Mora's baseball story is certainly a feel-good one. Signed by the Houston Astros as an international free agent from Venezuela in 1991, Mora spent eight years in the minor league systems of the Astros and then the Mets before finally making his major-league debut in 1999. He played 145 games in parts of two seasons for the Mets as utility player before being traded (along with some scrubs) to the Orioles for Mike Bordick in July 2000.
When Mora came to the Orioles he was a player without a true position, and in his ten-year career with the Orioles he played every position on the field except pitcher and catcher. But he'll always be remembered, of course, as our third baseman through some very tough years.
In 2003, after 2.5 average seasons with the O's, Mora put up a hitting line of .317/.418/.503 in 96 games in which he played first base, second base, shortstop, left field, center field, and right field. With a hitting season like that, the Orioles needed to find a place to play Mora every day. Tony Batista's welcome departure opened up a spot at third base, and the Orioles gave the job to Mora, who had played exactly four games in the majors at the position, all with the Mets (he did play 114 games there in the minors).
Mora rewarded the Orioles' faith in him with what is arguably the best single offensive season from a third baseman in Orioles history. In 140 games, Mora hit .340/.419/.562 with 41 doubles and 27 home runs. He did it all with a smile on his face and a new fan favorite was born (his constant sad face came on in later years). After the another good season in 2005, the Orioles rewarded Mora with a three-year contract that included a full no-trade clause. The contract proved to be a burden to the Orioles, but I remember being happy they signed him to it. It was an emotional response rather than a logical one, as Mora was one of just a few bright spots on a bad team. He and his family lived in Maryland year round, Mora really seemed to love being a Baltimore Oriole, and he'd had a few good years in a row. Well, we all know how that contract turned out, as Mora's production never again got close to that magical 2004 season.
2009 was Mora's worst year with the Orioles and though the team had an option on him for 2010, they declined it and Mora and the Orioles parted ways. In ten seasons in Baltimore, Mora played in 1256 games and hit 158 home runs and 252 doubles. Only Brooks Robinson played more games at third base for the Orioles than Mora.
Was Mora a great baseball player? No, but for a few years he was very good. There was a stretch of time in the mid-2000s when he was frequently the answer to, "Who's your favorite Oriole?" Miguel Tejada was the star and Brian Roberts was the homegrown golden boy, but Melvin Mora was the underdog that no one expected, the player that seemed to love Baltimore as much as we loved him.