Heath Bintliff: Looking back on Brian Roberts

Nobody will say it. Nobody wants to say it. Nobody wants it to be true. But it’s time to face the fact that we may never see Brian Roberts play meaningful time for the Orioles again.

He hasn’t played even more than 59 games in the last two seasons and his injuries, now concussion-related, have seemed to linger longer as he gets older. The odds of him playing more than half a season for Baltimore again seem slim with only two seasons left on his contract.

So as his playing career in Baltimore comes to a close, it’s time to assess his place in Oriole history. In my estimation, you can certainly make the argument that he is the greatest second baseman to ever don the orange and black. He is among a group of four candidates for the title: Bobby Grich, Davey Johnson, Rich Dauer and Brian Roberts. Dauer was a very good second baseman and played the position for Baltimore for many years but he was not the offensive player that the other three were. Grich would probably hold that title easily, but he signed with the Angels after his seventh season with Baltimore and just did not play long enough for the club. Johnson spent parts of eight seasons with Baltimore but the best years of his career came after he left for Atlanta. Roberts’ resume stacks up better than any of them.

He has played the most games at second than any other player at Baltimore history and leads them all in hits, runs, doubles, triples, home runs, walks, batting average, slugging and stolen bases. (Roberts’ 274 stolen bases are second in team history and if he ever does make it back on the field, he has a good shot at passing Brady Anderson’s team record of 307.)

Roberts also owns the finest offensive season from a second baseman in Orioles history. Seemingly out of nowhere, Roberts broke out of the gate in 2005, hitting .314 and slugging .515, making his first All-Star game and cementing his status as one of the game’s best leadoff hitters. Even though Roberts had led the league with 50 doubles the season before, this type of offensive effort seemed unlikely from a guy who had been battling desperately with Jerry Hairston Jr. for playing time just a couple of seasons prior.

Roberts was an amazing baserunner and I’m not just talking about the number of bases he stole. He stole those 274 bases at an 80 percent success rate, the highest success rate of any Oriole with 50 or more stolen bases. He was never reckless and always took calculated gambles on the basepaths. In 2009, when Roberts hit 56 doubles, he was criticized for not stretching more of those doubles into triples as he had done in previous years. But Roberts knew his speed was starting to fade a bit and he was not going to try to make triples out of doubles when he knew it was likely he would make an out. On top of the blazing speed, there was always calculation.

So remember what you saw because you are likely only going to see glimpses of it over the next two seasons. We witnessed the brilliant play of the best second baseman in Oriole history.

Heath Bintliff blogs about the Orioles at Dempsey’s Army. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’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 MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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