Editor’s Note: The text of this article first appeared on Camden Chat on January 15, 2014, when Merv Rettenmund was the #33 Oriole on what was then our top 40 greatest Orioles list. It is being re-posted today with light edits for his place on our new top 50 list.
#38 - Merv Rettenmund, OF (1968-1973)
Over my years, I have seen a lot of Orioles players. Adding in all the stories I heard from my dad about the great Orioles of the past, I have heard about a whole lot more. One blind spot from both of us is Merv Rettenmund, a player who I’d never heard of at all before we started to research the 2014 version of our top 40 O’s list. Rettenmund is an oft-overlooked part of the stretch of three straight American League champion Orioles teams from 1969-71.
How does a career spent largely as a fourth outfielder earn his way onto the list? It helps to have your career-best season in a year where the Orioles win the World Series. That’s exactly what Rettenmund did in 1970, batting .322/.394/.544 in 106 games. He started in 78 of those and was used as a pinch hitter or defensive replacement in the rest. That batting average! That walk rate! That slugging percentage!
Rettenmund had an OPS+ of 156, which means he was 56% better than the average player that year. That OPS+ has been topped by an Oriole just three times in a single season in the 21st century: Chris Davis in 2013, Steve Pearce in 2014, and Manny Machado before being traded in 2018.
In 385 plate appearances for the 1970 winners, Rettenmund hit 18 home runs. He did all of this while playing all three outfield positions, making him a true fourth outfielder rather than just a left fielder on the bench who leaves you hoping your right and center fielders are up to playing 162 games, whether or not they actually are.
By modern metrics, Rettenmund was little more than adequate in the outfield. There’s still value to the team in having a player who’s adequate in all three spots, especially hitting the way Rettenmund did. Another thing that boosts Rettenmund is that he played five of his six Orioles seasons before the introduction of the designated hitter.
Rettenmund’s versatility added even more to a team that had pitchers batting every night. Then again, that was needed a bit less than you’d think. The 1971 Orioles had 71 complete games. There was no pinch hitter for the pitcher in close to half of their games.
Even as a reserve, he made an impact on a couple of the games in the 1970 World Series. Rettenmund hit a home run in the series-clinching Game 5 victory at Memorial Stadium (pictured above).
It’s awfully nice to have a guy on your bench who bats .348/.425/.723 against left-handed pitching, which Rettenmund did in that season. In recent years, we have gotten accustomed to scrubs on the bench. One thing the team has missed is a player like Rettenmund.
O’s fans have high hopes for a crop of outfield prospects right now and the reality is it’s unlikely any one of those players will exceed Rettenmund’s career Wins Above Replacement of 17.0 with the O’s. If one or more of them supplants Rettenmund on the next time this list is updated, that player will have had a great Orioles career.
The lone season where Rettenmund played nearly every game was the following year, 1971. In that season, his batting line was almost as good: .318/.422/.448 over 141 games. This was enough to get him a little down-ballot attention in Most Valuable Player voting - he finished in 19th place, one among nine Orioles who received MVP votes that year on a team that won a mind-boggling 101 games.
As an amateur free agent signed late in 1964, Rettenmund is one of the last players to sign with a team before the introduction of the first-year player draft in 1965. Hailing from Flint, he played out his college days at Ball State University in Muncie, IN before signing.
The Orioles traded Rettenmund to Cincinnati after the 1973 season, when he was 30, which is probably when you want to trade a guy. He played in parts of seven other seasons but never came close to that individual glory of 1971 - though he did get another World Series ring in 1975 with the Reds.
In his six Orioles seasons, Rettenmund played in only 570 games, with his most significant roles in the consecutive AL championship seasons. Over those games, he had 485 hits, including 50 home runs, and he walked more than 10% of the time. His final slash line as an Oriole was .284/.383/.436 - a 133 OPS+ in his Orioles career. That puts him sixth on the all-time Orioles list.
Merv Rettenmund was likely not very many people’s favorite Oriole in his time with the team, but he was a crucial bit of glue that held together some of the best Orioles teams of all time. We will probably never see the likes of that 1969-71 stretch of O’s teams again. He was undoubtedly unheralded in his time. We herald him now, the 38th-greatest Oriole of the last 65 years.
Statistics from Baseball Reference. If you’d like to read more about Merv, there’s a great biography on the SABR Baseball Biography Project.