In this series, I’m going to look at each team’s retired numbers, compare the standards of the different teams, and suggest possible future retired numbers.
The Orioles are one of my two teams: they are the first team I ever saw (back when I lived in Washington, D.C.), and even though I haven’t lived in an AL city since, and even though the Orioles have been pretty bad as of late, I’ve stayed faithful. In any case, that’s my reasoning behind starting my ambitious project with the Orioles: I know more about them than most teams.
But enough preamble; on to the analysis.
Notes on the Numbers
Some quick notes on the stats: the two most prominent stats I used are similarly named. Both are called WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. They both try to account for every part of a player’s game, including, but not limited to: offense, defense, position, and playing time. So, it is a counting stat, like hits or home runs (with the small difference that bad seasons can actually decrease your WAR, if you are worse than a replacement player). WAR credits a player with how many wins they have provided to their team. They aren’t perfect, but for my purposes (a single number showing roughly how good a player has been), they work perfectly.
There are two major sites that provide WAR, Baseball-Reference (henceforth called bWAR) and Fangraphs (fWAR). The two are mostly the same, with the biggest difference coming from the different fielding stats the two use. Fangraphs has a fairly good summery of what makes up WAR and how it is calculated (for those wanting a more general summery, the introduction works just fine). Pitching is slightly different: Fangraphs’ WAR for pitchers only goes back to 1974, so for my purposes, I stuck to just bWAR for them.
The Already Retired Numbers
The Orioles currently have six fully retired numbers: 4 (Earl Weaver), 5 (Brooks Robinson), 8 (Cal Ripken, Jr.), 20 (Frank Robinson), 22 (Jim Palmer), and 33 (Eddie Murray). Of the players, Brooks (1955-1977, 23 seasons), Cal (1981-2001, 21 seasons) and Jim (1965-1967 & 1969-1984, 19 seasons). Brooks has a bWAR of 69 and an fWAR of 95. Cal has a bWAR of 90 and an fWAR of 100. Jim Palmer has a bWAR of 64.
Of the other two players, Eddie started his career with the O’s, and played 13 of his 21 seasons with them. He accumulated 67 bWAR and 79 fWAR in his career total; 55 of his bWAR and 62 of his fWAR came from his time in Baltimore.
Frank only played 6 of his 21 seasons with the Orioles, but still managed impressive totals with them; 34 of his 107 bWAR and 38 of his 166 fWAR came from his Orioles days.
Compared to the League
There are eight main ways I looked at a team’s selectivity in retiring numbers; the two main groups are averages and medians. For each of those, I looked at the teams average of median career fWAR, career bWAR, fWAR with the team, and bWAR with the team.
The Orioles are actually one of the most selective teams in the league, by most of the methods I used. Their retirees have the highest average career fWAR out of any team in the majors. Of the other seven methods, only in median career bWAR do they place lower than the first quarter of the league.
So Who’s Next?
Now for the fun part: which other numbers might the Orioles retire?
Well, technically, they already have two semi-retired. According, the numbers 7 (Cal Ripken, Sr.) and 44 (Elrod Hendricks) have not been reissued since the death of their wearers, in 1999 and 2005, respectively. Ripken, Sr. spent 36 seasons with the Orioles in various ways, and Hendricks had the longest coaching tenure in Orioles history (28 years as the bullpen coach), on top of 11 seasons playing for the team. I’m not sure that either of these will become fully retired; neither had extensive or highly successful time as a player or manager, the two most visible positions. But, I figured they were worth mentioning.
According to both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference, George Sisler has the highest career value for the Orioles franchise without having his number retired (59 fWAR and 50.1 bWAR); however, he spent his entire career playing from them when they were the St. Louis Browns. On top of that, he never actually had a uniform number either. Some teams will note pre-number stars, but that’s two counts against Sisler (and considering the Cardinals have already commemorated him with a statue outside Busch Stadium, recognition from the Orioles may seem redundant). Other Browns near the top of the team leader board in both stats include Bobby Wallace, Harlond Clift, and Ken Williams, but those three have been mostly forgotten over time.
Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference are unanimous in naming Boog Powell the top Oriole without a retired number, although by how much differs. Baseball-Reference gives Powell 35.9 bWAR for his time with the O’s, good for seventh all-time among the franchise and just below Wallace (39.1) and Williams (36.0). Fangraphs is much more charitable to number 26*, giving him 50 fWAR for his time in Baltimore; that puts him behind only Ripken, Brooks Robinson, Murray, and Sisler in the history of the team. That, combined with playing on four pennant winners, might be enough to get his number retired.
*As a side note, Powell wore 30, 16, and 8 as well with the Orioles, but 26 is the only one he wore for more than one season.
The biggest problem with that is that he’s been retired since 1977, and there hasn’t exactly been a groundswell movement to retire his number. Maybe someday (at this exact moment in time, I put him as the second most likely retired number candidate).
Paul Blair and Mark Belanger, both Powell teammates, are both close to Powell in value. Blair and Belanger have 43 and 41 fWAR to Powell’s 50, making them the next two Orioles. They’re next in bWAR as well, but with 32.7 and 32.6 bWAR, respectively. Most of their WAR comes from defense, though, which is a little harder to quantify. Also, like Powell, it’s been some time since either one has played. It isn’t like 6 and 7 earn statues any time soon (or, in the case of 7, it probably won’t be for Belanger). Retired players following these two in value (Brady Anderson, Bobby Grich, Ken Singleton) all had good seasons, but, for various reasons, are even less likely to see their numbers retired.
Among current Orioles, Brian Roberts seems most likely by default; he stands at 30 fWAR and 21.8 bWAR, and seems like a long shot. Young players like Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, Zach Britton, and Adam Jones may hang on long enough to earn the honors, but only Markakis has played in even six seasons with the team. Most of the players on the team are too young to seriously consider as potential candidates.
There’s only one really good bet, who I’ve purposely avoided until now: Mike Mussina. Baseball-Reference’s WAR puts him behind only Jim Palmer for Orioles pitchers all-time, even counting their time in St. Louis, with 44.5 bWAR. Even Fangraphs, which only has pitcher fWAR from 1980 on, thinks rather highly of number 35, giving him 47.4 fWAR. However, leaving the team for the Yankees may hurt his chances; it will likely take a major event (possibly something like a Hall of Fame movement or induction) to get his number retired in Baltimore. At this moment, though, I would rate him as the most likely future honoree.
So, In Closing...
The players that I think are most likely to see their Baltimore Orioles numbers retired as of right now, in order:
Cal Ripken, Sr.-7