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Top 50 Orioles of All Time: #46, Rich Dauer

The J.J. Hardy to Cal Ripken Jr.’s Manny Machado, Rich “Wacko” Dauer provided the Orioles with infield leadership and a steady glove for ten seasons between 1976 and 1985.

[Bettmann Image]
A 1983 shot of 2B Rich Dauer (right) with Orioles manager Joe Altobelli (left) and shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr.

Rich Dauer was good at a lot of things, but maybe, in the rarified air of the major leagues, he was never great. “Richie was just a good all-around player,” former teammate Jim Palmer reflected in 2018. “He was really what the Orioles were about.”

Dauer makes this list at #46 for his longevity, his consistency, and his loyalty to the Orioles organization. He never won an All-Star nod, but he did win a World Series ring in 1983. He never won a Gold Glove, but in today’s stats-driven age, he’d have been a shoo-in for one, maybe several, with his steady hands and stellar fielding percentage. Perhaps most important, for ten seasons Rich Dauer was a true member of the Orioles family. And I say “Orioles family” pretty literally: Dauer came up in the minors under manager Cal Ripken Sr., then, as a veteran second baseman seven years later, helped a young Cal Ripken Jr. figure out how to play shortstop his own way.

Drafted in the first round of the 1974 draft out of the University of Southern California, Dauer batted .376 over two years as a Trojan, won the College World Series (twice), and set NCAA single-season records for hits, RBIs and total bases. (Paging Adley Rutschman: hopefully one more thing the two first-rounders will soon share is a championship, which Dauer won nine years after being selected.)

Assigned to the Asheville Orioles in 1974, Dauer recalled his two seasons on the Orioles farm team like this: “Cal Ripken, Sr., was like our father. His daughter Ellen sold hot dogs. Fred swept out the clubhouse. Billy was the assistant clubhouse kid. Cal junior was the batboy. Together we were one family.” Back then, the senior Ripken would stand around the BP cage yelling like a drill instructor; Dauer says it was an honor to be referred to as a “lunkhead,” Senior’s favorite term.

When Dauer made his major-league debut at second base on September 11, 1976, he had big shoes to fill: the position had just been manned by four-time Gold Glover Bobby Grich, and by three-timer Davey Johnson before that. Alongside Orioles fielding legend Mark Belanger, Dauer soaked up all he could, especially how to position himself on the diamond. Dauer proved just as sure-handed as his predecessors. In 1978, he set American League single-season records for consecutive errorless games (86) and chances (425). He made exactly one error in 433 chances that season, for a fielding percentage of .998. In 1981 he went 76 games without an error, again leading all AL second basemen in fielding percentage (.989) with just five errors in 459 chances.

Dauer was no power hitter, but he was a tough out. Dauer remembers, “I didn’t strike out a lot and I always put the ball in play. With a man on first, I remember Earl Weaver yelling at me many times during my 10-year career. He would say, ‘Why don’t you strike out one time instead of hitting into the double play?’”

In 1982, Lenn Sakata was replaced by a young shortstop named Cal Ripken Jr. Cal later called himself lucky to break in at short with Dauer next to him: “Rich gave me all the help and encouragement that I needed. He was one of the best.” Dauer recalled the Iron Man’s rookie year, marred by one long slump, a little differently: “Cal was a pleasure to be around, but he was something else during that slump. I had to listen to all his whining about how much he hated baseball and wanted to quit.” Cal also credits Dauer for teaching him the fundamentals at short. “Field it smoothly,” Dauer told him. “Throw it accurately. And if they beat it out, then it’s a hit, not an error, and it doesn’t bother me.” Ripken took the lesson to heart, ultimately becoming known for taking his time and throwing out batters by less than a step.

It was Jim Palmer who gave Dauer the nickname “Wacko” for his sense of humor. Dauer used to address manager Earl Weaver as “Coach,” which infuriated the future Hall of Famer. And when, on the final day of the 1982 season, Weaver called a rare impromptu team meeting just before what everyone knew going to be his final regular-season game, Dauer yelled out, cracking up the room, “Oh no, don’t tell us you’re not retiring.”

The Orioles’ magical 1983 season was a disaster for Dauer, offense-wise, who batted just .235 in 140 games that year (while striking out just 29 times, third-best in the league). Still, his defensive chops—he made just seven errors at second base—kept the Orioles in the hunt as they made their championship run. In Game 2, with the Orioles down one game to none against the Philadelphia Phillies, Dauer scored an important go-ahead run in the fifth inning when he singled and was driven home by the eventual series MVP, Rick Dempsey.

After ten seasons and 1,140 games as an Oriole, Dauer retired in 1985 with a .257 career batting average, a .987 fielding percentage at second base (twenty-third on the all-time list), and 14.4 career wins above replacement, good for 49th on the O’s all-time list. Since then, he’s racked up 18 seasons of service time as a coach with five different teams. He’s one of just 20 players to win both the college and the major-league World Series, and is also on the short list of individuals who won rings as both a player and a coach—he got his second in 2017 with Houston. In fact, it was at the World Series parade that Dauer collapsed of a blood clot to the brain. His teammates rushed him to the hospital for emergency surgery; surgeons placed his odds of survival at the time at 3%. Incredibly, next spring an emotional Dauer threw out the first pitch at Houston’s home opener—against his old team, the Orioles. That summer, A.J. Hinch also nominated his former colleague to the All-Star coaching squad, where Dauer got to, among other things, take a smiling photo with Manny Machado.

In 2018, Dauer told The Sun, “There’s two things I’ve learned—trust and loyalty in this game is what I want to be known for when I leave.” Although he lost out on the Orioles managerial job in 2003 to Lee Mazzilli, Dauer insists, “The one place that I want to come back to is Baltimore. I’ve been trying to get back there since 1986.”