Each year that the Most Valuable Oriole is announced, I harken back to one of the best quotes ever delivered on this beat.
Outfielder B.J. Surhoff played 162 games in 1999, amassed 207 hits to go along with a .308 average, .347 on-base percentage, 38 doubles, 28 home runs and 107 RBIs on a sub-.500 team and earned the award.
The media approached the dour Surhoff at his locker to seek his reaction, as it normally did in pre-Zoom times. He turned to us and said, “I know why you guys picked me. Cal’s hurt and you hate Albert.”
Cal Ripken Jr. needed surgery on his back. Albert Belle needed a personality transplant, though I never had any issues with him - probably because I knew how to avoid confrontation and waited until the offseason and spring training to engage him, when he was much friendlier.
Surhoff deserved to be named MVO, but he wasn’t sold on the reasons. And I’m forever grateful for it, because I’ve retold that story many, many times.
My guess is that Cedric Mullins will exhibit a little more enthusiasm later today.
He’s extremely humble and won’t pound his chest and fill our notebooks with colorful quotes, but he also knows that he’s deserving. That the first 30/30 season in franchise history and Gold Glove defense in center field are impossible to dismiss.
We’ll only be told the winner, not which players finished second and third. We may not know whether Mullins was the unanimous choice, which should happen but can’t be assumed.
There’s always the risk of someone thinking “outside the box” or overthinking it or just being ... I’ll stop myself here.
Ryan Mountcastle should get strong consideration for American League Rookie of the Year. An investigation should be launched if Trey Mancini isn’t Comeback Player of the Year. John Means could finish second or third in MVO voting. But Mullins is the slam-dunk pick.
Anthony Santander laughed as I began a recent question about Mullins’ breakout season by saying, “He’s expected to be MVO.” Santander pretended that it actually was a tough call before heaping praise on Mullins, one of the more popular guys in the clubhouse.
“Oh, my God, unbelievable,” Santander said via interpreter Ramón Alarcón. “I’m impressed by every aspect of his game. The way he comes to the ballpark, the teammate that he is, the work ethic that he’s showing, how consistent that he’s been. He’s been very healthy, thankfully, this season, so just everything about him.”
To think that camp started with uncertainty over Mullins’ chances of being in the opening day lineup, whether he was more useful as a fourth outfielder or destined to work in a platoon because of his poor numbers batting from the right side.
Mullins ditched switch-hitting and became the player that the organization envisioned as he rose through the system. A skilled hitter with game-changing speed and surprising power for someone of his modest stature.
“It’s incredible for him to honestly show up and kind of shock everybody during spring training and just completely bang switch-hitting. And some of the unknowns of how’s the lefty-lefty going to go?” said Austin Hays, the former center fielder of the future who’s found a comfortable home in left and right.
“He’s literally never done it before. He’s always switch-hit. And I think the first half of the season, he hit like .330 against left-handed pitching, which is incredible. I understand how difficult that is because I hit lefties so much better than righties, so for him to come in right away and be able to do that, I think that’s been probably the biggest part of him having so much success is hitting the same side pitching this year.”
Mullins returned to the lineup last night after his use as a pinch-hitter in the two previous games while dealing with a sore hamstring. He’s the 12th player in major league history to record at least 30 home runs, 35 doubles, five triples and 30 steals in a season and the eighth to post the stat line while also drawing at least 50 walks.
His 22 extra-base hits in the first inning are tied with Rafael Palmeiro for the second-most in club history behind Brady Anderson’s 24 in 1996. His 49 hits are tied for the third-most in club history with Ripken in 1991 and trail only Nick Markakis’ 51 in 2014 and 52 in 2007.
Last night’s game ended with Mullins, who smoked a ball directly at first baseman Bobby Dalbec for a hard-luck double play, batting .297 with an .898 OPS, 36 doubles, five triples, 30 homers, 59 RBIs, 30 steals in 38 attempts, 59 walks and a 6.1 WAR per Baseball-Reference.com.
“He’s just so steady in his routine, he’s so steady in his approach,” said hitting coach Don Long.
“He’s a guy whose confidence doesn’t waver from game to game. He doesn’t make an out and run to the bench and check the iPad the next inning to see if the umpire made a bad call on him or what he did wrong. He just knows what he wants to accomplish with his at-bat and continues to do that game to game and at-bat to at-bat, so he’s done a great job for us.”
Santander won the MVO Award in the truncated 2020 season. Mancini was the last winner in a full season in 2019.
I’ll update this story when Mullins’ selection becomes official.
Update: The obvious is official. Mullins is the 2021 MVO. And he won by unanimous decision.
Also receiving votes in the top three were Mancini, Means, Mountcastle, Santander and Ramón Urías.