#20 - Rick Dempsey, C (1976-1986, 1992)
Rick Dempsey is the goofy uncle of the Baltimore Orioles franchise. He makes you laugh, sometimes when he's trying to be funny and sometimes when he's not. Every now and again he says wildly inappropriate things that make you embarrassed to know him, like that time he told Jay Gibbons' wife, who was on an Orioles game broadcast to promote a domestic violence victim-related charity, that if Gibbons did not start getting some hits, he would domestically violate Gibbons.
He was really there for the family back in the day, though. Now he might be limited to mouthing platitudes like "focus easy," but he won a World Series MVP in helping the franchise to its most recent title. He was intentionally walked twice in a World Series! That happened! Dempsey was a World Series MVP, and that's why you have to endure some of his weirder thoughts for every pre- and post-game show. It is a fair price to pay. Flags fly forever.
Dempsey's major league career didn't start in Baltimore. He was originally drafted by the Twins in the 15th round in 1967 and was later traded to the Yankees. It was a midseason 1976 trade that brought Dempsey, along with other Top 40 Oriole Scott McGregor and fan favorite Tippy Martinez, to Baltimore. Dempsey had played in only 181 major league games by the time he was traded, his age 26 season. This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
It was never for his bat that Dempsey was known, with the exception of that one glorious World Series. In the ten full years he spent in an Orioles uniform, Dempsey only had an OPS+ above 100 two times. Across an Orioles career that spanned 4,105 plate appearances, Dempsey batted .238/.319/.355, numbers that now make us wince. In his era, that was an OPS+ of 89, meaning he was 11% worse than the average batter of his time.
You might be tempted to wonder how, with that kind of bat, did Dempsey manage to stick around for ten years and take a place among the greatest of Orioles? If Dempsey was a right fielder, he might not have stuck around, but he hung around at a premium position: catcher.
For all the jokes we tell about him now, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that he was an actual, good defensive catcher. That skill was on display from his very first partial season in an Orioles uniform, when, in 58 post-trade games, he threw out 27 would-be base-stealers in 50 attempts. He once again threw out over half of runners the next season, taking out 41 runners in 71 steal attempts.
In all but one season from 1976-1983, Dempsey threw out a higher percentage of runners than the average catcher, including 44% or better every year through 1981. The saying now is not to run on Matt Wieters, but long before that it should have been don't run on Rick Dempsey.
Longevity is nice and defense is nice, but let's be honest, if it wasn't for that '83 World Series, Dempsey would probably be just another Oriole on the pile, one of those forgotten names from the past. What a series it was. Dempsey had five hits in the series. All were for extra bases: four doubles and one home run.
Dempsey broke a 1-1 tie with an RBI double in Game 2 of the series, scored the tying run from second after reaching base on another double in Game 3 of the series, and threw out future Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, a prolific base-stealer, twice in three attempts. Just for style, he added a home run in the clinching Game 5. In all likelihood, it was the best week of Dempsey's professional baseball career. He picked a good week to have a good week.
He was known as a clubhouse goofball, once calling himself the Captain Kangaroo of the clubhouse kangaroo court. Even better than that were his rain delay antics. The image of Dempsey sliding across a soaked tarp to entertain drenched fans is still a legendary one in baseball.
On the franchise leaderboard for games played, Dempsey sits 11th. For hits, his 854 rank 20th. He was a solid Oriole for a long time, never putting up a Wins Above Replacement above 3.3, never dipping below zero until an ill-advised handful of games in 1992.
Dempsey might be the goofy uncle, but he's our goofy uncle. Few seem to enjoy the success of the Orioles in recent years as much as Dempsey has. He played through some great days of the franchise and now he is with us nearly every night as good times have returned. Selected for the Orioles Hall of Fame in 1997, he is our #20 greatest Oriole.