When I found out that Brian Roberts was signing with the Yankees next year, I had two thoughts. The first thought was "barf," and that was pretty reflexive. The second thought was that I really want the Orioles to give Roberts one of those $1 vanity contracts when he retires, just so that he can "retire as an Oriole." It's a meaningless gesture, but it's been an awfully long time since I've thought that about any ballplayer.
Brian Roberts has been an Oriole for his entire career until now. When Mark made a list of the top ten Orioles draft picks this year, Roberts landed at #5. He was the last Oriole who played alongside Cal Ripken, Jr. He was with this team through some dark, dark years of futility before he finally got to play for a winner (even though he was, sadly, injured during the 2012 playoffs). And as trite as it sounds, Roberts always seemed like a guy who truly loved the game of baseball and played it the right way.
You can make an easy case for remembering Roberts fondly with statistics. He put together 28.9 WAR over his thirteen Orioles seasons, even with some of them being limited by injury. He broke the single-season doubles record for a switch-hitter in 2009, and had 351 doubles overall to go with 92 homers. He swiped 278 bases, and stole with an impressive 80% success rate. He had a sturdy .349 OBP, making him a really good leadoff hitter, especially in a number of lineups where no one else could take a walk to save their lives.
There are really only two stains on Roberts' Orioles legacy: steroids and injuries. In 2007, Roberts was named in the Mitchell Report, after which he admitted to using steroids one time, apologized to the fans and mostly managed to successfully move on. He never tested positive for a banned substance, and we'll never know how much Roberts' massive 2005 campaign (.903 OPS, 18 HR, both career highs) may have been fueled by banned substances. To me, it doesn't completely mar his legacy -- Roberts had some solid years under MLB's stricter test regimen, too -- but it'll always be there.
Injuries, of course, came later, and were largely beyond Roberts' control. Concussions, hips, hamstrings, more concussions, more hamstrings -- after Roberts signed a four-year, $40M deal in 2010, he couldn't keep himself on the field, and he largely wasn't the same player when he was out there. Before the big contract, Roberts put up 28 WAR in nine years. During the big contract, the Orioles got 0.9 WAR and an average of only 48 games per year.
Neither of these things manage to take away a significant chunk of Roberts' Orioles legacy. Roberts will certainly be inducted into the team hall of fame one day, and he and Nick Markakis may well be the only players from the really bad Orioles teams of the '00s to even manage that. Roberts played hard, played legitimately good baseball, and made some really bad teams an awful lot easier to watch. Orioles fans are going to remember diving plays at second, doubles to the gap, tough at-bats and All-Star appearances. A lot of that other stuff is going to be white noise in five or ten years, just like his one year with the Yankees will be. Brian Roberts was an Oriole, and a good one, period.