24. Don Buford, OF (1968-1972)
Don Buford was acquired by the Orioles on November 29, 1967, along with Bruce Howard and Roger Nelson in exchange for an aging Luis Aparicio, Russ Snyder and John Matias. The Orioles had traded Hoyt Wilhelm to get Aparicio from the White Sox, and now had traded Aparicio back to the White Sox for Buford. Though Aparicio was good in his Baltimore years, the White Sox did get Wilhelm's best run. On the other hand, this time the Orioles certainly won the deal, as Buford was fantastic for four seasons.
Buford was born on February 2, 1937, in Linden, TX, and attended USC. He signed with the White Sox in 1959 and didn't make it to the majors until 1963, when he was 26 years old, and didn't start really playing any until he was 27. From 1963-1967 with the White Sox, Buford played just 12 games in the outfield. He was a second baseman and sort of a third baseman his first two full seasons, and a third baseman and sort of a second baseman and kind of an outfielder in his latter two years with Chicago.
When the Orioles acquired him, he split time in the outfield and at second base in his first season. He was not a great fielder. He wasn't a great hitter, either. He had a little power, never hit .300. He could run some but he wasn't a fantastic base stealer. The thing that Don Buford did really well was get on base.
In 1968, Buford played in 130 games and hit .282/.367/.437 with 15 homers, 27 steals and 57 walks compared to 46 strikeouts. He grounded into one double play the entire season and was hit by four pitches. For his career, Buford was hit by 41 pitches and grounded into 34 double plays over 5347 plate appearances. He was one of most difficult men in modern baseball history to turn a double play on when he was at the plate.
Buford was even better making sure he got to first in '69, with a .397 OBP (.291 BA, .417 SLG) and 11 homers, plus a career-high 31 doubles. He walked 96 times and stole 19 bases, but he was caught stealing 18 times so the steals are pretty much negligible. He led off the 1969 World Series by homering off of Tom Seaver.
In 1970, he took it a notch higher, with a .406 OBP that came largely as a result of 109 walks. He batted .272, hit 17 homers and stole 16 bases.
He had one more good season in him. At 34, Buford missed 40 games, but he hit .290/.413/.477 with 19 homers, 54 RBI, 15 steals and 89 walks. From 1969-1971, Buford scored 99 runs every season.
Buford hit the brick wall at 35, hitting just .206/.326/.267 over 408 at-bats in 1972. Buford was sold to the Fukuoka Lions in Japan in 1973, where he was called "The Greatest Leadoff Man in the World." He played there through 1976, then retired.
Buford was a little guy, 5'7", 165, which actually makes the power he did have more impressive. He was a switch-hitter and was the first player in Orioles history to hit a home run from both sides of the plate in the same game, which he did on April 9, 1970 against the Indians. Don's son, Damon, was drafted in 1990 by the Orioles, but never really made an impact over nine big league seasons.