Baltimore Orioles: Greatest All Time Team

Baltimore Orioles (1954-Present)

St. Louis Browns (1902-1953)

Milwaukee Brewers (1901)

American League (1901-Present)

American League Champion: 1944, 1966, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1979, 1983

World Series Champion: 1966, 1970, 1983

The American League was the brainchild of Ban Johnson. After the collapse of the American Association in 1891, baseball was left with one Major League. Ban Johnson’s goal was to create another to challenge the Senior Circuit. He became president of the Western League, a minor league centered mostly around the Great Lakes, then waited for his opportunity to elevate his league into major league status.

Ban Johnson

His opportunity came in 1900, when the National League dropped four franchises. Baltimore, Cleveland, Louisville and Washington were now without teams. Ban Johnson struck quickly, moving the St. Paul team to Chicago and the Grand Rapids team to Cleveland. After the 1900 season the league, now known as the American League refused to renew its membership in the “National Agreement” and directly challenged the National League by declaring themselves a Major League. They replaced  their clubs in Buffalo, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Minneapolis and opened franchises in Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore and Washington. When these clubs were added to the four remaining franchises from the Western League, Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Detroit; there alignment was complete. The next step was to raid the National League for players, This they did with sensational success, luring such stars as Cy Young away from St. Louis to Boston, Jimmy Collins from the Boston in the National League to Boston in the American League and Sam Crawford from Cincinnati to Detroit along with many others. The Philadelphia Phillies were especially decimated losing Ed Delahanty to the Washington Senators, Elmer Flick to the Cleveland Indians, and Napoleon Lajoie to the Philadelphia Athletics. By 1903, Ban Johnson’s victory was complete, and the National League sued for peace, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Unfortunately for the city of Milwaukee, the Brewers stay in Milwaukee was very short. After a miserable season on the field and at the gate, they finished last at 48-89, the franchise fled to St. Louis. Their initial years in St. Louis were decent. Holding their own with the Cardinals, who eventually played their home games in a facility owned by the Browns, Sportsman Park. The Browns also held their own in the new league. In the 1920s, led by George Sisler and Urban Shocker, the team found themselves in the first division often, culminating in a strong second place finish behind Babe Ruth’s New York Yankees in 1922. Though they never won a pennant, they were winning the battle for St. Louis with the Cardinals.

That all changed with the Cardinals hiring of Branch Rickey. As the Cardinals rose during the late 1920s the Browns began to fade. From 1930 until 1941 the Browns never finished out of the second division. The Browns finally did win their only American League Pennant in 1944, when most of the real Major League baseball players were off fighting a war. The irony of it all is that the Browns, in their only World Series appearance would lose to their Sportsman Park tenant, the St. Louis Cardinals.

With the return of the real ballplayers in 1946, the Browns again fell to the second division, a place they would remain in until the financial situation came to a crises in 1953. Owner Bill Veeck was forced to sell the ballpark to the Cardinals and then sell the franchise. The buyer was a Baltimore Lawyer, Clarence Miles, who immediately moved the team to Baltimore. So for the fifth time a franchise was placed in Baltimore, and for the 4th time they appropriated the name, the Baltimore Orioles.

The first club to represent Baltimore was the Lord Baltimores, who spent three uneventful years in the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players from 1872-1874. The second chance was in the American Association in 1882, when the first version of the Baltimore Orioles struggled through the first eight years of that doomed league. After missing the 1889 season, the Orioles reformed to replace the Brooklyn Franchise that had jumped to the National League. The American Association collapsed for good after the 1891 season. The Baltimore Orioles managed to work themselves into the National League in 1892. In 1894 they hired Ned Hanlon to run the club, and they, along with the Boston Beaneaters dominated the rest of the decade.

The 2nd version of the  Baltimore Orioles were not the best team in the 19th century, but they were certainly the most famous. They would win the National League Championship three years in a row in 1894, 1895, and 1896, then finish a close second to Boston in 1897 and 1898. John McGraw was their third baseman, Wilbert Robinson their catcher, and Hughie Jennings played second base. Jennings would manage in the Major Leagues for 16 years, Robinson for 19 years, and McGraw for 33. They all spouted stories proclaiming the greatness of the Orioles for the next 30 years, creating the impression that they were the greatest team of the 19th century. They were not.

