Orioles' Top 5 shortstops: Trezza's take

April 20th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Joe Trezza’s ranking of the top 5 shortstops in Orioles history. Next week: Left fielders.

1) , 1981-2001
Key fact: First-ballot Hall of Fame inductee, 19-time All-Star, 2-time MVP, all-time record holder for consecutive games played

For the second consecutive week, we can crown an easy winner at a key position. Last week it was Brooks Robinson claiming the O’s all-time top spot at third base. This week it’s shortstop and Ripken, the only player who can match Robinson’s legendary status in Baltimore.

A lifelong Marylander, Ripken redefined the shortstop position as he grew into baseball’s Iron Man. He made 19 All-Star teams, won two American League MVP Awards, eight Silver Slugger Awards and two Gold Glove Awards, was a two-time All-Star Game MVP and a World Series champion in 1983. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007 with what was, in many ways, a peerless resume.

Ripken is not just the Orioles’ best shortstop of all time, but he’s the best shortstop of the past 100 years, period, among individuals who played at least half their career games at the position. No shortstop to fit that criteria and debut after 1950 even comes within 20 career Wins Above Replacement (per FanGraphs) of Ripken, whose career WAR is eclipsed only by Honus Wagner among shortstops.

2) Mark Belanger, 1965-81
Key fact: Played parts of 17 seasons with Orioles, fourth-most in franchise history

A paragon of the great Orioles teams of the late 1960s and '70s, Belanger is remembered as one of the elite glovemen -- perhaps the best -- of his era. Paired with Brooks Robinson to his right and Davey Johnson, Bobby Grich, Rich Dauer and others to his left, the light-hitting Belanger manned shortstop for some of the Orioles’ most airtight infields.

Inheriting the starting shortstop job from future Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio in 1968, Belanger won his first of eight career Gold Glove Awards the following season. He won six consecutive from '73-78, across 17 seasons in Baltimore. All told, Belanger appeared in more games than any Oriole besides Ripken and Robinson, was a part of six playoff teams and won a World Series ring in '70.

3) , 2004-07, '10
Key fact: Highest qualified batting average (.305), on-base percentage (.354), slugging (.481) and OPS (.836) among shortstops in O’s history

It’s perhaps instructive when searching for proof of how Ripken redefined shortstop to compare Belanger and Tejada, who both encapsulated how the position was viewed and played in their respective eras -- just in drastically different ways. From the speedy, glove-first types of the 1960s and '70s to the bat-first shortstops of the 2000s and beyond, Ripken was largely the bridge.

Tejada was emerging as an MVP candidate for the A’s when Ripken retired in 2001, signing a six-year, $72 million deal with the Orioles three years later. Though his legacy is muddled by several connections to performance-enhancing drugs, Tejada was wildly productive in Baltimore, hitting .305 with 109 homers and a .836 OPS across parts of five seasons with the O’s. He packed most of that between '04-07, when Tejada made three All-Star teams, won two Silver Slugger Awards, claimed AL RBI and doubles titles and accumulated more bWAR (20.1) than any MLB shortstop not named Jimmy Rollins. He also led all MLB shortstops in homers during that stretch.

4) , 1963-67
Key fact: First Venezuelan-born player elected to the Hall of Fame

Though Aparicio is best remembered for the 10 seasons he spent on the South Side of Chicago, the Hall of Famer enjoyed a productive five-year mid-career stretch in Baltimore, where he was a key member of the city’s first World Series championship team in 1966. A nine-time Gold Glove Award winner and nine-time AL stolen-base champion, Aparicio won a pair of both honors with the Orioles, earning MVP votes in three of his five seasons. His 166 steals with the Orioles remain tied for the club’s shortstop record with Belanger, though Aparicio reached that total in 1,241 fewer games.

5) , 2011-17
Key fact: Ranked third among MLB shortstops in defensive WAR during Orioles tenure

An integral and beloved member of the last competitive Orioles teams, Hardy brought a unique mix of power and defense when the O’s acquired him from the Twins prior to the 2011 season. He hit 30 homers that summer and logged 77 from '11-13, leading all MLB shortstops during that stretch. To this day, Hardy and Ripken remain the only Oriole shortstops to record a 30-homer season and win multiple Gold Glove Awards with the team.

Hardy won three such prizes, as well as a Silver Slugger Award and All-Star honors in 2013, and was responsible for scores of key moments during the playoff runs of '12, '14 and '16. Injuries began to slow Hardy in '14, zapping much of his power until his unofficial retirement after the '17 season. But his run with the Orioles remains one of the best by a shortstop in franchise history.

Honorable mentions
We are only considering Oriole players for this exercise, but Hall of Famer Bobby Wallace set the defensive standard of his era across the 1900s and 1910s for the St. Louis Browns.

The Browns’ all-time home run leader, Vern Stephens was one of the most prolific sluggers of the ‘40s, earning three All-Star nods and winning a home run title in '45.

Willy Miranda was the club’s original shortstop upon moving to Baltimore and part of its most famous 17-player trade with the Yankees in 1954.

is the most accomplished contemporary shortstop to fall short of this list, having moved Ripken to third before spending most of 1997-2002 as a solid and consistent glove-first contributor.