Contrary to many of my perhaps-forgotten comments in the last two years, I was a pretty big Melvin Mora fan. My feeling that it was time for him to be replaced didn't change that. The fact that as an Orioles fan I'm relieved that his time is up doesn't change it, either.
Mora's last four seasons in Baltimore were pretty rough overall, clouding what I hope will turn out to be blue sky memories of his time as an Oriole. Because Melvin Mora was an Oriole -- a real one. Sure, we got him from the Mets (and again, Mets, thanks for that trade), but we took a utility man nearing the end of his likely upside and got an All-Star performer out of the deal.
When Melvin came over from New York in the middle of the 2000 season and hit a little bit -- nothing special, but a little bit -- it was nice. But who expected it to continue? In fact, it didn't continue. In 2001, Mora hit .250/.329/.362, and for all the world you would have been completely forgiven for not wanting to see the light-hitting, 30-year old Mora come back for '02.
But he did. And when you looked past his .233 batting average, you could see a few things. He led the team with 70 walks and hit 19 homers. At the end of the day, though, it still didn't look that impressive. .742 OPS, decent, useful, but not worth going out of your way for.
At 32 years of age, he became an All-Star. In an injury-shortened season, he raked .317/.418/.503, and he followed that up with a just plain nasty .340/.419/.562 line in 2004, leading the American League in on-base percentage and emerging as one of the most overlooked great players in the game.
It was, of course, a career year. Mora made another All-Star team during the ill-fated 2005 campaign, the first season of Camden Chat's existence. He played well that year, though not up to the unrealistic standards of '04. And he just sort of kept declining bit by bit. It happens. He was in his mid-30s, had one of the strangest career trajectories you'll ever see (even in an era of strange career trajectories), and well, nothing gold can stay.
When Mora made that big second-half surge in 2008, my critical mind was filled with the idea that it was a fluke, that this shouldn't be any reason to think he was still going to be an effective third baseman in the majors, that nobody should get too excited. And I turned out to be right, but big woopty doo. I don't care about that now. All I care about is that I got to see a few more fine summer afternoons where Melvin Mora torched the Tigers, watching him tearing the cover off of the ball all throughout the dog days of summer.
When I read a few days ago that the Orioles declined their option on Mora, it struck me. Just reading that in print: "Orioles decline option on Melvin Mora." The same Melvin Mora who played here for 10 1/2 years. Of course it was time for the Orioles to let go. The old veteran just isn't a part of this team's future, and he had a tough year to boot. It's not like he's hitting as he ages. His decline is obvious. But still: "Orioles decline option on Melvin Mora." A bit jarring.
Maybe he'll retire. Selfishly, I kind of hope he does. I don't want to see Melvin scrapping in some other team's uniform, though I wouldn't at all be bothered seeing him sign with a contender in a reserve role and maybe even win a World Series. He was a damn fine ballplayer. He is also a good man, and a proud one who never wanted to sit down on the bench, never wanted to give up his spot, never wanted to let you forget his vast playoff experience.
That last bit of snark brings us to something else, which is the "other" side of Melvin Mora. When he felt oppressed, he whined. When he felt that Dave Trembley didn't "respect" him enough, he found someone to complain to about just that. It was all quite off-putting, and there's no getting around it. But how do we remember Jim Palmer, who was a prima donna of the highest order? (Not that Mora is Jim Palmer, but you know what I mean.)
I say let the sleeping dogs lie. Melvin had his days. Who doesn't? I truly believe he wanted to win here, wanted to be part of the "rebirth" of Orioles baseball. And I'll bet that when the Orioles get back to the World Series, one of the players you'll see honored and honored to be there will be Melvin Mora. That ovation he'll receive someday down the line is already well-deserved.