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Tuesday Bird Droppings: Happy retirement, Zack Britton

The former O’s closer has called it a career. Next stop: the Orioles Hall of Fame.

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Baltimore Orioles v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Good morning, Camden Chatters.

While we wait to see if the Orioles will make any significant news this offseason, there’s some news involving a significant former Oriole. Zack Britton, the one-time O’s closer who authored perhaps the best relief season in franchise history, announced his retirement from baseball yesterday. In an interview with The Athletic’s Britt Ghiroli, who covered him for years as an Orioles beat writer, Britton cited a desire to spend time with his family after injuries have wrecked his recent attempts to pitch.

It was a career to be proud of for Britton, the Orioles’ third-round pick in 2006 who, after flaming out as a starter, reinvented himself as one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. In his first three seasons out of the bullpen for the Birds, Britton racked up 36 or more saves and posted a sub-2.00 ERA each year, culminating in his once-in-a-lifetime 2016 campaign. That year, Britton was a perfect 47-for-47 in save opportunities and allowed only four earned runs the entire season, only one of them after April. At one point he pitched 43 consecutive games without giving up an earned run.

Armed with his superhuman sinker, Britton was simply unhittable, getting batter after batter to either whiff wildly or chop the ball harmlessly into the ground. From 2014-2016, Britton had an absurd 77.3% ground ball rate and 9.3 K/9. Batters hit only .185 against him in that three-year span. Think about how dominant Félix Bautista has been as the Orioles’ closer the last two years — and then consider that Britton was even better.

Britton’s Orioles career reached a stumbling block when Buck Showalter infamously refused to pitch him in the 2016 Wild Card Game (though a classy Britton has nothing but gracious things to say about Buck in his Athletic interview). He missed much of 2017 and 2018 with injuries, then was traded to the Yankees, where he finished out his career. His last game was Sept. 30, 2022 in a game against, coincidentally, the Orioles. Britton had just returned from Tommy John surgery and couldn’t find the strike zone, walking one batter and throwing a wild pitch to the backstop before he had to leave the game with arm fatigue. (Yankees fans booed him off the mound as he departed with a career-ending injury, because Yankee fans are always and forever the worst.)

Britton should be a shoo-in for induction into the Orioles Hall of Fame in a few years. He’s second on the franchise’s all-time saves leaderboard with 139, behind only Gregg Olson’s 160. He was a two-time All-Star and finished fourth in the AL Cy Young race in 2016 (and 11th for MVP). He was the closer for two postseason Orioles clubs, even if he went tragically unused in the playoffs for one of those. In 2020, the Camden Chat staff ranked him as the 39th-best Oriole of all time.

Enjoy your retirement, Zack, and thanks for all the memories.


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Orioles birthdays and history

Is today your birthday? Happy birthday! Three former Orioles were born on this day: right-handers Jason García (31) and Mark Eichhorn (63) and outfielder Quintin Berry (39).

On this day in 1977, the Orioles’ Eddie Murray was voted AL Rookie of the Year after a standout performance as a 21-year-old, batting .283/.333/.470 with 27 homers and 88 RBIs. It was just the first of many honors for Eddie, who would go on to a 21-year, Hall of Fame career, although it’s a bit surprising that he edged out A’s rookie Mitchell Page, who bested Murray in basically every offensive category that season. I can never quite understand the thought processes of awards voters back in the day, but hey, I won’t complain that it worked in the Orioles’ favor.