#10 - Bobby Grich, 2B (1970-1976)
As Stacey and I were compiling our top 40 Orioles list, we consulted the career Wins Above Replacement for a number of players to see where our recollections of these great Orioles matched up with reality. When I looked at that list and saw Bobby Grich so high up on the O's franchise leaderboard, I wondered how that could possibly be so. Then I looked at Grich's career stats, both in and out of an Orioles uniform, and I was left wondering why he isn't in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
It's true that Grich only played five seasons with the O's where he logged significant time, and for most of those he was along for the ride in an infield that contained three great Orioles yet to come on our countdown - Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger, and Boog Powell.
What's a second baseman who played in 786 games in an O's uniform compared to that? Would you settle for a three-time All Star and four-time Gold Glove winner? What about a guy who was among the five best position players in the American League every year for five straight years? Not that the MVP voters of the day noticed, but that's exactly what he was. Maybe it's also because, among second basemen, Hall of Famer Joe Morgan spent 1972-1976 going completely bonkers. That's some tough timing.
The thing that Grich brought to the table was value both offensively and defensively. Where the majority of his positional competition on other teams during his O's time could neither get on base nor hit for power, Grich was able to do both. He walked, he hit doubles, and he even had double-digit home runs every year. He did all of this while playing defense that contemporary measures rate as being excellent. 1973 Grich was very nearly as good as 2013 Manny Machado defensively, according to Fangraphs numbers.
Over that five-year stretch, Grich batted a combined .263/.374/.410, which is a nice reminder that it's possible for a player to take a free base every now and again. He averaged 89 walks per year for those five years, which worked out to a walk in 13.8% of his plate appearances. The modern day Orioles have not had a player with 89+ walks in any of the last five years.
Grich had an OPS+ of 127 in his O's tenure, meaning he was 27% better than the average player, hitting well enough that his bat would have played in a number of positions. Since he was great at playing second base, he was far beyond most of his peers at that spot.
He just missed the real glory years. Being drafted in the first round of the 1967 draft - the pick (#19 overall) the Orioles received for having been American League and World Series champions the previous year - meant that by the time Grich was ready for major league action, the three-year stretch of American League Champion Orioles had already come and gone, though Grich did get a cup of coffee in the big leagues in 1970 and 1971. With the advent of free agency, he was off of the team before the late-70s and early-80s saw more great Orioles teams.
Perhaps that also contributes to why his great Orioles legacy is forgotten. It's hard to stand out among that crowd. Still, the quality of his resume can't be denied. He may have only spent five full years on the Orioles, but they were five years that were so good as to propel him up among the greatest Orioles of all time.
Looking back through the annals of baseball writer voting produces some head-scratchers from time to time. The fact that Grich fell off the ballot in 1992, his first year of eligibility, is one of those mysteries. How could a guy with his career get only 11 votes out of 450 cast?
Grich and future Hall of Famer Rod Carew both spent the tail ends of their careers with the California Angels. They were teammates for seven seasons. All would agree that Carew is a no-doubt, slam-dunk Hall of Fame second baseman. The thing is that in those seven years, Carew played two games at second base because Grich was better at the position.
If they ever correct the oversight that Grich is missing from the Hall, perhaps he will even go in as an Oriole. He played more years in California, but he played his best years in Baltimore. Though he may have been snubbed by the wider Baseball Hall of Fame, the Orioles Hall of Fame recognized one of their great players by inducting him in 1998.
His four Gold Gloves are most for a second baseman in the history of the franchise, and tied for fourth-most for the franchise as a whole. Jim Palmer and Mike Mussina - also great Orioles still to come - have four Gold Gloves as well.
Grich did not have the fortunate timing to be on any of the greatest Orioles teams, but he is nonetheless one of the ten greatest Orioles to ever wear the uniform. Orioles fans would be lucky to see another player as great or better on the team again. Any player, present or future, would have to be something really special to unseat Grich from where he is on this list.