As I sorted through the mailbag that I emptied this week, I came across a question that nudged my curiosity.
A question that made me want to do a little digging.
More of a team effort. I’ll admit that I passed the shovel to a few hands.
Could there be at least one game next year with a homegrown Orioles lineup? With nine position players drafted by the club or signed as an amateur free agent?
My first reaction was to scan each one posted this season to make sure it didn’t happen.
Players like Anthony Santander, Jorge Mateo, Ramón Urías, Robinson Chirinos, and later Terrin Vavra, made it nearly impossible to execute a homegrown order. We also could blame Chris Owings and that pesky Brett Phillips.
However, the young stars could align in 2023. Let’s try this one for starters:
Austin Hays in left field, Cedric Mullins in center, Ryan McKenna in right, Gunnar Henderson at third base, Joey Ortiz at shortstop, Jordan Westburg at second, Ryan Mountcastle at first, Adley Rutschman catching and Kyle Stowers serving as designated hitter.
Some names could be arranged at other positions, and the system is so heavy in talent, debuts should be coming in 2023 for outfielder Colton Cowser and infielder Connor Norby.
The developing crowd in the infield might force a trade.
Since I’ve got your lineup attention, go ahead and put John Means, Grayson Rodriguez or DL Hall on the mound. Just pile on.
This exercise led me to wonder if the Orioles ever fielded a lineup exclusively with players they drafted or signed as undrafted free agents. The data base at STATS dates back only to 1995, and the list doesn’t include the Orioles.
The Rockies are all over it – once in 2010, 16 times in 2009 and four times in 2008. They got a lot of mileage out of players like Dexter Fowler, Seth Smith, Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Spilborghs, Todd Helton, Brad Hawpe, Garrett Atkins, Clint Barmes, Chris Iannetta and Ian Stewart.
The Cardinals were the most recent team to do it on Oct. 3, 2012 against the Reds with Adron Chambers, Shane Robinson, Skip Schumaker, Matt Carpenter, Tony Cruz, Bryan Anderson, Ryan Jackson, Pete Kozma and Shelby Miller. The Twins on Sept. 14, 2011 against the Royals.
Elias Sports Bureau only counts players who made their major league debuts with the club, which isn’t necessarily homegrown but proved to be useful.
The last time that the Orioles posted a lineup with nine players who debuted with them was back on April 7, 1974: Al Bumbry, Rich Coggins, Bobby Grich, Don Baylor, Brooks Robinson, Mike Reinbach, Paul Blair, Elrod Hendricks and Mark Belanger.
(I grew up a huge Orioles fan and have zero recollection of Reinbach, whom I learned was the 17th overall pick in the 1970 draft out of UCLA. His entire major league career consisted of 12 games in 1974).
Armed with his information from the Elias Sports Bureau, I knew that an Orioles homegrown lineup hadn’t appeared after 1974.
The next logical step was to check 1973. Long-time Baltimore broadcaster and sports historian Tom Davis offered some encouragement during our phone call by looking up the number of drafted or signed players on the roster. Certainly enough to fill a card.
I began with Game 162 and worked my way back, and it took only until No. 160 against the Indians on Sept. 28 at Memorial Stadium. An 18-4 victory with the following lineup:
Bobby Grich 2B
Rich Coggins CF
Enos Cabell 1B
Don Baylor LF
Merv Rettenmund RF
Terry Crowley DH
Doug DeCinces 3B
Andy Etchebarren C
Mark Belanger SS
Never mind that Doyle Alexander started. The nine position players were homegrown.
Cabell, Rettenmund, Etchebarren and Belanger were signed as amateur free agents. The others were drafted.
Bumbry was Rookie of the Year in 1973 after the Orioles drafted him in the 11th round in 1968 out of Virginia State University. Outfielder Jim Fuller, a second-round pick in 1970, also was on the roster. But so were Blair, catchers Earl Williams and Sergio Robles, first baseman/designated hitter Tommy Davis, shortstop Frank Baker and outfielder Curt Motton, who arrived from other organizations.
It just happened to work out perfectly on Sept. 28.
What a weird game, too. The nightcap of a doubleheader. The Orioles tallied 18 runs over just four innings, beginning with a seven-run fourth.
Grich had one at-bat atop the order and was replaced by Baker, who hit a grand slam off Dick Bosman and finished with six RBIs.
Baker played in 146 major league games, the first 78 with the Yankees, and the grand slam was his only home run.
So, in conclusion, the Orioles could duplicate the homegrown feat 50 years later depending on the roster and whether the stars align.
Note: The Orioles outrighted reliever Louis Head to Triple-A Norfolk after he cleared waivers, and the Pirates claimed reliever Beau Sulser. The Orioles claimed Sulser from the Pirates on May 14.
The Orioles announced this morning that they agreed to terms with catcher Anthony Bemboom on a one-year contract.