In 1899 Ned Hanlon left Baltimore for Brooklyn, and even though he was replaced by John McGraw, the Orioles fell to 4th. The Orioles would not survive the National League consolidation in 1900. John McGraw would remain in charge when the 3rd version of the Baltimore Orioles would be one of the original members of the American League in 1901. They would last two years in the Junior Circuit before being transferred to New York as part of the peace agreement between the American and National League in 1903. They are now the New York Yankees.

It took a decade before the 4th version of the Baltimore Orioles would become an American League powerhouse. Beginning in the late 1960s and continuing until the early 1980s they would win six American League Championships and three World Series titles. They have struggled since the era of Earl Weaver ended, jumping back into contention sporadically in the 1990s and 2000s, but mostly not contending in the American League East.

Catcher

No obvious choice. Hank Severied (1915-1925), Rick Dempsey (1976-1988), and Matt Wieters (2009-2016) are all about even. Sincenone of the above” is not an option, we’ll go with Rick Dempsey (1976-1988).  He at least helped the Orioles win two American League Championships and the World Series. A very weak position for the franchise.

First Base

The best example of the futility of the franchise while they were in St. Louis is the conclusion at first base. George Sisler (1915-1927), was the best player in the history of the St. Louis Browns. Despite that, he is not the best player at his position, first base. Eddie Murray (1977-1988, 1996) is, and while it’s fairly close, it’s not a real tough decision. Sisler’s career average with St. Louis was .344, which is easily better than the .294 Murray hit with the Baltimore Orioles. He also leads Murray in On Base Percentage, but not by a lot, .384 to .370. Those are Sisler’s only offensive advantages over Murray. Murray had more power, a .498 Slugging Percentage to Sisler’s .481, even though Sisler played in an Era that was more friendly to hitters. Murray hit 343 Home Runs for Baltimore, while Sisler only hit 102 for the Browns. Murray was marginally better on defense, and his teams were more successful. Murray was the better player. John “Boog” Powell (1961-1974) should also be considered, but in a comparison to Murray he also loses. Powell did play 431 games in left field for the Orioles, so we’ll also consider him there.

Second Base

The dearth of quality second baseman in the organization leaves Bobby Grich (1970-1976) as the only reasonable choice.

BALTIMORE, MD – CIRCA 1973: Bobby Grich #3 of the Baltimore Orioles puts the tag on Jim Northrup #5 of the Detroit Tigers during an Major League Baseball game circa 1973 at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. Grich played for the Orioles from 1970-76. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Third Base

The choice here is very simple. Brooks Robinson (1955-1977) was the premier defensive third baseman in history. He was overrated as an offensive player, but was better than average most of his career. He won the American League MVP in 1964, and later sailed into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot.

Shortstop

This one is also easy, Cal Ripken Jr. (1981-2001) is one of the top five shortstops of all time.

Left Field

Ken Williams (1918-1927) is the best player in franchise history to play primarily in left field. Still think we will take John “Boog” Powell (1961-1974) over him. Powell was the American League MVP in 1970, after finishing second in 1969. He was the regular left fielder for the Orioles his first five years in the Big Leagues, before moving to first base for the remainder of his career. The move tells you all you need to know about his defense in the outfield, but boy, could he hit! A key member on two World Championship, and four American League Pennant winners. Not a slam dunk over Williams, but not a gut wrenching decision either. And yes, Powell’s nickname is short for what you think it is.

John “Boog” Powell

Center Field

There are still lots of rumors about Brady Anderson’s (1988-2001) out of character year in 1996, when he hit an astounding 50 home runs. His previous high was 21 and PED use was suspected. Nothing was ever proven, so we’ll judge him with no qualms. An outstanding defensive outfielder and one of the best leadoff men of the 1990s he is a narrow choice over the even better fielding Paul Blair (1964-1976).

Right Field

Frank Robinson (1966-1971) was only in Baltimore for six years, but what a six years! In 1966 he won the American League Triple Crown with 49 home runs, 122 RBI, and a .316 batting average. He was unanimously chosen American League MVP. He hit a home run off Don Drysdale for the only run in the Orioles Game Four 1-0 Series clinching victory. This was the Browns/Orioles Franchise’s first World Series title. The heart of Baltimore’s great teams from 1966-1971, maybe the greatest team ever. Ken Singleton (1975-1984) was very good, but Robinson was one of the all time greats. He also makes the Red’s greatest team as well.

