DeCinces, Hoiles proud of O's honor

DeCinces, Hoiles proud of O's honor

BALTIMORE -- Doug DeCinces faced a truly thankless task during his time playing third base for the Orioles -- replacing Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson. But DeCinces always handled it with grace and style, and it took the team a long time to find another strong third baseman after they traded him to the Angels before the 1982 season.

Chris Hoiles also played in a truly thankless position. The catcher spent eight full seasons in the Major Leagues plus parts of two others before a hip problem forced him to retire before the 1999 season at the age of 34. The Orioles truly missed Hoiles when he retired.

Both players shared a few similarities throughout their days with the Orioles. DeCinces, despite being solid on offense and defense, always faced a lot of criticism for replacing Robinson. Hoiles was a quiet, low-key personality who took plenty of grief, mostly for his defensive skills, but proved himself to be a dependable catcher who even earned the team's Most Valuable Player award in 1993.

The other similarity is both will be going into the team's Hall of Fame this weekend. Both former Orioles returned to town for the ceremonies that will take place before Saturday's game with Tampa Bay.

Hoiles played in 894 games and hit 151 homers while driving in 449 runs along with a .262 average, all with the Orioles. He was a rock behind the plate and gave the Orioles some punch in the middle of the lineup. His best year came in 1993 when he hit 29 homers with 82 RBIs and a .310 batting average.

But Hoiles always seemed to have prove himself each year because he didn't have a Johnny Bench-type arm, something that drew some criticism. The Ohio native somehow kept finding a way to stay with the Orioles until the hip condition ended his playing days.

"They always told me it's not getting to the big leagues, it's staying in the big leagues which is hard, and I lived by that every day," Hoiles said. "This is an honor and a prestigious award ... to be thought of in this manner and to be receiving this award is truly an honor -- and a special one."

Hoiles had been playing well before his left hip started bothering him. The pain got to be so bad that Hoiles felt he didn't have much choice but to retire before the 1999 season.

Hoiles said he tried a number of other options before getting the hip replaced in 2003, something that made his life a lot easier.

"I played a year and a half with it, and nobody knew about it," Hoiles said. "I didn't want it to be an excuse for on-the-field problems or anything like that, so I just did what I had to do and play and put up some decent numbers, but it did bother me."

Hoiles has done some college coaching since then, preparing to work with Bowling Green University's team next spring and chasing his three sons around.

DeCinces also didn't have the easiest road during his playing career. He was an infielder in the early 70's when the Orioles had both a solid core of players coming up through the farm system and a bunch of All-Stars in front of them at the Major League level.

He came up with the group that included Bobby Grich, Don Baylor, Al Bumbry and others. The Orioles moved DeCinces to third base during his first Major League Spring Training, explaining to him that with Grich at second and the slick-fielding Mark Belanger at shortstop, his playing time wouldn't add up to much.

But DeCinces realized that meant the team was putting him directly in line to replace Robinson.

"I have to say it was a daunting task when they first told me, "Hey, we want you to go play third base," DeCinces said. "I just said, 'OK, this is a challenge.' I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but I didn't really anticipate how difficult it was going to be because of the reception of the fans. In every city I went to, people would come up and say, 'Why do you think you can replace Brooks Robinson?'"

DeCinces began taking over full-time in 1976 when he played 109 games at third base. He was a good third baseman, but not quite Robinson -- although not many have measured up to his standards. DeCinces became a solid power hitter (finishing with 237 home runs over 15 seasons), but critics magnified any mistake he made.

"It just became more difficult, and at times I had to fight it overcoming my confidence and everything," DeCinces said. "I look back now and, honestly, it was an honor to be given that opportunity. They must have saw something in me that felt like I could deal with the pressure and deal with the defensive responsibilities. And then you throw Earl Weaver into that [as a] factor ... being a rookie playing for Earl was not always the easiest thing."

Robinson retired in August 1977, and DeCinces took over at third. He became a big part of the Orioles lineup although some of his greatest Baltimore moments came in 1979. He hit the home run against Detroit in June 1979 that started the whole "Oriole Magic" craze as Baltimore rolled to the World Series -- it remains one of the most famous round-trippers in club history.

He also made a spectacular defensive play in the 1979 American League Championship Series that helped the Birds lock up a victory in four games. His spinning, backhand stop of a ball came on national television and got him some very good attention. Then, days later, DeCinces blasted a homer on his first at-bat in the World Series against Pittsburgh.

DeCinces, now involved in real estate, played six years as the team's top third baseman before the Orioles sent him to the Angels in a deal for Dan Ford. The third baseman fared even better in California, as his power numbers took off while playing for the Angels.

But he will always remember his days as an Oriole and the experience of taking over for Robinson.

"I tell people without a doubt that it's probably the single thing in my career that I'm personally most [proud] about is being able to do that, giving as much respect as physically possible to the great Brooks Robinson," DeCinces said. "There's ways of handling things, and I had to accept that things were going to come when it was right. I just went out and did the best I could."

Jeff Seidel is a contributor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.