#29 - Adam Jones, CF (2008-present)
In all my years of going to Orioles games, the greatest single moment that I have witnessed came courtesy of Adam Jones. In the first meaningful September game that the Orioles had played in 15 years, on a night where all of the legendary Orioles of the past were there to honor Cal Ripken Jr., Pedro Strop happened.
What had been a rollicking good time came screeching to a halt; a 6-2 lead evaporated. A raucous crowd was reduced to nervous whispers. The first batter in the bottom of that inning was Jones. What we expected was a quick inning followed by a ninth-inning disaster and the end of the good times that season. What we got was this.
Camden Yards erupted. I have never heard it louder. On the wings of that baseball flew the monkey that had weighed down the backs of Orioles fans for those long 15 years of losing. We held our breath all summer, waiting for the sign that it would be safe to just cut loose and believe. That home run was the sign. Everyone there knew it.
The old script of being crushed underneath the inexorable juggernauts of the American League East had been thrown out. In its place were new, blank pages. Anything was now possible. Jones was the one who showed us.
It has now been six years since the Orioles traded Erik Bedard to the Mariners for five players, including Jones and Chris Tillman. That was one of the pair of trades following the 2007 season that was supposed to bring back the good days. This is the trade that actually did.
Jones had something of a rough beginning in an Orioles uniform. He was only 22 at the start of his first season here, over which he batted .270/.311/.400, with only nine home runs in 514 plate appearances. All of that was good for an 84 wRC+. That's weighted Runs Created, where 100 is average and less is poor; an 84 wRC+ means he was 16% worse than the average batter that year. Who cares? It was 2008. That team wasn't going anywhere.
Quietly, Jones developed as he gained major league experience. This remains a strange concept for Orioles fans. Jones jumped to 19 home runs in 2009, a season in which he only played in 119 games as he missed nearly all of September. As the token Orioles All-Star that year, he drove in the winning run on a sacrifice fly. He even won a Gold Glove for the season, although to this day no one knows why.
The 2011 season saw Jones named the Most Valuable Oriole by the local media contingent. He batted .280/.319/.466, continuing to demonstrate solid power, if not on-base skills. That was good for a 109 wRC+. At the time, this seemed fitting. A team where Jones was the best player with a season like that was a team that would not be going anywhere, just like the 2011 Orioles.
As he spent more time on the Orioles, Jones grew into the face of the franchise to local fans. He embraced Baltimore, the city, in a way that few Orioles players ever do. He engaged with fans on Twitter and made the city his home. He bore more of that quintessential Baltimore chip on his shoulder with each passing day. When the next door neighbor Ravens were charging to a Super Bowl championship, Jones was there with them every step of the way.
On May 26, 2012, Jones signed the largest contract in Orioles history when he agreed to a six-year, $85.5 million contract that would keep him an Oriole through 2018. He went on to put up the year of his career to show that he deserved it, ending the magical 2012 season with a .287/.334/.505 batting line - a 126 wRC+. He played in all 162 games of the best O's season in 15 years.
He was one of the best players in the American League, on one of the best teams in the American League. The voters recognized this: he came in sixth in the Most Valuable Player voting and was named Most Valuable Oriole for a second consecutive season. This time, there was no reason to sigh at a player like that being the best player on the team.
Without Jones and his 32 home runs - 16 of which broke tie games, including the one he launched into that September night - the Orioles never would have sniffed the playoffs.
A three-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner, Jones is the face of this era of the Orioles. It is his team. He has a no-trade clause in his contract and if all goes well, he will have five seasons (or more) left in an Orioles uniform.
Jones already has made his way high up on the franchise leaderboards, placing 16th in hits, 12th in home runs. In his six years as an Oriole, he's batted .281/.324/.464 and he figures to have several more solid seasons in him before he declines.
For now, six years into his Orioles career, he's our #29 greatest Oriole of all time. He may never have another season as great as 2012 again, but he doesn't need to (though it would be great if he did!) in order to be one of the best. Here's hoping a glorious 2014 for the O's moves him up even higher.
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