#15 - Melvin Mora, 3B (2000-2009)
It's hard to imagine, but there was a time in my life when, if asked who my favorite player was, I answered Melvin Mora. It is difficult to imagine that because Mora had worn out his welcome by the time he left Baltimore, and because he never played on an Orioles team that I have any fond memories of, and because I find much more joy in the players that I watch on the current Orioles than I ever did in Melvin. Perhaps this isn't the best way to start a post that is intended to celebrate Melvin Mora, but there it is. It's how I feel.
I used to live just a short walk from Camden Yards, and on occasion I found myself wandering over for a game even if I had no one to go with and no advanced plans. On one occasion I picked up a ticket for cheap at the scalp-free zone (remember that?) and found myself sitting just a few rows behind the Orioles dugout next to a man who reminded me quite a bit of William Devane. It was the same time that Devane was appearing in the TV show 24 as the Secretary of Defense, so I guess it was about 2006. Anyway, Mr. Devane and I had a long discussion about Melvin Mora and how he was our favorite player. He worked hard, he loved Baltimore, and he loved being an Oriole. And it was true. He did and was all of those things. And so, when I remember Melvin Mora, I try to remember him as the guy who I described like that back in 2006.
Melvin Mora was traded to the Orioles at the trade deadline in 2000, the one piece that came back in Syd Thrift's infamous fire sale that ended up having any value (to jog your memory, from July 28-31, 2000, Thrift traded Harold Baines, Charles Johnson, B.J. Surhoff, Mike Timlin, Mike Bordick and Will Clark for a total return of 14 players). Mora had been with the Mets, where he spent parts of two seasons as a super utility player.
Mora continued his role as a utility player when he got to the Orioles, playing all over the field. It was a fun game to play, guessing what position he'd be in from day to day. From 2000-2002 he played every position in the outfield, shortstop, second base, and was even the designated hitter a few times. In those years he showed an ability to get on base but couldn't get his power going. But finally, in 2003 that came around as well.
Melmo played just 96 games in 2003, but hit .317/.418/.503 and was named to his first ever All Star Game. He continued in his utility role, playing mostly in the outfield. Going into 2004, Mora had earned the chance to play every day, and the Orioles just happened to need a third baseman. Even though we all remember him as a third baseman, he didn't once play there for the Orioles until '04.
Every day playing agreed with Mora, as he hit even better in 2004 than he had in 2003. His batting line was .340/.419/.562 with 27 home runs and 41 doubles. His wRC+ for the year was 159, the 10th best single season mark in Orioles history and best for a third baseman.
With his versatility, hard work, and success, Mora won over the Orioles fans. Everyone loves an underdog, and Mora certainly qualified. Before making his major-league debut at age 27, Mora spent eight seasons in the minor leagues. He finally got a chance with the Orioles and he made the most of it. Add in the human interest story of how his wife gave birth to quintuplets at Johns Hopkins and the health issues the kids faced, and Mora became one of the easiest players in recent Orioles history to root for. He wore his emotions on his sleeve. When he was happy, we knew it. When he was mad, we knew it. And we loved him for it.
Going into the 2006 season, it was well known that the Orioles and Mora were talking about a contract extension. Fans were clamoring for it; Mora had earned it. And in May he signed a three-year contract with a full no-trade clause that took him through the 2009 season. If there were people who thought the extension was a bad idea, I don't remember them.
It turned out that the extension was a bad idea. 2006 and 2007 were Mora's worst since he arrived in Baltimore, and as his play suffered, so did his attitude. He made arrogant comments in the press. He grew tiresome to many fans.
Mora bounced back in 2008 with a good season at the plate, but in the final year of his contract he was miserable. He wasn't performing on the field and off the field he was claiming that manager Dave Trembley doesn't respect him.
After the 2009 season, the Orioles and Mora parted ways. It was sad the way it ended, but it came down to a baseball player who couldn't accept his declining skills.
But that's not how I want to remember Melvin Mora. I want to remember the happy guy that came out of nowhere to win a place on the team, and who spent a number of years as one of the more enjoyable players on a lousy baseball team.
Melvin Mora racked up a bWAR of 29.1 with the Orioles, averaging 4.825 per year from 2002-2005. He ranks 11th all time in games played for the O's with 1256, 9th in home runs (158), and 8th in doubles. He is not yet a member of the Orioles Hall of Fame but it's only a matter of time.