The Orioles are well represented in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, with 17 players (five wearing Orioles caps), four managers and two executives enshrined in Cooperstown.
What about the best of the rest? Across MLB.com, we’re taking a minute to list each team’s best players not in the Hall of Fame. Consider it a toast to those players who were great but not quite legends, a tip of the cap to their accomplishments.
There are a few rules. Only retired players are eligible for this exercise (disqualifying Adam Jones, among other contemporary O’s who haven’t officially retired). We are also limiting candidates to those with substantial history with their respective clubs.
Without further ado, let’s roll out the best Orioles not in the Hall of Fame:
1. Rafael Palmeiro
Career bWAR: 71.9 (24.4 with Orioles)
Key fact: He is one of six Major Leaguers with at least 3,000 career hits and 500 home runs.
We’re considering entire careers more than Baltimore tenures for this exercise, and while there are more iconic lifelong Orioles lower on this list, none can match the overall résumé of Rafael Palmeiro. The reasons Palmeiro isn’t in Cooperstown are what complicate his legacy: Despite his elite numbers, the first baseman quickly fell off the Hall of Fame ballot because of his ties to performance-enhancing drugs and inclusion in the Mitchell Report.
Palmeiro was one of the top sluggers of all time. He compiled 3,020 hits and hit 569 homers for three teams over 20 big league seasons, from 1986-2005. He spent seven seasons in Baltimore, 1994-98 and 2004-05, and averaged 32 homers, 100 RBIs and an .886 OPS over those seasons. He earned MVP votes in five of them, two Gold Gloves and one All-Star nod.
2. Bobby Grich
Career bWAR: 71.1 (36 with Orioles)
Key fact: Grich owns the franchise-best WAR among second basemen.
One of baseball’s best all-around players from the 1970s to early ’80s, Bobby Grich has a case as maybe the most accomplished second baseman not enshrined in Cooperstown (though Lou Whitaker fans might argue). Grich earned six All-Star nods and won four Gold Gloves and one Silver Slugger in 17 seasons for the Orioles and Angels from 1970-86. He had a .266/.371/.424 slash line with 224 home runs and a 125 career OPS+.
Grich, who spent his first seven seasons in Baltimore, ranks second in WAR among second basemen not in the Hall, seventh in on-base percentage and eighth in homers and OPS (.794).
3. Boog Powell
Career bWAR: 39.1 (35.4 with Orioles)
Key fact: Powell was the 1970 American League MVP.
Slugger Boog Powell fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after his first year of eligibility in 1983, but the first baseman’s list of achievements in Baltimore remains one of the longest in franchise history and he remains one of the franchise’s most beloved figures.
A top run producer for the O’s dynasty that won four AL pennants and two championships from 1966-71, Powell hit 303 homers across 14 years in the Charm City, 1961-74. He was a four-time All-Star, the AL MVP in ’70, and earned two other top-three MVP finishes. He finished his 17-year career (1961-77) with 339 homers, 1,187 RBIs, a .361 OBP and a 134 OPS+.
4. Mark Belanger
Career bWAR: 40.9 (40.8 with Orioles)
Key fact: Belanger won eight AL Gold Gloves.
Was there a better defender in the late 1960s and ’70s than Mark Belanger, the Orioles’ longtime shortstop? Probably not. Flanked by the great Brooks Robinson to his right and several fine second basemen to his left, Belanger was enough of a wizard in the field to outlast his offensive shortcomings for 17 seasons. Proof? He played in more games than any Orioles besides Cal Ripken Jr. and Robinson.
Belanger, who played for the O’s from 1965-81 before spending his final season with the Dodgers, didn’t have the speed of Luis Aparicio or the backflips of Ozzie Smith. But he could pick it about as well as anyone not in the Hall. He won six consecutive Gold Gloves from ’73-78, was a regular on six playoff teams and started on the World Series champions in 1970. His eight Gold Gloves are second most by a shortstop not enshrined in Cooperstown, behind only Omar Vizquel.
5. Paul Blair
Career bWAR: 37.7 WAR (39.7 with Orioles)
Key fact: Blair is the Orioles’ franchise leader in WAR among center fielders.
Where is Adam Jones? We already mentioned above he isn’t eligible for this exercise. But if he were, it would be a toss-up in this final spot between Jones and Paul Blair, the O’s do-it-all center fielder of the late 1960s and early ’70s. Blair, who played on four World Series champions, was an eight-time Gold Glove winner and two-time All-Star across 17 big league seasons (’64-80), the first 13 of which came in Baltimore.
Though his offensive numbers declined after he suffered a head injury in 1970, Blair remained one of the elite defenders of his era for much of his career. He coupled that with power and speed during his offensive peak, compiling double-digit homers and steals in five of six seasons from ’69-74. All told, Blair retired with 134 homers and 171 stolen bases, along with his sterling defensive reputation.