Last week we took a look at the top five players of the losing era. Meaning exactly what it says - the five best. It was a fun list to make, but the more illuminating exercise (and possibly more depressing) is to think about the top five players who define the losing era. By which I mean, if you had to sum up years of futility, which players would you use to do it?
We have way more candidates here than we had for the first list, and as a result, it is a far more difficult proposition. Where the first list had maybe eight or nine guys who might make the cut, this list has probably 20 or 30.
One quick note before we go any further: I don’t mean to denigrate any of these players. Making the big leagues is a huge accomplishment. This list isn’t about the individuals as much as it’s about the bad luck, bad timing, and bad fortune that have seemed to follow this team for so long.
That said, here we go in no particular order.
I have on my desk at this moment an old ticket from June 19, 2001. Orioles-Blue Jays. And there’s Richard, wearing number 38 and representing, at the time, the “come see the kids play” movement. This was the first rebuilding, back when losing was a relatively new idea. Richard was supposed to help, even though at age 27 he wasn’t exactly a kid.
Richard was a role player at best who did OK but had no business being counted on as a cornerstone. Little did we know at the time, this was a pattern that would repeat.
Luis Matos/Larry Bigbie (tie)
Counting on a role player as a cornerstone is one core mistake of the losing era. Overvaluing prospects is another. Here, then, are Matos and Bigbie. Both had some decent moments and even a solid year or two. Overall, though, neither was what we thought or hoped he’d be, like a lot of prospects we’ve seen come and go.
Here now is Roberts - embodying the “let’s try to catch lightning in a bottle and keep it there” approach. I remember actually being crazy enough to debate a Yankees fan I worked with back in ‘02 and using Roberts, who had won nine games in ‘01, as evidence that if certain guys could just keep surprising us we’d be OK.
We counted on way too many guys like Roberts.
Now we arrive at the guy who’s talented but high-risk and if we could just get the most out of him, we might have a diamond in the rough. The O’s traded Sidney Ponson (a story in and of himself) for Ainsworth and Damian Moss. Classic losing-era move - garbage in and garbage out.
We didn’t have a diamond in the rough. We mostly never had a diamond in the rough.
Bedard’s unique on this list because he was actually a great player in many respects. He’s also completely emblematic of the losing era because he found so many ways to fail. Injury, attitude, bad luck, whatever - disappointment found him (and us) every way it could.
Except, of course, in terms of the trade.
Bedard basically turned into Adam Jones and I’ll take that any day, mostly because I love Jones, but also because I want to believe that the team has turned a corner and the next list is going to be “Top Five Orioles of the Rebirth Era” - a list on which I’m sure Jones will have a place if things work out.
If things work out. Fingers crossed.
Neal Shaffer regularly blogs about the Orioles at The Loss Column, and his work appears here as part of MASNsports.com’s initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. 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.