My article last week on players who easily could be forgotten for their brief stints in Baltimore, or who attained legendary status elsewhere, sparked a fun discussion in the comments section of the blog.
My biggest omission had to be Reggie Jackson, forever linked to the Yankees and Athletics and only a footnote in Orioles history. They traded for him prior to the 1976 season, he reported late and then blasted the city as being so boring, there was nothing to do at night except watch the hubcaps rust.
Some of them get stolen. To be fair.
Jackson hit .277/.351/.502 with 27 doubles, two triples, 27 home runs, 91 RBIs and a career-high 28 stolen bases in 134 games - imagine what could have been if he played a full season - and signed a five-year, $3 million contract with the Yankees. The deal was written out on a cocktail napkin and agreed upon after owner George Steinbrenner offered to include a Rolls Royce that reportedly cost $63,000.
The Orioles, meanwhile, had surrendered Don Baylor, Mike Torrez and minor league pitcher Paul Mitchell in exchange for a high-profile rental. I recall that Baylor and Mitchell were devastated. Tears were shed.
Does anyone possess a Reggie Jackson baseball card from the 1976 season? I’m pretty sure it’s akin to finding a unicorn or a container of disinfectant wipes.
Jackson didn’t play in his first game until May 2 against the A’s. By then, teammates had become irritated by the holdout.
“Is the Messiah coming back or what?” asked pitcher Jim Palmer, who would later join Jackson in the Hall of Fame.
“Do you think it ever occurred to Jackson that there are 24 other guys over here counting on him?”
Manager Earl Weaver said he’d just pretend that Jackson was on the disabled list.
Jackson never rented a place to live, choosing instead to stay in a hotel. He was just passing through town. I assume that he unpacked his suitcase.
The Orioles finished in second place in the American League East, 10 1/2 games behind the Yankees. And I’m pretty sure that baseball card doesn’t exist.
As for the list of players with more modest pedigrees who wore the uniform for one season or less, we also can include former Reds third baseman Chris Sabo, who appeared in 68 games in 1994, and longtime Cardinals and Pirates center fielder Andy Van Slyke, who played in only 17 games in 1995 and was traded to the Phillies in June for pitcher Gene Harris.
(Harris made three relief appearances and disappeared from the majors.)
There’s also first basemen Nick Johnson, who ended his career with the Orioles after appearing in 38 games in 2012, and Greg Walker, whose last 14 games came with the Orioles in 1990.
The theme continues.
Center fielder Elliott Maddox never appealed to me because the Orioles traded my favorite player as a kid, Paul Blair, to acquire him from the Yankees in 1977. Maddox was granted free agency after 49 games and signed with the Mets.
I think of the Tigers when hearing the name “Jim Northrup.” So do most people. Probably because of those 11 years he spent with them. The Orioles purchased his contract from the Expos in September 1974 and he played in 84 games the following year before retiring.
Northrup’s .348 on-base percentage would get him votes today for Most Valuable Oriole.
I’ll also give you outfielders Rich Amaral and Travis Snider, though the former played his last two seasons in Baltimore. He’s now a scout in the organization.
Rick Helling made 24 starts in 2003, registering a 5.71 ERA and 1.413 WHIP before his August release. One of the beat writers bonded with Helling, so of course we pranked him by crafting a goodbye email that appeared to be sent by the veteran pitcher. Our victim even responded to it.
Ah, good times.
Kevin Millwood went 4-16 with a 5.10 ERA and 1.510 WHIP in 31 starts in 2010 after the Orioles acquired him from the Rangers in December for reliever Chris Ray. Doug Drabek ended his career with the Orioles in 1998, going 6-11 with a 7.29 ERA and 1.537 WHIP in 23 games after signing as a free agent. He was much better with the Pirates.
Johan Santana never made it to Camden Yards. He signed on March 4, 2014, overshadowed by Ubaldo Jiménez and Nelson Cruz. The media met him in the workroom rather than in a more formal press conference. And he blew out his Achilles tendon just as the club was ready to select his contract from Triple-A Norfolk.
Former Braves third baseman Bob Horner barely made it to Miami for spring training. The Orioles invited him in 1989 and he retired on March 9 after spending the 1987 season in Japan and injuring his left shoulder with the Cardinals in ‘88.
Look up “owner collusion” and there’s a photo of Horner.
The shoulder never bounced back from surgery and Horner was done at 31.
“I couldn’t focus on making the club because I was always worried about the shoulder so much,” Horner said in a New York Times article. “One thing I didn’t want to do was go out and do something major to it and have a broken down arm the rest of my life. I’ve got children I want to raise and teach sports to. The last thing they need is a crippled father.”