#23 - Chris Hoiles, C (1989 - 1998)
The Orioles franchise has had some really good catchers come through the doors at Memorial Stadium and Camden Yards. Rick Dempsey was World Series MVP in 1983. Matt Wieters won a pair of Gold Gloves and earned a spot in four All-Star games.
Chris Hoiles doesn’t have a trophy cabinet full of awards he won as a big leaguer. But that doesn’t impact his standing in Orioles history. He was better than Dempsey. He was better than Wieters. Hoiles is the best Orioles catcher of all time.
It was the Detroit Tigers that picked Hoiles in the draft, plucking him out of Eastern Michigan University with a 19th-round selection in 1986. He would work his way through the Tigers farm system, from Rookie ball to Triple-A, before he was dealt, along with two fellow minor leaguers, to the Orioles on August 31, 1988 in exchange for outfielder Fred Lynn.
Hoiles would make his major league debut on April 25, 1989 but played in just six games for Baltimore that year. His workload increased to 23 games in 1990 before he became the O’s everyday catcher in 1991 after the team traded incumbent backstop Mickey Tettleton to the Tigers over the previous offseason.
It was a good but not great rookie season for Hoiles. He batted just .243/.304/.384 with 11 home runs and a 93 OPS+ in what would prove to the worst offensive season of his career. But he received high marks for his work behind the plate, punctuated on July 13, when he caught Bob Milacki, Mike Flanagan, Mark Williamson and Gregg Olson, all of whom combined to throw the most recent no-hitter in franchise history.
The Ohio native’s bat took a step forward in 1992, when he slashed .274/.384/.506 with 20 home runs. But that was nothing compared to the offensive outburst he had in 1993.
Over 125 games, Hoiles hit .310/.416/.585 with a 162 OPS+, 29 home runs, 28 doubles and 82 RBI. He finished in the top five among catchers in nearly every significant offensive category. He even stole the first base of his career. The O’s catcher was firing on all cylinders.
Hoiles’s exclusion from the ‘93 All-Star Game, which was held in Baltimore, added more fuel to the feud between O’s fans and Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston. But it didn’t prevent him from getting nationwide notoriety. Hoiles finished 16th in the voting for AL MVP.
Hoiles would never again approach the 6.8 bWAR/7.0 fWAR that he posted in 1993. But he would continue to put up solid offensive numbers for the rest of his career. Between 1994 and the 1998, Hoiles hit .255/.367/.456 with a 111 OPS+ with a 12.2 bWAR over those five seasons.
The back-half of Hoiles’s career was marked by noteworthy grand slams. First, on May 17, 1996, he became just the 20th player in MLB history to hit an “ultimate grand slam.” That is, he hit a walk-off grand slam when the O’s were trailing by three runs.
Two years later, on August 14, 1998, Hoiles became the first catcher in MLB history to hit two grand slams in the same game as the O’s beat the Cleveland Indians at Jacobs Field by a score of 15-3.
That 1998 season would prove to be the final of Hoiles’s career as he was struggling with hip and back injuries. The Orioles placed him on waivers on May 1, 1999, and he was later released.
Hoiles wrapped up his career with 151 home runs (15th all-time in Orioles history), a .262/.366/.467 batting line and 24.8 fWAR (23rd). He was a steady contributor at the plate and provided solid defense behind it.
Following the conclusion of his playing career, Hoiles stayed in and around baseball, coaching at his alma matter and later Bowling Green University. The Orioles inducted Hoiles into their team Hall of Fame in 2006. And the York Revolution of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball named him their first manager in 2006, a position he held until August of 2009.
The Orioles signed Chris’s son, Dalton, as a minor league free agent in 2018. He played in 53 total games for the short-season Aberdeen IronBirds and Double-A Bowie Baysox prior to being released this past May.
Adley Rutschman, the Orioles current top prospect and one of the highest-regarded catching prospects in recent memory, will usher in a new era behind the plate for the organization. While his ability to switch-hit may conjure up comparisons to other former Birds, make no mistake about it. It will be Hoiles’s legacy in the black and orange that Rutschman will need to live up to.