Matthew Taylor: Once intertwined O’s careers take divergent paths

Brian Roberts and Jerry Hairston Jr. were once part of the same sentence in Baltimore, two much-talked-about second basemen living less than a mile apart during the offseason and competing for the same roster spot when it came time to play ball. They were the Pepsi Challenge of Orioles baseball - Roberts or Hairston? You decide. Considering the similarities between the players, a fan’s choice at second base largely became a matter of taste.

Here’s how a Washington Post writer described the competition between the two in May 2004: “The young second baseman is off to a fast start, an all-star-caliber start. He is getting on base at an impressive clip, playing marvelous defense, leading the league in stolen bases, propelling the Baltimore Orioles’ offense from the leadoff spot in the order. That was Jerry Hairston in May 2003, before he got hurt. That is Brian Roberts in May 2004, on the eve of Hairston’s return.”

In February 2005, the Orioles chose Roberts over Hairston, trading the latter to the Chicago Cubs as part of the deal that brought Sammy Sosa to Baltimore. The players’ career paths, once so intertwined, have diverged greatly ever since.

Roberts has enjoyed stability, spending his entire 11-year career with one franchise and, for all intents and purposes, at one position. He’s a two-time All-Star and holds the Orioles’ single-season record for doubles. He’s led the league in doubles and stolen bases in separate years. His career earnings will top $32 million when his current contract expires following the 2013 season.

Nevertheless, Roberts has never enjoyed a winning season much less a postseason appearance. He’s two years younger than Hairston, but his immediate and long-term futures are unclear due to a season-long battle with concussion symptoms.

Hairston’s career has been anything but stable. He’s played for seven different franchises since his seven years in Baltimore. He’s appeared at every position on the diamond except pitcher and catcher, and one senses he’d give those a try if it meant sticking with a club. He’s never been an All-Star, never led the league in an offensive category. His career earnings are a fraction of Roberts’. He’s been more of a face in the crowd than the face of a franchise.

Nevertheless, Hairston has played in six postseason games and has a World Series ring with the 2009 Yankees. Meanwhile, his Milwaukee Brewers club currently sits comfortably atop the National League Central standings.

Two men whose stories began in a fashion so similar that they could both be described by the same paragraph have ridden different narrative arcs ever since. One has become a story of stability featuring great individual success, the other an itinerant tale including the ultimate in team achievement. As the players wind down their respective careers in different cities, different divisions, and different leagues, it’s fair to wonder whose is the better story, Roberts’ or Hairston’s? You decide.

Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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