Pitchers

Hall of Famer Jim Palmer (1965-1984) is clearly #1, after that it gets dicey. We’ll go with the only St. Louis Brown to make the grade at #2. Urban Shocker (1918-1924) went 27-12 in 1921, probably the best pitching year in franchise history. That was one of his four 20 win seasons for the Browns. Palmer’s longtime teammate Dave McNally (1962-1974) is #3. He won 20 games four years in a row between 1968 and 1971 when Baltimore was the best team in baseball. #4 is a choice between Mike Mussina (1991-2000) and Jack Powell (1902-1903, 1905-1912). Powell also won 20 games four times, but only once with the Browns. Mussina never won 20 with the franchise, but he did win 19 twice and 18 another year. He won 147 games in Baltimore and had a winning percentage of .645. Jack Powell was below .500 with St. Louis (117-143), but he had a significant lower ERA and pitched more innings than Mussina. It’s closer than you think, but we’ll go with the new Hall of Famer Mike Mussina (1991-2000).

Manager

The Sabermetrics community have always loved Earl Weaver (1968-1982, 1985-1986). He eschewed the sacrifice bunt, realized the value of the walk, and vocally promoted the 3-run home run and the big inning. He’s, by far, the most successful manager in franchise history.

BALTIMORE – 1980: Manager Earl Weaver #4 of the Baltimore Orioles in 1980. Earl Weaver was a manager from 1968-1982 and 1985-1986. (Photo by Rich Pilling/ MLB Photos via Getty Images)

MVP

The peak reached by Frank Robinson was higher than any other player in franchise history, but he was only with the team for six years. It was an incredible six years, though. The Orioles in those six years won 4 of the franchises seven pennants, and 2 of the three World Series Titles. He is very much in the conversation with three others. Brooks Robinson was a career Oriole. He spent 20 years as the regular third baseman. A great fielder, he also had many solid years with the bat. The problem with Brooks is that Baltimore did not win any championships in his most productive years. For many years in the early 1960s the Orioles would contend for the pennant, but fall just short. They never got over the hump until they acquired Frank Robinson. Are Brooks Robinson’s 20 really good years more valuable than Frank Robinson’s six sensational seasons? It’s a tough question. Next to consider is Jim Palmer. Palmer was a member of all six of the Baltimore teams that went to the World Series, the only player that can say that. He was the ace of the staff for ten years. A consistent winner, he won 20 or more games eight times. A truly outstanding pitcher. That leaves Cal Ripken Jr. Ripken has better career stats than any other Brown/Oriole by a pretty hefty margin, and also won two MVP Awards. The MVP Awards are very telling when evaluating Cal Jr. The first was 1983 when he led the franchise to their last Pennant and World Championship. The other was in 1991 when, despite his efforts, the Orioles finished in last place in the American League East (67-95). The 1991 season was consistent with most of his career, the team just wasn’t very good. They did get better later on the the 1990s, even winning the American League East in 1997, but by that time he was not among the best players on the team. This is a tough choice. Anyone of the four would be a reasonable selection. It ultimately comes down to Jim Palmer (1965-1984) and Cal Ripken Jr. (1981-2001). By the system we use to determine overall value, Ripken is significantly ahead, but our subjective opinion favors Palmer. With reservations, we’ll go with our value system and choose the Hall of Fame Shortstop.


5 comments

  1. […] Ban Johnson’s original plan was to put a franchise in Buffalo and leave Boston to the National League. The ownership of the team ultimately chose to put the club in Boston and challenge the National League’s Beaneaters (Braves) directly. It was a shrewd decision. The team quickly lured two of the best players in baseball away from the National League. Future Hall of Fame member Jimmy Collins was signed away from the crosstown Beaneaters to play third base and manage the new franchise, and the one and only Cy Young was taken from the National League’s St. Louis Browns. Boston was an immediate powerhouse in the new League. A close second in 1901 and a solid third in 1902. The Red Sox would eventually win the battle for Boston when the crosstown Braves fled to Milwaukee in 1953.  […]

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