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Friday Bird Droppings: Happy retirement to the best one-season Oriole in history

Nelson Cruz, who announced his retirement yesterday, was a 40-homer sensation for the division-winning 2014 Orioles.

MLB: ALDS-Baltimore Orioles at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, Camden Chatters.

The World Series is over. The offseason has begun. While teams prepare to venture into the free agent and trade markets, some players are making decisions about their future.

That includes former Oriole outfielder Nelson Cruz, who announced his retirement from baseball on the Adam Jones Podcast. What an incredible run it was for Cruz, who played 19 years in the majors for eight different teams, bashing 464 career homers. Forty of those dingers, of course, came in his one season for the O’s in 2014, when he led the majors in long balls and was voted the Most Valuable Oriole as the club claimed the AL East division crown for the first time in 17 years.

It seems ridiculous to think about now, but the Orioles’ signing of Cruz wasn’t particularly well received at the time. At 33 years old, most observers figured he didn’t have much left in the tank, and his career was tainted after he received a 50-game suspension from MLB in 2013 for his role in the Biogenesis PED scandal. No team would touch him in free agency, allowing the bargain-hunting O’s to take a gamble on a one-year, $8 million deal. It would prove to be the shrewdest move of Dan Duquette’s tenure as general manager.

Even after Cruz’s monster season with the Orioles, the club let him walk in free agency because they didn’t want to guarantee him a four-year deal. Considering his age, the Birds’ hesitance made sense at the time, but again it looks ridiculous in hindsight. Cruz defied all the odds and just continued to crush the ball, swatting 163 homers in four years with the Mariners, then continuing to put up boffo numbers for three more seasons for the Twins. It wasn’t until 2022, his age-41 season, that Father Time finally caught up with him, with subpar years for the Nationals and Padres closing out his career.

Somehow, Cruz, who was the oldest player on the Orioles’ 2014 roster, remained in the majors longer than nearly anyone else on that team. Only three of the 43 other players on that club — Manny Machado, Kevin Gausman, and Christian Walker — are currently still active in MLB.

I think it’s fair to say that Cruz posted the greatest season in Orioles history for anyone who played only one year with the team. The only other hitter who comes remotely close is Reggie Jackson, who led the majors in SLG and OPS+ in his lone season with the Birds in 1976. But Jackson’s early-season contract holdout soured O’s fans and teammates on him, while Cruz was universally beloved in the clubhouse. And Cruz’s team made the playoffs while Jackson’s didn’t.

Happy retirement, Nelson. Thanks for the memories, even if your time in Baltimore was all too brief.


Orioles’ Gunnar Henderson named AL Outstanding Rookie by fellow players - Baltimore Sun
Gunnar received some well-earned recognition from his fellow players, and it surely won’t be the last hardware he’ll be collecting this offseason.

Jon Meoli: For Orioles, Texas’ championship provides little solace, few lessons - The Baltimore Banner
The Rangers’ path to a World Series championship wasn’t exactly one that the Orioles can follow unless they, too, are willing to spend nearly $900 million on free agents. (Spoiler: they are not.)

6 left-handed starting pitchers the Orioles might sign in free agency - The Baltimore Banner
It’d be nice to have a pitcher like Blake Snell on the team but, well, see my previous comment about the Orioles’ willingness to spend (or lack thereof). You’ll settle for James Paxton and you’ll like it.

Orioles birthdays and history

Is today your birthday? Happy birthday! Five former Orioles have Nov. 3 birthdays: right-handers Armando Benitez (51) and Mark Corey (68), outfielder Dwight Evans (72), lefty Ken Holtzman (78), and the late outfielder Earl Robinson (b. 1936, d. 2014).

On this date in 1982, Jim Palmer finished as the AL Cy Young runner-up to Milwaukee’s Pete Vuckovich, despite Palmer besting Vuckovich in basically every category, including ERA+ (129 to 114) and WHIP (a league-leading 1.137 to Vuckovich’s 1.502). Still, Vuckovich’s Brewers bested Palmer’s Orioles in the AL East standings, which pushed him over the top. The pitcher who really got shafted was Toronto’s Dave Stieb, who threw an MLB-leading 19 complete games and five shutouts, but finished a distant fourth place in the vote.