The 40 Greatest Orioles of All-Time - No. 20 - Mark Belanger

20. Mark Belanger, SS (1965-1981)

All-Star: 1976
Gold Glove: 1969, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978

Mark Belanger had a .280 slugging percentage for his career. He hit .228. His on-base percentage was an even .300. His park-adjusted OPS+ was 68.

In short, Belanger was a brutally awful hitter, absolutely terribly bad. It took him 6602 plate appearances to hit 20 home runs. But the man could play shortstop. He could pick it with the best of them.

Belanger was very thin, with an official listing of 6'1", 170 pounds. He had outstanding range and turned a mean double play. He replaced Luis Aparicio after the 1967 season, when Aparicio was traded back to the White Sox.

"Blade" was signed by the Orioles in 1962, just 11 days after he'd turned 18 years old. He was up by 1965, and stuck in 1967 as a utility man, playing 38 games at shortstop, 26 at second base and a couple at the hot corner. He was 24 when he took over as Baltimore's starting shortstop, a role he didn't give up, really, until he was done playing baseball.

From 1968 through 1978, Belanger won eight Gold Gloves and played in at least 140 games every year except for 1972 (105) and 1978 (134). Weaver had the pitching and the three-run homers covered by others. Belanger was there to be a golden example of the fundamentals, and he did his job excellently.

Belanger was not a great player. A great shortstop, sure, but that and a little bit of speed were basically his entire game. He never once posted an OPS better than the league average, and his best offensive season in comparison to the league was 1976 (.270/.336/.326 with one homer, 40 RBI, 22 doubles and 27 steals).

The other notable thing about Belanger was that he was a great believer in the MLBPA, serving as a representative for several years with the Orioles and becoming a special assistant after retiring in 1982, after one failed season with the Dodgers. In 1998, Belanger (who had been a smoker for years) died of lung cancer at age 54. He was known as a gentleman both on and off the field, an intelligent man and an overachiever. Belanger might not have been one of the best all-around players in Orioles history necessarily, but he is certainly one of the greatest Orioles.

"(Aparicio in 1966) wouldn't talk to me at all. He'd say, 'Get away from me, kid, get away from me.' So instead... I watched him all the time. I watched every move he made."

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