#10 - Bobby Grich, 2B (1970-1976)
Out of all of the players to ever make their names as second basemen in Major League Baseball, there are only 20 of them to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, fewer than all positions except catcher, third baseman, and designated hitter. Among these few inducted second basemen are true legends of the sport, without whom the story of baseball cannot be told, like Jackie Robinson, and others who will come up in any old timer’s recitation of great names: Johnny Evers (as in Tinker to Evers to Chance), Nellie Fox, Red Schoendienst.
Nor is it only the old days where great Hall of Fame second basemen were to be found. Players who made their careers at that position in my lifetime include Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and Craig Biggio, and as they become eligible, cases will be made for others like Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, and Chase Utley.
One former Orioles second baseman achieved more career Wins Above Replacement than any one of those players that I have named above, more than all but six of the 20 MLBers to make it into the Hall as second baseman. That player is Bobby Grich.
If you are like me when I sat down to make the last version of this greatest Orioles list six years ago, you may be surprised to see that Grich is in our top ten. After all, he only played for five full seasons as an Oriole before becoming one of the first wave of baseball free agents after the 1976 season.
Grich, who was drafted in 1967 with the pick the Orioles got the year after winning the 1966 World Series, came along after the 1969-71 glory years, and was gone before the 1979-83 Orioles Magic run began. The Orioles won the American League East in 1973 and 1974, but those teams lost in the ALCS, so they just don’t stand out in the franchise history like the ones who won it or made it to the World Series.
Into those five years, Grich packed a lot of great baseball, enough that there are only seven Orioles who’ve topped his WAR with the team. He made three All-Star teams and won four Gold Gloves, and what’s most impressive, and probably most explains his 36 career WAR as an Oriole, he was a great hitter at a time where around the league, second basemen were hitting like garbage.
Consider Grich’s run as a full-time player, from 1972-76. He batted a combined .263/.374/.410. Any time you get somebody whose on-base percentage is more than 100 points over his batting average, you know something great is happening. Sustaining that over five years is remarkable. He added enough power to keep things interesting, and in this span he had an OPS+ - the league-adjusted stat where 100 is average and higher is better - of 129.
In 1972, the first year of this stretch of great baseball from Grich, the combined batting line of MLB second baseman was .248/.310/.322. Things had not improved very much by Grich’s last season as an Oriole, when all second basemen combined to hit .256/.315/.355.
A lot of these teams were probably telling themselves that it was OK, because their second basemen were fielding well, but remember who was winning the Gold Gloves: From 1973-76, it was Grich, who did not slouch in an infield full of Orioles greats who are still to come on this countdown: Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger, Boog Powell.
Put that bat and that glove together at a position where his peers were - with the exception of the no-doubt Hall of Famers like Joe Morgan and Rod Carew - hitting like crap, and you can see why Grich racked up an impressive amount of WAR: 6.0, 8.3, 7.3, 7.3, 6.1. There are not very many Orioles who can boast of that.
Some of this WAR is a bit hazy because trying to project modern defensive metrics back decades before they existed is going to have some challenges. So maybe the fact that Grich has 11.5 defensive WAR, more than all but five other Orioles have ever achieved, isn’t worth much. But there’s no questioning that he was blowing away the contemporary competition at the plate, and again, it was Grich who was winning the American League Gold Gloves in four of these years.
After leaving the Orioles, Grich spent a decade with the Angels, adding another 35.1 WAR to his career total. That is 71.1 total WAR, which is more than all but seven other second basemen ever achieved - and by the way, when Grich was teammates for seven seasons with Rod Carew, one of the seven guys ahead of him, Carew played exactly six innings at second base in those seven seasons.
This fact, along with all of the other impressive things about Grich’s career, apparently meant little to the Hall of Fame voting writers in 1992, when Grich first appeared on the ballot. Grich was named on just 11 of the 423 ballots, below the 5% threshold that would keep him from falling off after a single year of eligibility. The voters had not gotten any better at properly evaluating second basemen by 2001, when Tigers great Lou Whitaker (75.1 career WAR) dropped off in his first year of eligibility as well.
Perhaps some day the assorted committees that oversee Hall of Fame selections for those players who were not given their proper due by the writers will get it together and there will be some HOF justice for Whitaker and for Grich. It will be at least a few years for Grich, as the Modern Baseball Committee, which oversees players from 1970-87, is not scheduled to vote again until the winter of 2023.
The Orioles should be happy to claim Grich as a franchise Hall of Famer whenever those gatekeepers get their heads out of their butts and recognize him for what he has been all along.
Grich’s best years were played here and he was part of teams that, while they didn’t get to the peak of some ones that came before him and some that came after, still belong to the legendary golden days of the franchise, when the Oriole Way was something that everyone knew meant something good.
There were not many better Orioles than Grich before he came along, and even fewer better Orioles than him after he was gone. The O’s chose Grich for the team Hall of Fame in 1998.