There are 25 games remaining in the 2009 season, which means that, barring some crazy circumstance, we have 25 more times to watch Melvin Mora play baseball as a Baltimore Oriole. I know that a number of you say good riddance, and when I'm watching Melvin sometimes I think the same thing. But Mora is one of only 23 players to spend at least 10 seasons with the Orioles and is arguably the second best third baseman in team history. I loved Melvin in the past, and I'm determined to do so again before this season is over.
In 2000, Melvin Mora was traded to the Orioles as a 27 year old utility player with about one year of major league experience and no real expectations assigned to him. In his first 426 games as an Oriole he continued to serve in the super utility role, playing every position on the field except pitcher, catcher, and third base. He really came into his own offensively in 2003, hitting .317/.418/.503 with 17 2B, 15 HR, and 49 BB in 413 plate appearances. His reward was the full time 3B position beginning in 2004, and he's been there ever since.
Given one position to play and every day to play it for the first time in his career seemed to suit Melvin. At 32 years old he had the best year of his career, hitting .340/.419/.562 with 41 2B and 27 HR, winning the Silver Slugger for his position. A position, incidentally, at which Mora had only two major league starts prior to 2004 (plus 106 games in the minors). Mora was a bright spot on another losing Orioles team and quickly became a fan favorite. His three year extension, announced during the 2006 season, was roundly applauded (including by our Cobra Commander).
So what happened? Melvin never had another season like 2004, certainly. He put up decent, but not great, numbers in 2006 and 2007, then in 2008 his numbers dropped dramatically until a Ruthian surge in the 2nd half gave him total numbers for the year that were his best since 2005. Here in 2009, Melvin isn't doing so well, although at the age of 37 it's not unexpected that he'd be in decline. He also gave his infamous (on Camden Chat anyway) "Dave Trembley doesn't respect me for the All Star that I am" speech, which didn't win over many. It's worth noting that Melvin had similar thoughts back in 2007 when Scott Moore was given a brief chance at third base. Things like that make it hard to love Melvin Mora, but I'm going to try anyway.
Why am I going to try? Because as I said before, Melvin has given us a lot in the years he's been here, and he is arguably the second best third baseman in Orioles history. There's no argument who the best is, and a fair number of people would put Doug DeCinces as second best. DeCinces undoubtedly had a better career than Melvin Mora has had to this point, but a number of his best offensive seasons came as a member of the California Angels. I never had the chance to see DeCinces play, but from what I've been told and what I can ascertain through his statistics, he was above average, but not exceptional, both offensively and defensively. Mora has made himself into an average defensive 3B and despite his recent woes has been above average offensively as a Baltimore Oriole. I don't feel I know enough about DeCinces to make a decision on who was a better 3B for the Orioles, but I can tell it's a close race (I also think it's safe to assume that some of those who did watch DeCinces play will say he was better even if he wasn't, because that's how memory works, and DeCinces did play during the good old days).
In cumulative offensive statistics (runs, hits, home runs, doubles, RBI), Mora is 2nd to Brooks Robinson in every catagory. In other statistics, Mora has the highest batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage of any 3B who's played at least 150 games at the position (that's stats at the position only, not overall player stats).
Of late, Mora has played better offensively than he did for the first two-thirds of the year. No matter how well he plays for the rest of the year, he won't be able to salvage this season, but here's hoping he goes out in a blaze of glory. I don't want my final memories of him to be what we saw the first part of this season. On Saturday I sat on the third base side at Camden Yards and joked as we sat down that no matter what at least I get to be so close to Melvin. He went on to get three hits and make a diving catch late in the game. It was when he made that catch that I realized I want to love Melvin Mora, no matter his stupid bunts and his playoff experience and all of the disrespect he faces on a daily basis. Hopefully Melvin will keep it together enough for the rest of the season so that I can do just that.