#27 - Doug DeCinces (1973-1981)
If you are an Orioles fan who is younger than 40 or so, you have probably already come to accept that most of the best stuff happened before you got here. There have been fun moments within my lifetime, but the only experience I have had with the real glory days of the franchise - so far - is in stories told by my parents and other older relatives.
Three games that my parents attended together at old Memorial Stadium come up the most. One is Game 2 of the 1983 World Series, which I also attended with something of an obstructed view, as my mom was pregnant with me at the time. Another was Earl Weaver’s (first) last game in 1982. The third is June 22, 1979, a date that sounds completely anonymous except it is credited as being the game that marked the start of Orioles Magic.
It was Doug DeCinces who stepped to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, with the Orioles trailing, 5-4, against the Tigers. Ken Singleton, still to come on this top 50 countdown, had homered earlier in the inning to bring the O’s within a run. Future Hall of Famer Eddie Murray was on base, having gotten one of his career’s 3,255 hits. In all, nine Orioles who played in the game are on our top 50 list, plus two honorable mentions.
This was an era of legends and DeCinces played his part in the legend by bashing a walk-off home run to give the Orioles a 6-5 victory. The home run is preserved on YouTube in the first minute of this short retrospective on Orioles Magic.
The moment has a mania that few baseball plays can ever reach. The wild exuberance of “GET OUT OF HERE! GET OUT OF HERE!” And then, as the celebration got under way, one of my favorite lines in O’s broadcast history: “Every Oriole is at the plate!” Not strictly true, as the video shows, since some were still running down the third base line, but close enough. Those who were there like my parents got something even better than that. They saw it in person.
From this dramatic comeback, Orioles Magic was born. We all know the song. It went out of style for a while before coming back as a retro-cool thing. The spelling of O-R-I-O-L-E-S like in the song is repeated to the present day on Camden Chat after every Orioles victory, with the tradition remaining preserved even through some meager years with few victories to celebrate. It was heard from time to time at Camden YArds after dramatic wins in the Buck Showalter era, and hopefully will be heard again.
It’s kind of funny looking back on it now, because it’s not like the 1979 Orioles were lacking for success before that DeCinces home run. They were 44-22 coming into this game, having already won six games in a row. They walked off the Tigers again in the first game of a doubleheader the very next day. The Orioles didn’t need any magic! They were just that good. In 102 games that season, the other team felt it happen to them.
Doug DeCinces is not on this top 50 list solely because of hitting this home run. That would be silly. It sure doesn’t hurt his case, though.
The Orioles found DeCinces in the third round of the January secondary draft in 1970, a draft that stopped existing after 1986. It was clear by 1976 that DeCinces was going to be the third baseman who followed after the legendary Brooks Robinson, something that became more official in Robinson’s final season in 1977, when he retired and DeCinces went on to start 148 games at third base.
That’s a tough act to follow. There’s only one Brooks. DeCinces proved himself capable of filling those shoes, with modern estimations like the Total Zone Runs Above Average from Baseball Reference crediting DeCinces with being worth 48 runs on defense from 1978-1981. It’s good to have a fielder like that and better still when he can hit a bit, as DeCinces batted .253/.323/.428 across his Orioles tenure - in those days, a 112 OPS+, or 12% better than league average for the time.
The breakout year for DeCinces actually came a year before his famous home run. In the 1978 season, DeCinces hit .286/.346/.526 across 142 games, with 28 home runs. That’s more impressive than it sounds today, as only ten players that year hit 30+ homers. It added up to a bWAR of 6.8, exceeded by only five players in the American League that year - not that the MVP voters of 1978 noticed; DeCinces received no votes.
Prior to the 1982 season, DeCinces was traded to the Angels for Dan Ford. After posting 22.9 bWAR as an Oriole, DeDinces went on to add another 18.9 WAR over the next six years as an Angel.
This does not rate as one of the franchise’s greatest trades, as Ford, though he did have the excellent name of Disco Dan, was only worth 1.2 WAR with the O’s over the next four seasons. Then again, 1.1 of that was his performance in the 1983 season, in which the Orioles won the World Series. It could have been worse.
The O’s, in fairness, were probably trying to clear third base for a young up-and-comer by the name of Ripken, whose ultimate fate, we now know, was to be the trailblazer for the modern tall shortstop. This was not as easy to see on January 28, 1982, when the then-31-year-old third baseman DeCinces was dealt.
All in all, DeCinces played in 858 games for the Orioles. He does not come too close to the top of any category of any franchise leaderboard. He was not around for any World Series titles. But you can’t tell the story of Orioles Magic without mentioning him, and that’s worth a lot. He was added to the Orioles Hall of Fame in 2006.