Throughout their history, the Orioles have established high standards when it comes to retiring numbers. Of the six numbers immortalized on the left-field rafters at Oriole Park at Camden Yards (seven including Jackie Robinson’s 42, which is retired across MLB), all six belong to Hall of Famers. For the O's to take a number out of circulation, enshrinement in Cooperstown is effectively required.
The result is a small inner circle of legends to receive the club’s highest individual honor: Earl Weaver, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken Jr. and Frank Robinson. It’s a tiny group compared to the club’s Hall of Fame, which is made up of many popular players -- National Baseball Hall of Famers Luis Aparicio, Roberto Alomar, Mike Mussina and Harold Baines among them -- thus far exempt from the retired number ranks.
All of which is to say the bar remains high. Who might eclipse it next? Only time will tell, but here are the top candidates:
If enshrinement in Cooperstown is the criteria, perhaps the O’s might soon rethink Harold Baines, who was inducted via the Today’s Game Era Committee in 2019. Baines went in wearing a White Sox cap for good reason, having spent 14 of his 22 career seasons on the South Side of Chicago. But the Easton, Md., native did play seven seasons for his hometown Orioles, objectively ranking as the top designated hitter in club history. He holds the franchise record for hits, home runs, RBIs, OPS and nearly every other offensive category at the position.
The Cooperstown argument now also applies to Mike Mussina, who went in with a blank cap alongside Baines as part of the six-man class of 2019. Mussina finished his 18-year career with eight seasons pitching for the Yankees, but the lion’s share of his accolades and success came over the decade prior with the Orioles, for whom Mussina developed into one of the most dependable starters of his generation. The club’s first-round Draft pick in 1990, Mussina made five All-Star teams, won four Gold Glove Awards and finished in the top five of Cy Young Award voting five times over his 10 years in Charm City. He remains the franchise’s best homegrown starter of the past three decades.
Adam Jones probably isn’t headed for Cooperstown, and the 34-year-old’s MLB playing career might be over after signing to play in Japan this past winter. But not only did few Orioles mean as much to the team this millennium as Jones, few professional athletes have ever made as much an impression on the city of Baltimore. Jones’ influence resonated both on and off the field across his 11 years in Maryland, over which he made five All-Star teams, won four Gold Glove Awards and a Silver Slugger Award in center. He also grew into the clubhouse leader for three playoff teams and was an important voice for a city working through significant civil unrest during that time.
Though he’ll almost certainly retire having played more games elsewhere than he did in Baltimore, Manny Machado makes this list because of how his career trajectory mirrors some of the game’s all-time greats. Machado’s 36.7 career bWAR and 207 home runs through his age-26 season rank second in history among full-time third baseman, behind only Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews and ahead of Hall of Famers like George Brett, Ron Santo and Mike Schmidt. He’ll have to keep producing to join them in Cooperstown, but he’s already seen as a generational defender and one of the biggest stars of his era largely due to his success with the Orioles. Machado earned four All-Star nods, two Gold Glove Awards and two top-five finishes in MVP Award voting with the O’s between 2012-18.
If the Orioles were going to retire Boog Powell’s number, they probably would have already, since he last suited up for the club in 1974. But an argument for doing so now exists given how Powell’s legacy has grown post-retirement, with his connection to the club now stretching into its sixth decade. He remains one of the most popular figures at Camden Yards to this day, and still sports more career WAR than any Oriole outside Ripken, Brooks Robinson, Murray, Palmer and Mussina.