Twenty-six players have donned the #23 in Orioles history, but when you think 23 it's likely only two names come to mind: Tippy Martinez and Chris Hoiles. Martinez, a stable force in the O's bullpen for a decade, is fondly remembered for picking off three runners in one inning. Hoiles, the best offensive catcher in Orioles history (at least he was before 5/29/09), has the distinction of once hitting the Ultimate Grand Slam. But who is better?
Tippy Martinez was signed by the New York Yankees in 1972 and after pitching 44 games for the them from 1974-1976, he was traded to the O's along with Scott McGregor and Rick Dempsey. He found a home in Baltimore's bullpen, where he'd spend the next 10.5 seasons. In that time Martinez pitched 752.1 innings over 499 games with a sparkling 3.46 ERA. He had a few rough years, mostly at the end of his career (as is the case). In fact, if you take off Martinez's last two years with the O's his ERA+ jumps from 112 to 122. It's rare that a relief pitcher can be effective for so many years and Martinez was a member of a lot of good Orioles teams. In the five year span from 1979-1983 Martinez pitched 353 games with a 3.13 ERA and a 42-25 record for Orioles teams that went a combined 640-432 (.597). 1983 was Martinez's greatest year by far as he pitched 105.1 innings over 65 games with an ERA+ of 170 and a WHIP of 1.094. He made his only All-Star appearance in that year and made 5 post-season appearances, allowing 1 run in 9 innings.It was also in 1983 when Martinez did just what everyone remembers him for. For the youngsters in the crowd, allow me to elaborate. Martinez entered the game in the top of the 10th inning with zero outs, a runner on first, the Blue Jays leading 4-3, and the Orioles defense a hot mess. Behind the plate was Lenn Sakata, catching in what would turn out as his only inning at catcher in his 11 year major league career. At third base was Gary Roenicke, an outfielder. John Lowenstein, also an outfielder, was at 2B. The Blue Jays probably thought they could take advantage of the compromised infield but Martinez had other ideas. He picked off the initial runner, issued a one out walk, picked off that guy, allowed a single, and picked off THAT guy. And thus Tippy Martinez made his mark on history.
Chris Hoiles also has a small place in baseball history for hitting an Ultimate Grand Slam in 1996 against the Seattle Mariners. The ultimate grand slam is, of course, a grand slam hit in the bottom of the 9th with the team down by three runs. It's been done a number of times in major league history, but only Hoiles has ever done it in the ultimest of ultimate ways, with a 3-2 count and two outs. Chris Hoiles and grand slams go together, as he also once hit two in one game.
Drafted by the Tigers in 1986, Chris Hoiles was traded to the Orioles in August of 1988 for Fred Lynn. Hoiles made his major league debut in 1989 and played for the Orioles for his entire career. In his 10 years he set almost every offensive record for Orioles catchers. He's #1 in home runs (151), walks (435), OBP (.366), OPS (.833), and runs (415). His 449 RBI are second to only Gus Triandos (517) and his SLG of .467 is third behind Charles Johnson (.476) and Javy Lopez (.468). Hoiles' best season was 1993 when he hit .310/.416/.585 with 29 HR. Three times he hit at least 20 HR and twice he just missed with 19. Although not known for his defense, his bat more than made up for the deficiency.
Both Tippy Martinez and Chris Hoiles spent about 10 years with the Orioles. One held leads, one mashed home runs. Both were fan favorites, but only one tossed me a baseball during a minor league rehab start that I still have. Just saying. So who gets your vote?