Melvin Mora was a good player on some really bad Oriole teams, which is unfortunate. Even though it’s easy to overlook a player in those circumstances, Mora deserves recognition for his performance during those lean years at Camden Yards.
Thinking back to the early 2000s, several things stick out in my memory about Melvin Mora. The way he would crowd the plate and hang his elbows over the dish, almost asking to get hit. In fact, he is second all-time among Oriole players in HBP at 107, trailing only Brady Anderson (149) in that category.
He would waggle the bat while awaiting the pitcher’s delivery, always adept at taking the ball the other way. No wonder he was able to hit for such a high average all those years. And he had some pop in that bat too.
Plus, he would carry around a serious, almost concerned expression on the field a lot of the time. But he was also known for his ear-to-ear grin.
All the way back in 2000, Syd Thrift was the vice president of baseball operations and Mike Hargrove was the manager, having replaced Frank Wren and Ray Miller, respectively, during the prior offseason. Big-name players like Cal Ripken, Brady Anderson, Mike Mussina and B.J. Surhoff were still on the club at that time too.
Two and a half years removed from their last winning record and playoff appearance, the Orioles’ roster was long in the tooth in mid-2000, not to mention pricey. With a sub .500 record leading up to the trade deadline, management decided to start dealing away veterans.
Enter Melvin Mora. On July 28, 2000, the O’s acquired then 28-year-old Mora from the New York Mets along with Pat Gorman, Leslie Brea, and Mike Kinkade in exchange for Mike Bordick. Baltimore had a record of 43-57 when the swap went down.
It was just the first in a flurry of moves before the July 31 trade deadline that summer. Other veterans who got shipped out were Mike Timlin, Will Clark, Harold Baines, Charles Johnson and B.J. Surhoff. The Birds went on to finish the year 74-88, placing 4th in AL East.
Bordick was 35 years old when the Orioles and Mets worked out their deal, and he had just participated in his first and only All-Star Game. I was personally too young to understand the intricacies of an MLB rebuild when this move went down and I remember being confused.
All I could think was, ‘why did the O’s get rid of Bordick when he was doing so well!?’ The Birds’ shortstop was hitting .297/.350/.481 at the time of the trade and went on to reach career highs in home runs and RBI that season. Looking back now, it’s safe to say that the O’s got the better of that deal, even despite the other players involved being duds.
But it wasn’t exactly a splashy move at the time, at least in regards to Mora specifically, who no longer had prospect status at the ripe old age of 28. Before joining the Orioles, Mora had accumulated 281 plate appearances with the Mets between 1999 and 2000, and during that time he hit .248/.312/.390.
Let’s rewind even further for a moment. Mora’s professional baseball career began way back on March 30, 1991 when he was signed by the Houston Astros as a 19-year-old amateur free agent out of Venezuela. He spent six years in the Astros’ system before signing as a free agent with the Mets in 1998 and making his major league debut with them one year later.
In parts of 11 minor league seasons, Mora had a triple slash line of .281/.354/.380 with a .734 OPS.
When he was first acquired by the O’s, Mora lacked a primary position in the field. Orioles management responded by rolling him out as a super-utility player — splitting his time between shortstop and the outfield, with a little bit of time at second base mixed in — for the first three and a half years of his Orioles career.
His bat was good enough to get consistent playing time and the Orioles made it work somehow. Without a primary position in the field, Mora gathered nearly as many at-bats as a full-time player. In his first three full seasons in Baltimore, he had 436, 557 and 344 at-bats.
The O’s decided to shift Mora to third base full-time beginning on Opening Day 2004. I remember it well because I was lucky enough to get out of school to attend that game. Prior to that, Mora had a total of seven MLB appearances at third (including two starts) which had come with the Mets between 1999 and 2000.
The former super-utility player got his feet under him at third with more experience and was a decent third baseman. From 2004-2009 with the O’s, Mora put up a solid, if unspectacular, 0.5 dWAR, according to Baseball Reference.
Maybe having a set position in the field for the first time helped his concentration at the plate, because Mora had a career year in that regard in 2004. He finished with the 4th best batting average (.340) and sixth best on-base percentage (.419) in all of baseball. He also matched his career highs in home runs (27) and RBI (104). While manning third base for the O’s from 2004-2009, Mora had a cumulative .803 OPS and 110 OPS+.
Despite playing with the Orioles for 10 straight losing seasons, Mora garnered numerous personal accolades. In 2003 and 2005, he was an American League All-Star and in 2004, he won the 2004 Silver Slugger award in addition to finishing 18th in MVP voting.
His skills started to decline in 2009 at age 37, and the Orioles let him leave via free agency that offseason. He spent the last few years of his career out West, playing with the Colorado Rockies in 2010 and the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011 while putting up OPS numbers of .779 and .520, respectively.
Although he never went to the playoffs with Baltimore, Mora had longevity in Charm City. He’s 13th all-time in at-bats (4,733) among Oriole players.
Across some nine and a half years as an Oriole, he had a .280/.355/.438 line at the plate with 1,323 hits, 158 HR, 662 RBI, a .793 OPS, and 109 OPS+. Perusing the Orioles all-time offensive player ranks, Mora is 13th or better in at least 10 major offensive categories and is within the top 50 of several others.
Team success notwithstanding, he deserves his place among the greatest players in Oriole history.