The Orioles’ Ten Greatest Hitters
George Sisler (1915-27)
Remembered as one the best-hitting and most graceful first basemen ever to play, Sisler made his name on pitching at the beginning of his career, first at the University of Michigan—under then-Wolverine manager Branch Rickey—and in 1915 with the St. Louis Browns under, again, Rickey, now the Browns’ manager. Rickey and the Browns had to fight to get Sisler; the Pittsburgh Pirates had signed him, but it was successfully argued that he had done so underage and without a parental signature. Although a good hurler, it was quickly realized that Sisler’s future was best focused on being an everyday hitter, and it wasn’t long before he established himself as one of the league’s best; he hit .407 in 1920 and, two years later, .420—making him the only other American Leaguer after Ty Cobb to top .400 twice. Five times Sisler recorded over 200 hits, including 257 in 1920—establishing a major league record that would last 84 years before Ichiro Suzuki eclipsed it while playing in seven more games.
After Sisler’s spectacular 1922 campaign—in which he led the AL in average, hits, runs, triples and steals—he developed a sinus infection that led to blurred vision and frequent headaches; the condition deteriorated to the point that he missed the entire 1923 season. Sisler returned in 1924 and produced four more solid years for the Browns, but not at the star levels of his pre-sinus years. He finished out his career with the Boston Braves and retired with a career .340 average and 2,812 hits over 15 years.
Eddie Murray (1977-88, 1996)
If there’s ever been a modern-day version of the Mechanical Man (a nickname once bestowed upon Detroit Tiger hitting great Charlie Gehringer), it had to be Murray, who year in and year out put up undiversified numbers without the monster year or the season-long slump.
Murray instantly locked into a model of consistency from his very first major league campaign, winning the 1977 Rookie of the Year award at age 21 by hitting .283 with 27 homers and 88 runs batted in. He gradually improved and, during the late 1980s, hit the relatively mild high peaks of his career, always hitting around .300, always cranking out around 30 home runs, always knocking in around 110 runs. Only once (in 1981) did Murray lead the AL in home runs and RBIs, but he was always counted on to be in the top five.
Frank Robinson (1966-71)
Let go by Cincinnati because Reds owner Bill DeWitt felt he was an “old 30,” Robinson came to Baltimore and made his former boss eat his words in a major way. In his first year with the Orioles, Robinson won the AL triple crown by leading the league with a .316 average, a career-high 49 homers and 122 RBIs; became the first player to win MVPs in both leagues; and won the 1966 World Series MVP as he lifted the franchise to its first-ever championship by sweeping Los Angeles. Robinson never came close to duplicating his initial campaign during his Orioles tenure but remained potent enough, even as occasional injuries began to wear him down.
In 1988, Robinson returned to Baltimore as manager midway through the Orioles’ disastrous 0-21 start, staying through 1990 as the team quickly recovered and became a winner again.
Ken Williams (1918-27)
A left-handed power hitter who threw right from the outfield, Williams quietly boomed away at AL pitchers in the 1920s while Babe Ruth grabbed all the headlines. Williams was never better than during a five-year stretch (1921-25) in which he hit 135 home runs and knocked in 552 runs. But it’s his 1922 season that still leaves historians talking; he led the AL with 39 homers and 155 RBIs—unseating a partially suspended Ruth from the top of the list—became the first player in the 20th Century to smack three homers in one game, the first AL player to hit two in one inning, and the first to finish the year with at least 30 homers and 30 steals each. (Willie Mays would be the second 30-30 player, 34 years later.)
Boog Powell (1961-74)
Sportscaster Joe Garagiola once said, “If Boog Powell held out his right arm, he’d be a railroad crossing.” The big, muscular slugger was (and, in retirement, still is) an immense fan favorite in Baltimore, sporting a disposition of someone prepared to have a good time at the local bar, backyard barbecue or nearest poker table; sure enough, he was one of the early spokesmen for the popular Miller Lite TV campaign (“Great taste, less filling”) and started his own barbecue stand at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. His year-to-year numbers wildly fluctuated over his Orioles tenure, so it was not surprising that he twice won the AL Comeback Player of the Year award. Powell had his best season in 1969—hitting .304 with 37 home runs and 121 RBIs—but won the AL MVP the next year despite a very slight decline in his overall production. His timing was perfect in that the designated hitter, practically created with aging sluggers in mind, came along as he progressed into his 30s.
