The very moment that Matt Wieters first took the field for a game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, a rainbow appeared in the sky above the Warehouse. This seemed like it must have been an omen from the baseball gods. Wieters would save the franchise from the darkness, as was prophesied in the tomes of old.
Wieters came to us from Georgia Tech, the fifth overall pick in the 2007 draft. The hype was there from the beginning. Before his MLB debut, pretty much the entire prospect-industrial complex agreed that Wieters was the best prospect in all of baseball.
Here would be Joe Mauer, with power. He was Switch-Hitting Jesus. Chuck Norris dressed up as him for Halloween; no one survived when he took batting practice. These were the Matt Wieters Facts that envisioned his Hall of Fame plaque before he had ever played a professional game.
Nearly ten years later, we know that reality is not quite so simple. Although Wieters hit 117 home runs as an Oriole, not one of them was a bases-empty grand slam. O’s fans were fond of saying, “Don’t. Run. Ever.” But it turned out that you could still run 67% of the time. And not only was he not Joe Mauer with power, he wasn’t even Joe Mauer.
Yet the story of the Buck Showalter era of the Orioles, of a moribund franchise returning from the grave to the playoffs three times in five years, cannot be told without Wieters.
When the Orioles got back to the postseason, finally, in 2012, Wieters started at catcher in 132 regular season games and threw out a staggering 39% of would-be base-stealers. He smashed a career-high 23 home runs, was selected to the All-Star team, and won one of his two Gold Gloves. He might not have been the best player in MLB, or even on the Orioles, but they couldn’t have done it without him.
In the final accounting, we can probably say that Wieters gave the elbow with which he was born to the Orioles. He wasn’t a key figure in the 2014 AL East champion team since his arm exploded after about a month of baseball. This, after catching 1,201 innings the previous year and over 1,150 innings each of the two years before that.
Catchers just don’t catch that much. Wieters did. He was a workhorse. Orioles teams both good and bad needed him, and there he was, with dingers, with a cannon of an arm, with walk-up music that could be counted on to make your ears bleed.
If you ask an Orioles beat writer, Wieters was even largely responsible for developing young Orioles pitchers - the same young pitchers that the rest of the baseball media bashes the Orioles for not developing.
How could we ever pick out one favorite Wieters highlight from an eight-year O’s career? He had many, including one from the very last regular season game he played as an Oriole, when he homered from each side of the plate to help the O’s win their finale and clinch their spot in the postseason. Or how about this glorious dong:
The game was basically over. The Orioles had lost, a frustrating, pathetic, strikeout-filled game against the jabroni Matt Shoemaker. With one swing, Wieters turned that loss into a win for Brad Brach and a save for Zach Britton.
Maybe you liked Wieters for his arm. There’s no shortage of highlights of him throwing out runners. Like this clip, when then-speedster Jacoby Ellsbury, who led MLB with 52 stolen bases in 2013, tried to add to his total against Wieters in a game that June:
No question about that from Ellsbury, no characteristic Red Sox whining. He got up and started walking back to the dugout like the loser he is before the umpire even signaled out. He knew better than to run on Wieters, but he did it anyway. The Orioles went on to win that game in the 13th inning.
Wieters is but a bit player in this next clip, but it was an awesome moment in an awesome Orioles season and there’s no doubt that he was a part of it:
The 16th freaking inning, with a position player on the mound, and there’s a ball hit that should have absolutely ended the game. But there was that Jones to Hardy to Wieters relay, with Marlon Byrd futilely attempting to displace Wieters. And there is Wieters, having held his ground, casually showing the ball to the umpire, the ultimate shit-eating grin on his face. I love that team so much.
There are only 20 players in Orioles history who have ever played in more games for the team than Wieters. He’s in the same place with his 117 homers. Not many past Orioles are past him, and not many current or future Orioles will end up doing so either. In all likelihood, we will never see his like again.
Wieters was drafted. He played. He is Birdland.
With Wieters signing elsewhere, there are now just 13 players remaining from the AL East-winning 2014 Orioles on the 40-man roster. Of the 2012 Wild Card O’s, just nine remain.