15 years later and the question still hovers over Camden Yards like a dark cloud on a rainy summer night.
It was the summer of 2007 when Cal Ripken, Jr. was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame after his record-breaking career.
And at the time, the roster of Orioles in the Hall of Fame was quite impressive: Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Earl Weaver and Eddie Murray had all taken their space among baseball’s elite prior to that late July afternoon in 2007.
Cal joining the prestigious club made it six living Orioles with plaques in Cooperstown…a group that was the most impressive in baseball at the time.
But on that afternoon – as Cal gave his speech to the record crowd – that question was asked:
Who will be the next player to represent the Orioles in Cooperstown?
At the time, devoted Orioles fans mostly discounted the idea of Mike Mussina representing the Birds in the Hall of Fame — if he were ever to make it.
And that sentiment would prove to be accurate, as Mussina chose to go in with no logo on his cap after splitting his career between the Orioles and the New York Yankees.
So…who next, then?
Fans of the 2007 Orioles may have talked about the tremendous potential for young Nick Markakis, who was just 23 years old and in the middle of his sophomore big league season. The future looked bright for Markakis, as that 2007 season would be the first of his five MLB seasons with more than 40 doubles.
But Markakis settled in as a very good, consistent player…although not someone who most fans would consider to be among the game’s top 1%, the threshold often cited for admission to Cooperstown.
Plus, as we know now, Markakis would spend the final six seasons of his career in Atlanta, following a messy breakup with the O’s, who refused to sign off on a long-term extension because of a perceived neck injury.
On the mound, maybe Erik Bedard, Daniel Cabrera or Jeremy Guthrie would have been a part of the discussion about O’s hurlers who could end up in Cooperstown. But…probably not.
OK, so what about the future of that 2007 Orioles team? Were there any top prospects that a fan might have named in 2007 when asked the question of who would be the next O’s Hall of Famer?
Here’s a brief list of the team’s top prospects from 2007: Billy Rowell, Brandon Erbe, Nolan Reimond, Brandon Snyder, Garrett Olson, Jim Johnson, Pedro Beato, Radhames Liz and Jeff Fiorentino.
I think it’s best for all of us if I just leave it at that and not speak any more of that group of “prospects.”
So that was 15 years ago – what about in the years that have followed?
Aside from Markakis, the only two players who played a decent amount of time in Baltimore – and at a high level – between 2007 and 2022 would be Adam Jones and Manny Machado.
There were times in those years where other names would have surely been mentioned – Matt Wieters, maybe even Chris Davis at one point – but Jones and Machado are the only ones even worth discussing from the last 15 seasons.
Jones, for as great as he was – and as much as he meant to the team and the city – is likely to fall short of the votes needed to get into Cooperstown. Which is a shame, because if there’s one player who I feel would have truly appreciated everything that went along with an honor like that – including a statue and retired number at Camden Yards – it would be Adam Jones.
But…he’s very unlikely to get in.
Which leaves us with Manny Machado…who, if he continues playing at the level he has played at recently, is likely to get in.
However…the chances of Manny being inducted as an Orioles are decreasing rapidly.
He played in parts of seven seasons in Birdland, but thanks to timing, injury and trade…only four of those were full seasons.
Manny is already in his fourth season as a San Diego Padre and he’s still not yet 30 years old. So his time as an Oriole will soon become a distant memory.
Perhaps a reunion will take place down the line…one where Manny comes back to Baltimore and finishes his career as an Oriole.
But that also seems unlikely given his current contract. And even if he were to finish here, it’s doubtful that people would consider the best years of his career to have happened in Baltimore.
So that brings us to…today’s Orioles I guess?
Is there anyone on the current roster who fans might argue has a chance to make it to Cooperstown?
I suppose that any of the younger players, such as Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays or Ryan Mountcastle, have a chance if they break out. You never know what can happen in baseball.
And to be fair, I don’t know that there were too many people projecting that Cooperstown was likely for Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken in their first or second year either.
But what if the next O’s cap in Cooperstown doesn’t come from that group but instead from the current group of rookies/prospects?
That would mean we’re talking about someone from among the group of Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez, Kyle Stowers, Jordan Westburg, Gunnar Henderson or DL Hall.
So let’s think about that a minute in terms of a calendar.
Let’s say it’s Adley Rutschman…and that he has a career similar to Buster Posey. (But better, right? Let’s hope it’s actually better.)
That would mean a retirement sometime around 2034 or 2035. Let’s just call it 2034 for the sake of argument…which would make Adley 36 years old when he hangs them up. (Posey, for comparison sake was 35.)
If Adley Rutschman is a first ballot Hall of Famer who retires at age 36 in 2034…that would put him on a stage in Cooperstown for his induction in the summer of 2040.
Which means that 33 years will have elapsed between the induction of Ripken and Rutschman.
In the 26-year span between 1982 and 2007, the Orioles saw six inductees. That’s an average of one induction every 4.33 years.
We’re already at 15 years and counting without another induction. And it looks like we could easily be looking at another 18 more summers without a bus trip from Baltimore to upstate New York.
But enough of the negativity. Maybe I’m thinking about this all wrong.
Maybe improved analytics will shine a different light on the career of Markakis or Jones. Maybe Bobby Grich finally gets in and shockingly displays a cartoon bird on his cap rather than an “A” with a halo.
Maybe Machado comes back to Baltimore as part of some outlandish trade pulled off in the next couple of seasons and ends up spending the majority of his career as an Oriole.
But if those things don’t happen…who do you think will be the next Oriole to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame representing the team? And what year do you project that this will happen?
Let me know in the comments or via twitter: @TrustYourStuff.