Best of the Best: Third Basemen
By Mike Franz
Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
With the off-season being at an essential standstill for the Orioles as far as the news goes, I thought I would bring you, the reader, a weekly list of the top five Orioles of all time for each position (second base, catcher, etc). Last week, Matt Wieters pulled the upset and was named the “Best of the Best” as far as catchers go. This week is going to be the fifth week of the “Best of the Best” series. In keeping with the number five, this week’s ranking will be on the position “#5” immortalized during his 23 years in Baltimore: Third basemen.
Third basemen need quick reflexes and great hand-eye coordination because of hard hit ground balls and line drives. More often than not, a third baseman must make quick throws to get out a speedy runner at first base. This requires the third baseman to have a strong arm as well.
Another important aspect of their game is having the obligation to field bunts down the third base line. In order to field bunts correctly, the third basemen must have great technique, flexibility and proper foot placement, all in order to ensure an accurate throw to first base in order to get the hitter out.
The position of third base is not for the faint of heart.
This list is based purely on the player’s statistics in seven categories while said player was with the Orioles organization. The seven categories I will be judging them in are batting average, fielding percentage (at third base), games played (at third base), All Star games (if applicable), Gold Gloves (if applicable), RBIs, and home runs. Here we go!
5. Cal Ripken, Jr.
Yes. Even though Cal Ripken made a name for himself at shortstop, he also played his last five seasons of his career at third base. He moved from shortstop to third base in 1997 because of the signing of Mike Bordick and the simple fact that there were more defensive options at shortstop than there were at third base.
Ripken took this switch in stride and excelled there. At third base, Ripken maintained .961 fielding percentage. He also was named to the American League All Star Team in each of his years while at third base as well. I do not want to talk about his hitting statistics because they speak for themselves, and I can tell you now when I rank the best shortstops the Orioles have ever had, Ripken will be having the number one spot. I will talk about his batting ability when it gets to that list of players.
Ripken was a better shortstop of course. However, when he moved to third base, which was his natural position early in his playing career, Ripken’s pure athletic ability came out and he thrived with the new challenge presented to him.
4. Melvin Mora
I grew up watching Melvin Mora play third base for Baltimore. This player really batted consistently while with the Orioles. In his ten years with the ball club, Mora went .280/.355/.438 from the plate. In 2004 and 2005, he hit 27 home runs in each season. Mora has the ninth most home runs (158) in Orioles history as well as the eighth most RBIs (662).
Mora was awarded for his batting ability in 2004 when he won his only Silver Slugger Award in his career. Along with this, he was also named to the American League All Star Team twice, once in 2003 and the other time in 2005. Mora’s weakness, however, was on the defensive side of the ball.
He was a good fielder. He was not a great one; achieving a .961 fielding percentage while at third with the O’s. Mora did play the second most amount of games at third in Orioles history and, for that, the O’s showed a lot of confidence in Mora. Mora was a really solid hitter in Baltimore and he was also a fan favorite. If he would have played less of a utility role in his early years with the club and more time spent at third base, he might be higher up on this list. I believe the number four spot is where he belongs.
3. Doug Decinces
Doug Decinces had the honor of learning from the best, “#5.” Because Brooks was still playing when Decinces arrived in Baltimore in 1972, he had to play somewhat of a utility player role until Brooks’ career was wrapping up and Decinces finally got his chance at third.
Once he got his chance he did not disappoint. Batting .253/.323/.428 while in Baltimore, Decinces was a good hitter. His fielding was something that was left to be desired. He only had a .954 fielding percentage at third base in Baltimore. This, along with the fact he did not win any awards as an Oriole, is the reason why he is not higher up on the list.
Decinces did play the fifth most games at third base as an Oriole and he is a name that is synonymous with Baltimore baseball.
The main reason why he is on this list is because of the fact that it was his doing that Oriole Magic was born. On June 22, 1979, the Orioles trailed by a run with two outs to the Tigers. Decinces stepped up to the plate and with a 1-1 count, he hit a deep fly ball to left-center field that went into the crowd for a home run that gave the O’s the 6-5 victory. It was this play that birthed Oriole Magic and the rest is as they say… history.
2. Manny Machado
Manny Machado is on the rise. After just a year and a half of being brought up from the minors, Machado has shown all of the potential of being one of the best third basemen that has ever played this game. His youth and recent injury have people worried that he is not for real, but you cannot deny his statistics.
In his first full season with the Orioles, Machado accomplished a lot. Not only was he named to the American League All Star team which was the first time in his career, but he also dazzled fans of the O’s and baseball alike with his incredible defensive plays. His defensive efforts did not go unnoticed by the baseball community as he was awarded his career-first Gold Glove Award.
Machado makes plays that some veterans of the game could not even fathom making. Despite his young age, he has a great mind for the game. He has held onto a .972 fielding percentage thus far in his career. What is crazy is that third base is not his natural position; Shortstop is. A man who broke Lou Gehrig‘s streak of most consecutive games and wore the “#8” also was moved from his natural position and I believe he fared alright.
Machado is also a volatile presence at the plate as well. In 2013, he hit a league-leading 51 doubles and an impressive .283 batting average. To put that into retrospect, the player above him on this list did not hit at least .283 in a single season until his fifth year with the team.
Machado is an up and coming star. However, his lack of years in the Majors along with his injury this past September have him locked into the number two spot on this list. Possibly if he returns healthy and has an incredible career like this next player did, then people will consider him the greatest to ever cover third base.
1. Brooks Robinson
Brooks Robinson. Enough said. In the baseball world, all you have to do is say this man’s name and everyone knows he is one of the best to ever step on a baseball diamond. Robinson entertained fans with miraculous plays in the field during his 23 years in the Majors. He was the epitome of a human highlight reel. Do you need more convincing?
Robinson had a decorated career to say the least. Not only was it decorated with two World Series titles, but it was also decorated with individual awards as well. In sixteen consecutive years, Robinson won a Gold Glove Award. In fifteen consecutive years, he was named to the American League All Star Team.
Robinson was, arguably, the greatest defensive third baseman to ever play the game. In 23 years at third base, he maintained a .971 fielding percentage. His fielding ability was complimented well during the 1970 World Series against the Reds where he snagged, what looked like, apparent base hits and turned them into outs. He had several admirers in the baseball community, even including his opponents.
This lifelong Oriole batted a career .267/.322/.401. Something to be noted was Robinson was not a power hitter. Earl Weaver admitted that in an interview in the 1990s. He had to really work on driving the ball out of the ballpark. His hard work paid off in 1964. During the ’64 season Robinson hit, his career high, 28 homeruns and, the league-leading, 118 RBIs. This coupled with his season .318 batting average earned him the 1964 American League Most Valuable Player Award.
Robinson’s accolades did not end when he stopped playing ball. His jersey number was retired by the Orioles at the end of his final season in 1977. He was also voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983. This made him one of only 16 players to be a first ballot Hall of Famer. In addition to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Robinson, alongside his former teammate Frank Robinson, was one of the first two players to be named to the Orioles Hall of Fame.
Robinson is known as “Mr. Oriole.” For that, he is not only the best third baseman the Orioles have ever had, but he is also, in my mind, the best ball player to ever put on an Orioles uniform.
Well that is my list. Anyone you think I left out or if the order should be different, just leave a comment. Next Tuesday, I will be doing another “Best of the Best.” You have the decision of what position I should write about next, comment below and I will pick the most popular.