Editor’s note: The text of this article was originally posted to Camden Chat on January 20, 2014, when Surhoff was the #31 Oriole on our then-top 40 list. It is being reposted today with some light edits to reflect his new place on what’s now a top 50 list.
#32 - B.J. Surhoff (1996-2000, 2003-2005)
There are few Orioles who have played in my lifetime who I remember quite like B.J. Surhoff. His delightfully emotive face meant that every at-bat was a journey to a plane of anguish. As long as you watched him you were in it with him. He was like a master with two strikes, in my memory, and I have thought on more than one occasion that it’s too bad that current Orioles can’t hit with two strikes like Surhoff.
As it turns out, he wasn’t really anything remarkable on that department in most years, but that’s how I remember him, anyway. Taking an emergency hack at a pitch and floating it the other way into shallow left field. That might have even happened a few times in 1999, when he managed to bat .263/.318/.434 with two strikes. Memory is a funny thing.
What I can be sure of is that B.J. Surhoff spent eight years of a 19-year major league career in an Orioles uniform, with his first two years being the glory days of the mid-90s: 1996 and 1997. He was already 31 years old during his first year with the O’s, but that was a result of him being a late bloomer. It didn’t stop him from batting .292/.352/.482 over 143 games - a solid part of an offense that scored 949 runs. With an OPS+ of 109, he would have been the second-best batter on the 2019 Orioles.
Across the four full years in his first stint with the Orioles, Surhoff played in a total of 614 games, including the full 162 games in 1998 and 1999. He played where he was needed. In ‘96, he was the third baseman, but then the Orioles signed Mike Bordick, so it was into the outfield with Surhoff. That was where he stayed for the rest of both of his Orioles stints.
In ‘99, Surhoff turned in the year of his career at age 34, hitting 28 home runs for that mediocre Orioles team as part of an overall .308/.347/.492 batting line. The local media named him the Most Valuable Oriole that year, which he may have even deserved in the non-Mike Mussina division. He received a little token, down-ballot MVP consideration, finishing in 18th place in the league.
A big reason why Surhoff is still loved from his time here is not just his contribution on the field, but the fact that he made the area his home. He famously cried when traded from the Orioles to Atlanta at the trading deadline in 2000. The Orioles received Trent Hubbard, Fernando Lunar, and Luis Rivera in exchange for Surhoff.
Though Orioles fans lament that fire sale in the rear view mirror, at the time, at least one Atlanta paper called it a “costly” trade for the Braves, one where they grudgingly had to part with the “phenom” in Rivera, 22 - who pitched in relief in one game for the Orioles, got hurt, and never pitched in the majors again. He had injured his shoulder earlier that year. That may be the story of the Syd Thrift era in a nutshell; the idea that Rivera was ever worth anything was probably smoke and mirrors that Thrift fell for.
When the O’s brought Surhoff back for 2003, the team was already mired in a few years of losing. It was nice to get back a fondly-remembered good player from the years where the team was winning. He was 38 by then, but still had some game in his legs. Between ‘03 and ‘04, he played in 193 games and was about league average with his bat. Things slipped when he was 40 in 2005, his last year in the majors. That doesn’t really matter for remembering him, though. He’ll always be linked with those coulda-been Orioles teams of the mid-90s.
Surhoff came into MLB as the #1 overall pick in the 1985 draft out of the University of North Carolina. How many #1 picks can say they went on to a 19-year career? Certainly not two other #1 picks who’ve since played for the Orioles, Delmon Young and Tim Beckham. Surhoff even received a couple of votes for Baseball’s Hall of Fame when he was on the ballot in 2011. Though he might not have been good enough for that honor, he was inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame in 2007.
As of this writing, Surhoff’s 1,001 games played for the team stands 17th on the Orioles franchise list. With 1,072 hits, he’s in 14th in that category, and his 120 home runs place him in 20th. The Orioles have only made it to the postseason five times in the last 30 years and Surhoff was on two of those teams. He got it done on the field and made Baltimore his home, living here for many years after his playing career had ended.
Though Surhoff might not have been as good as the adolescent me thought, he’s still easily one of the best Orioles of all time. If any current player in the organization can pass Surhoff’s 17.7 career bWAR as an Oriole, he will have had a good O’s career indeed.
Statistics from Baseball Reference.