest Baltimore Orioles player of all time?
Cal Ripken? Tough to argue with 3,184 hits and 2,632 consecutive games. Brooks and Frank Robinson? Put them together and in Orioles uniforms you have a Triple Crown, 16 Gold Gloves, 21 All-Star Game appearances and two World Series titles. Eddie Murray? Seven All-Star Games and five seasons with more than 100 RBIs.
Jim Palmer has to be in there with 268 victories, 53 shutouts and three Cy Young awards. So does George Sisler, who twice batted better than .400, even though he did it with the St. Louis Browns – long before Bill Veeck sold the club to Baltimore interests that moved it to Charm City, where the crab cakes are much better than what you can get along the Mississippi River.
With the Orioles playing seven consecutive games in Northern California – four against the A’s, then three against the Giants – baseball fans should appreciate that the leading Orioles player of the current era has launched his career as impressively as anybody who ever started with the franchise, whether it was in Baltimore, or St. Louis, or even Milwaukee, where the original micro-Brewers of 1901 finished last, 35 1/2 games out of first. No wonder they sneaked out of town the next year and changed their name.
Entering Friday’s game against the Giants at AT&T Park, Manny Machado, 24 years and 37 days old, had 646 hits, 284 RBIs, 94 home runs, three All-Star Game appearances and two Gold Gloves. Machado plays third base, and any discussion of that position in Baltimore begins with Brooks Robinson, whose diving stops behind the bag, especially in big moments like the 1970 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds in which he was named the Most Valuable Player, defined the position.
But when Robinson was Machado’s age, on June 24, 1961, he had 146 fewer hits, 69 fewer home runs and 101 fewer RBIs. Known more for defense than his offense, Robinson also had 62 fewer assists and 16 more errors than Machado – and one fewer Gold Glove.
In the sports bars of Fells Point and other Baltimore neighborhoods, it’s almost sacrilege to suggest anybody other than Brooks is the greatest Orioles third baseman ever. Time, however, does have a way of getting on, and now it belongs to Machado. He’s putting up better numbers than Robinson; now he only has to do it for another decade or more, and in the playoffs, and win a World Series, and maybe they’ll build him a statue outside Camden Yards, too.
Cal Ripken reached the age of 24 years and 37 days on the final day of the 1984 season. He trails Machado by 77 hits, 12 home runs and three RBIs but leads him over that time span with one American League MVP award and one World Series ring.
Murray, the RBI machine, drove in more runs than anybody who ever played in the major leagues whose last names were not Aaron, Ruth, Rodriguez, Bonds, Gehrig, Musial, Cobb or Foxx. So it figures when he was Machado’s age, he had eight more RBIs, but he lagged with Machado by 136 hits and 15 home runs.
Let’s not get into Sisler. He hadn’t played a full year in the majors by the time he was 24 and 37. Jim Palmer by that time had won 39 games and beaten Sandy Koufax with a World Series shutout. But you never saw Palmer field a smash to his backhand side, spin 360 degrees to his right and fire to second to start a double play.
Among the Baltimore greats, only Frank Robinson topped Machado’s early numbers. But Robby accumulated his in Cincinnati, where he played for 10 years before the Reds traded him to the Orioles for Milt Pappas, who could pitch, although not nearly as well as Robinson could hit.
Thursday morning in Oakland, the wisdom of Orioles manager Buck Showalter was sought to find out where Machado stacks up compared to the franchise greats.
“Whether it be Brooks or Frank or Jim Palmer, all of our guys, there’s some longevity involved, and I think that is one of the most challenging things up here, is staying on the field,,” Showalter said.
Showalter said Machado “has a lot of roads to cross” to gain his place beside the Orioles Hall of Famers.
“I just think about playing baseball,” Machado said after Thursday’s win over the A’s in which he had two hits and two runs and started a double play with a quick stab to his left and a quick throw to second. “I don’t think about that other stuff. If we play baseball every day and come out there (and) do what you’ve got to do, you’re going to take care or business. Everything else just takes care of itself.”
A tattoo spread across Machado’s back in large type declared, “Sky’s The Limit.” It’s a cliché, to be sure, but for Machado, it’s also the truth.