After former Orioles great Paul Blair died suddenly last week, a couple of thoughts kept churning in my head as I read about his career: He was even better than I remembered, and why didn't those Baltimore teams of the late 1960s and early 1970s win more World Series championships?
Actually, I had another thought: Which teams of today will rank as those old Orioles teams of tomorrow?
I have my list.
First, consider that nobody was more prolific in center field than Blair during his 13 seasons with the Orioles, and it went beyond his eight Gold Gloves. As Frank Robinson said to The Baltimore Sun when recalling the essence of his former teammate as a player, "He was to the outfield what Brooks [Robinson] was to the infield. He was our glue out there. I had to play such a small area [in right field] just to get out of his way, and so did the left fielder, that it felt like we weren't even on the field."
Frank Robinson is in the Hall of Fame, by the way. So is that other Robinson he mentioned. In fact, Brooks was called "The Human Vacuum Cleaner" while collecting 16 Gold Gloves at third base. The double-play combination of Mark Belanger and Davey Johnson still ranks among baseball's all-time elite, and Boog Powell was the Orioles' first baseman. I mean, how can you not prosper with a name like that? Then you had the Orioles' starting pitching, which was nearly peerless courtesy of another Hall of Famer in Jim Palmer and consistent 20-game winners Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally. Among the catchers was Andy Etchebarren, and he was a two-time All-Star. Plus, Earl Weaver was their Hall of Fame manager.
Two World Series championships for those Orioles in nine seasons.
I say nine seasons, because the bulk of those Orioles were together from 1966-75. They shocked the Dodgers of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale during the 1966 World Series, and they beat down of the Big Red Machine four years later. Not impressed. Given their slew of magnificent players, those Orioles also should have won it all in '69 against the Miracle Mets, in '71 against an inferior Pirates team and maybe from 1972-74. That's when the pitching rich, yet weak-hitting A's captured three consecutive World Series titles instead of the guys with the Robinsons, Palmer, Weaver, Blair and the rest.
Frank Robinson and Powell were gone by 1975, but those Orioles had most of those other guys, including all that pitching. Even so, they finished 4 1/2 games behind the Red Sox in the division to signal the end of that nine-year era for the Orioles that was pretty good instead of pretty great.
So let's tie this to the present. When baseball historians steady the nine-year period that stretches back to 2004, which team will they declare as "The Orioles of the late 1960s and early 1970s of their generation" -- you know, the team that did less despite having rosters to do more?
Five teams come to mind, and I'll start with No. 5.
During the past nine seasons, the Angels have spent like crazy, and they've won, zero championships. Garret Anderson, Vladimir Guerrero, Troy Glaus, Jered Weaver, Torii Hunter, Albert Pujols, Zack Greinke, Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson, Mark Trumbo. Those are just some of the noted names the Halos have featured since 2004, and they've also had Mike Scioscia, owner of two AL Manager of the Year Awards with the team.
Not only have the Angels not won a World Series during that stretch, they've made the playoffs just five times, and not since 2009.
Not a good look. Not with all of that talent, but at least the Angels haven't been as disappointing as the Phillies, who are No. 4 on my list. Pitching is huge, and the Phillies have owned the arms. They had the impressive likes of Brett Myers, Billy Wagner and Kyle Kendrick during the early part of the past nine seasons, and they've had the incomparable likes of Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay as of late. When you add to that the Phillies' everyday duo of Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, along with others such as Chase Utley, Shane Victorino and Carlos Ruiz, they should have done more than just reach the World Series in back-to-back years through 2009. The Phillies won the first of those trips to the Fall Classic when they met the Rays, but they lost the second to the Yankees.
Speaking of the Yankees, they're No. 3 on my list, but they easily could be No. 2 or No. 1. That's because the Yanks always should win the World Series. Just ask the ghost of George Steinbrenner. Either that, or look at their team payroll that leads the Major Leagues by a bunch every year. They've spent the last eight seasons with so many megastars, but three really come to mind -- Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Alex Rodriguez.
One championship for the Yankees since 2004.
Then again, that's one more than the Rangers and the Tigers have won during that stretch. Which is why I'm tempted to place them in a tie for No. 1. They both lost twice during the World Series in the past nine years, and they both did so with loaded rosters. For every Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler and Michael Young for the Rangers, you had somebody such as Miguel Cabrera, Austin Jackson, Prince Fielder or Alex Avila for the Tigers.
It's just that, even though Rangers manager Ron Washington has an impressive resume that continues to grow, and recently retired Tigers manager Jim Leyland is bound for Cooperstown. In addition, the postseason has become a haven for power pitching, and the Tigers have featured flame-throwers Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, and the Rangers haven't.
Nobody else has.
Come to think of it, the Tigers are a solid No. 1.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less