George Stone (1905-10)
Quiet by nature, Stone made a lot of noise at the plate for the Browns during their first decade of existence. Before plying his trade in St. Louis, he set an American Association record that existed for nearly a century by hitting .406. He made for an immediate impact in his first year with the Browns when he led the majors with 187 hits—and followed that up with the AL batting title in 1906, hitting .358. He held out for a more desirable contract than the Browns offered in 1907 and absorbed the wrath of local fans when he settled and didn’t play to the level of the year before, but he was still sharp with the bat until injuries spelled the end of his big league career in 1910.
Vern Stephens (1941-47)
The New Mexico native was a wartime hero not on the battlefield but at the ballpark, excused from military service during World War II because of a bad knee that apparently didn’t slow him down as he increasingly faced off against replacements posing as major leaguers. But Stephens was one of the few legitimate star players who never took a breather from the national pastime during the war, and the Browns—who made their only World Series appearance in 1944 thanks to Stephens’ 20 homers and AL-leading 109 RBIs—were the benefactors. Stephens continued to hit well when the quality of play improved after war’s end, hitting a career-high .307 in 1946; his best years were to come after his trade from the Browns to Boston, where he became a big component of the Red Sox’ version of Murderers’ Row in the late 1940s.
Chris Davis (2011-2015)
The sizeable slugger was a near-hopeless case in his pre-Oriole years at Texas, hitting the occasional home run but struggling to stay above .200 and striking out way too often. But upon being traded to Baltimore late in 2011, Davis immediately began to shed his woeful past and emerged as an elite offensive threat.
In his first full year at Camden Yards, Davis smacked 33 homers with 85 RBIs while hitting a respectable .276, all career highs; but those numbers paled to what he had in store in 2013, when he launched 53 dingers with 138 RBIs—leading the majors in both categories. A year later, he slipped capriciously to 26 homers and an awful .196 average; adding insult to injury, he was suspended for much of the final month for using the synthetic stimulant Adderall without permission from the league. Back in 2015 with doctor’s note in hand, Davis thrived anew—leading the majors once more with 47 homers; he would have reached 50 for the second time in three years, but four other potential homers were stolen by opposing outfielders above the fence.
Cal Ripken Jr. (1981-2001)
Some of you may scratch your heads as to how the most famous Oriole of them all ranks below folks like Stone, Stephens and Davis on this list. Ripken is known as much for his ironman accomplishments and tremendous defensive work at shortstop, but with the exception of two AL MVP seasons (in 1983 and 1991), his numbers at the plate were often less exceptional and more mere modest, perhaps a function of the rigors of performing in 2,632 straight games.
It’s easy to explain his first MVP effort in 1983, when the relatively fresh Ripken hit .318 and led the AL in runs, hits and doubles to go along with 27 homers and 102 RBIs; what’s harder to understand is how he suddenly came alive again in 1991, setting career highs in average (.323), home runs (34) and RBIs (114); if that wasn’t enough, Ripken also was named the MVP of the All-Star Game that season. Some may argue that quantity doesn’t always match quality, but Ripken’s longevity did make him the all-time franchise leader in almost every major offensive category, with 3,184 hits and 431 home runs.
Brooks Robinson (1955-77)
Ripken is not named “Mr. Oriole” because that moniker had already been given to Robinson, who like Ripken was best known for his remarkable defense, at third base—he won 15 Gold Gloves, all in succession—but also was not to be forgotten at the plate with an often dangerous bat.
Robinson won the 1964 AL MVP when he set career highs with a .318 average, 28 home runs and 118 RBIs, and five other times collected 20 or more homers. In 39 postseason games, Robinson hit .303 and was dynamic in leading the Orioles to a World Series triumph in 1970 with a 9-for-21, two-homer performance—but people have to be reminded of that, as it was his other-worldly defense at third during the series that is encrypted in the memories of baseball fans. There is one unique, more dubious tag on Robinson’s offensive resume: He hit into a major league-record four triple plays throughout his 23-year career.
Baltimore Orioles Team History: Year-by year records, statistics and an oral history of the Orioles, decade by decade.
The Braves' Ten Greatest Pitchers: A list of the ten greatest pitchers based on their productivity and efficiency.
The Braves' Ten Greatest Games: A list of ten memorable games and other notable personal achievements that have defined the Orioles' history.
How did This Great Game determine the list of the Orioles' ten greatest hitters? Find out here.
Have a comment, question or request? Contact us at This Great Game.
© 2016 This Great Game.