There are few individuals who have been associated with the Orioles for as long and deeply as Rick Dempsey. Many younger fans know him from MASN broadcasts and as the namesake of Dempsey’s Brew Pub and Restaurant in the Warehouse. But he spent parts of 12 seasons as the Orioles catcher and later served the club in several assistant coaching capacities. While Dempsey’s on-field performance earns him his ranking on this list, it is long-time association with the Orioles and his goofy antics that fans remember most.
Half of John Rikard Dempsey’s 24 major league seasons as a player were spent in Baltimore. He played in 1,245 games in black and orange and accumulated 4,105 plate appearances. Over that time he slashed .238/.319/.355, hit 75 home runs, and drove in 355 runs. Offensive production was not the reason he received regular playing time. His greatest asset was his defensive ability behind the plate.
During his first and primary stint with the Orioles (1976-1986), he averaged 1.3 defensive WAR per season. He was incredibly durable during that time, playing in at least 119 games in seven of those seasons. That is very impressive considering the taxing nature of the catching position. Orioles managers must have been happy with the work Dempsey did with the pitching staff; during those seasons Orioles pitchers had a cumulative ERA of 3.75, good for eleventh best in the majors during that stretch.
Dempsey was very good at controlling the opposing team’s running game in his prime. In 1977, he gunned down a league leading 58% of would-be base stealers. His caught stealing rate was at least 46% in the next three seasons before experiencing a decline in that facet of his game. There were five seasons as an Oriole where he finished in the top three catchers in the league in caught stealing percentage. He was also proficient in helping pitchers by keeping the ball in front of him. He only allowed more than five passed balls once in his initial stint in Baltimore. In 1983, he allowed only one all season.
Dempsey’s 17.4 career defensive WAR ranks him 77th all-time among all MLB players. He finished the 1979 and 1981 seasons in the top ten in defensive WAR. He led catchers in fielding percentage in 1981 and 1983 and finished in the top five in five separate seasons. These numbers lock in Dempsey in among some of the top defensive catchers to play the game during his era.
Dempsey was born in Tennessee and drafted in the 15th round of the 1967 draft by the Twins. He was traded to the Yankees prior to the 1973 season. On the morning of June 15, 1976, Dempsey had appeared in 181 games over the course of eight seasons. But the Orioles acquired him, along with #26 greatest Oriole Scott McGregor and honorable mention Tippy Martinez, that day. Dempsey was immediately inserted as the team’s primary catcher and a long relationship with the Orioles began.
Of the notable moments in Dempsey’s Orioles career, the 1983 World Series is at the top of the list. In those five games, he went 5 for 13 with one home run, two RBI, and three runs scored. His OPS was 1.390. The Orioles beat the Phillies and Dempsey’s efforts were rewarded with a World Series MVP trophy. He is one of six catchers to ever win the award.
While never an offensive powerhouse, those five games in October of 1983 weren’t the only time Dempsey produced with the bat. He accumulated an offensive WAR of 2.9 in 1985 when he hit 12 homers, drove in 52 runs, and posted an OPS of .751. In 1980 he posted an OPS of .759 and OPS+ of 108.
Other than the championship season of 1983, Dempsey made the playoffs only one other time as an Oriole. Dempsey did his part when the Orioles swept the White Sox in the 1979 ALCS, batting .400 with an OPS of 1.055. He would play in all seven games of the World Series again Pittsburgh and score three runs while batting .286.
While a solid defender and World Series MVP, Dempsey may be best remembered for his goofball antics during rain delays. Dempsey performed “rain delay theater”, sliding around wet infield tarps on his stomach and pantomiming Babe Ruth. He developed the reputation as a clubhouse character over the course of his career, always keeping things light with his teammates.
Dempsey left the Orioles after the 1986 season as a free agent. He played for the Indians, Dodgers, and Brewers over the next five seasons. The Orioles brought Dempsey back to Baltimore as a free agent in 1992. He appeared in only 11 games that season, but it had to be nice for Dempsey to officially retire as an Oriole.
Like many catchers, Dempsey transitioned into coaching after his playing career. He managed in the minors and became the Orioles first base coach in 2005. He interviewed for Baltimore’s manager job in 2003 and was rumored to be a candidate in 2010. His knowledge of the game and personality led him to being part of the Orioles broadcasting crew, where he’s been fixture for many years. His silly side makes an appearance occasionally and he doesn’t seem to have embraced modern statistics and analytics. But his immense passion for Orioles baseball is obvious to anyone who watches.
Dempsey’s name appears on many of the Orioles all-time list. He is 14th in games played, 23rd in hits, and 25th in runs. Most impressively, his 21.2 WAR as an Oriole ranks him 21st in franchise history.
While his spot on this list mostly reflects Dempsey’s longevity and durability, he was a good defender and solid hitter during his time in Baltimore. His World Series MVP and personality probably make him more memorable to O’s fans than his statistics warrant. But he is an Oriole through and through and is deserving of a spot on this list.