A look back at Oriole stars by the numbers

June 09, 1995|By JOHN STEADMAN

Give them a number, anywhere from the lowest to the highest, 1 through 5, and let the evaluations determine their potential. That's how baseball scouts assess the raw talent that comes before their eyes . . . be it in Baltimore, Bangor or Butte. It's all a calculated guessing game.

But what about a look back in an attempt to judge the quality of the performers the Baltimore Orioles have had in their modern major-league era, over 40 years of franchise history. It's easier to come to judgments when the players have produced records that are in the book, which offers something akin to indisputable evidence of their true natural abilities.

A "5" is a maximum in any department and a "1" is at the lowest end of the scale. Infielders, outfielders and catchers are rated in five distinct categories; pitchers with a different type of tabulation that pertains to their particular skills.

So the best Orioles players, from the past to the present, are Frank Robinson (No. 1), Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken (tied for No. 2) and Brooks Robinson (No. 4). The best pitcher, far and away, is Jim Palmer. When it comes to naming the player truly indicative of the Orioles, the one who is on his way to achieving more singular status than any other, it's Ripken in a walk.

For the most popular of all Orioles, combining ability and personality, regarded as a man of the people, the kind every mother and father would like to have for a son, it's difficult to believe Brooks Robinson will ever be surpassed. As with his sure hands in the field, he's a standout citizen, the classic friendly neighbor who is approachable and accommodating. But this is merely a human aside, although an important one, to his baseball achievements.

Meanwhile, Ripken, closing in on Lou Gehrig's streak of 2,130 consecutive games played, offers astonishing intangibles regarding his mental approach, work ethic and physical durability. So give Ripken the highest respect for quality that adds enormously to his value, being there every day to play shortstop, the most demanding, athletically, of all the skilled positions.

For right now, let's review the 5-4-3-2-1 report card on an &L assortment of Orioles, past and present, including some members of the Hall of Fame. Players are scored on hitting ability, power with the bat, throwing arm, running and defense.

Frank Robinson rates 4 1/2 as a hitter, 5 for power, 3 for arm, 3 for speed (although one of the most perceptive base runners in club history), and 3 for defense. Murray, a switch-hitter, is 4 in hitting, power and defense, 3 as a thrower and runner.

Ripken draws a 3 as a hitter, 4 for power and arm, 2 for speed and 5 for defense. Brooks is a 3 in hitting and power, a 4 arm (because of a quick release and its accuracy), a 2 in running speed and a 5 1/2 for defense. As with the Robinsons before

them, Murray and Ripken are can't-miss Hall of Fame enshrinees.

Now moving on to an assortment of other individuals. Luis Aparicio is 3 as a hitter, 1 for power, 4 for arm, 5 for speed and 4 for defense. He's already in the Hall of Fame so there's nothing left to prove. John "Boog" Powell is a 3 hitter, 4 in power, a 3 arm, a 2 running speed and 4 for defense. Jim Gentile, another first baseman, is a 3 hitter, 4 in power, throwing arm and defense and 1 in running speed.

Another first baseman, Rafael Palmeiro, although only briefly with the Orioles, when compared to the others, is a 4 hitter, 3 in power, throwing ability and running and a 4 on defense. Ken Singleton, vastly underrated, is a 4 in everything but running, where he's a 1. Mark Belanger is a 2 hitter, 1 for power, 4 for arm, 3 for speed and a 5 for defense.

Among the pitchers, Palmer is 5 for velocity, breaking ball and fielding his position. He's a 4 on control and changeup, which gives him a higher arbitrary point total than any Oriole. Two left-handers, Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar, are close to him. McNally has a 3 for velocity, a 4 for control, changeup and defense, and a 5 for the breaking ball. Cuellar is similar yet offering a distinct contrast in style. Score him a 3 for velocity and defense, a 4 for control and a 5 for breaking ball and changeup.

Behind him would be two more southpaws, Scott McGregor and Mike Flanagan. Give Flanagan 4's across the board, McGregor a 3 for velocity, 4 for control, a 5 for his changeup and breaking ball and a 4 for defense.

Mike Mussina, although lacking the career years of the others, is highly rated in any comparison. He's 4 in velocity, control, changeup and breaking ball and a 5 for defense.

Down the line, in the Orioles' pitching array, there's a Hall of Fame pitcher, Hoyt Wilhelm, who was basically a one-pitch pitcher, throwing almost entirely knuckle balls.

But what a weapon, almost unhittable. Give Wilhelm a 5 for the breaking ball (his knuckler), a 4 in changeup (also the knuckler) and control, a 3 for defense and a 2 for velocity. Without the knuckler, Wilhelm never would have escaped the minor leagues. But he was an excellent competitor and effective both as a

starter and reliever.

The Orioles have had a wealth of talent. The numbers in individual judgments don't always correlate to games won, hits delivered or plays executed. It's all subjective. Baseball, like with beauty, is in the eyes of the beholders.

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