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The MELVIN MORA All-Stars – Baltimore Orioles from Venezuela

    Melvin Mora is a shoo in for the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame

    Melvin Mora is a shoo in for the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame

    I’ve been thinking about Baltimore third-baseman Melvin Mora a lot lately.  After frequently defending his value on Orioles message boards in recent years, it seemed to me he was under-appreciated.  That struck me as a shame considering he’s arguably the franchise’s best ever man at the hot corner not named Brooks Robinson, holds the club’s single-season batting record (.340 in 2004), and actually has made it quite clear that he wants to be in Baltimore.

    With the 36-year-old on a .404 hitting tear since the All-Star break, and on pace to surpass 100 RBI for the second time in his career, the naysayers who wanted him benched or sent packing are surprisingly quiet.  Earlier this week, Mora made his own feelings clear by saying “People talking about that can kiss my butt.”

    I really root for a guy that toiled seven years in the Houston Astros minor league system, finally debuted in the big leagues with the New York Mets as a 27-year-old, got traded to the Orioles 14 months later and has been there ever since.  He’s the father of quintuplets, and gets hit by pitches more frequently than anybody that’s played at least 1000 games for Baltimore, but is playing some of the best ball of his career as he tries to help Baltimore to a winning season for the first time since his arrival.

    Another reason Mora’s been on my mind is that he’s one of six Venezuelans to play for this Orioles this season, more than the O’s have ever featured before.  Though Hall of Fame shortstop Luis Aparicio started for Baltimore’s first World Series champs in 1966, Mora has accomplished more in an Orioles uniform than any of his countrymen.  Here’s a chronological look back at Venezuelans that played for the O’s:

    CHICO CARRASQUEL (1959) – The Orioles traded Hall of Famer Dick Williams to acquire Carrasquel, a former 4-time All-Star shortstop, following the 1958 season.  Chico batted an empty .223 as a 31-year-old in his only season in Baltimore, and never played in the majors again.

    LUIS APARICIO (1963-1967) – In five seasons with the O’s, “Little Looie” won two Gold Gloves, went to a pair of All-Star Games and led the league in stolen bases twice.  Even his departure helped Baltimore immensely, as they got back leadoff man Don Buford when Aparico was traded to make room for Mark Belanger.  Luis has been enshrined in Cooperstown since 1984.

    LEO HERNANDEZ (1982-1983, 1985) – Hernandez was the opening day third-baseman in 1983, the last year they won a World Series, but his defensive struggles cost him a chance to prove his impressive minor league home runs totals were for real.  Overall, he batted .226 with six homers in 78 games for Baltimore.

    OSWALD PERAZA (1988} – A tall, lanky converted catcher, Peraza came over from Toronto in the Mike Flanagan trade and pitched for the awful Orioles team that started 0-21.  After striking out 10 Brewers in seven innings of one-hit work on August 6 ran his record to 5-4, Peraza’s ERA shot up to 5.55 the next four weeks.  He finished with a 5-7 record, and a litany of arm problems prevented him from ever pitching in the big leagues again.

    OZZIE GUILLEN (1998} – Guillen signed as a free agent after 13 years as the White Sox starting shortstop, went 1-16 in a utility role and got released by Baltimore after one month.  We went on to play through 2000 with Atlanta and Tampa Bay, and later managed the White Sox to the 2005 World Series title.

    MELVIN MORA (2000-present) – In 1109 games with the Orioles through 8/15/2008, Mora is a .280 hitter with 145 homers and 595 RBI.  He went to two All-Star Games, but wasn’t selected in his career year of 2004, when he had the highest single-season batting average in Orioles history and led the American League in on-base percentage.

    FERNANDO LUNAR (2000-2002) – After landing in Baltimore in a trade the sent B.J. Surhoff to the Braves, Lunar wrapped up his big league career as a back-up catcher by hitting .235 in 75 games.

    JORGE JULIO (2001-2005) – Baltimore’s closer for three seasons, Julio posted a 1.99 ERA in 2002 and saved 36 games a year later.  He had trouble keeping the ball in the park, though, and the Orioles dealt him to the Mets (with John Maine!) for injury-prone starter Kris Benson.

    OMAR DAAL (2003) – The soutpaw had won as many as 16 games in a season during is decade in the Naional League before signing with the Orioles as a free agent, but his 4-11, 6.34 nightmare in Baltimore proved to be the last major league action for the then 31-year-old.

    CARLOS MENDEZ (2003) – Mendez was with his fourth organization when he made his major league debut with the Orioles as a 28-year-old.  The chunky 1B-DH batted .222 in 26 games, and managed to have a lower on-base percentage than batting average.  He never played in the majors again.

    DARWIN CUBILLAN (2004) – Baltimore marked the fifth organization Cubillan pitched for, and he saw limited big league action for three of them prior to his uninspiring seven relief outings with the O’s.  Never pitched in the majors after 2004.

    ALEJANDRO FREIERE (2005) – A 30-year-old with his fourth organization when he made his big league debut with the O’s.  Freiere batted .246 in 25 games, including a homer run at Fenway Park, then disappeared from the majors.

    RAMON HERNANDEZ (2006-present) – Once an All-Star catcher with the Oakland Athletics, Hernandez signed a lucrative free agent contract to come to Baltimore and produced 23 homers and 91 RBI his first year.  The second year saw him fall off offensively and defensively.  Though his bat’s showing some signs in 2008, Ramon’s now 32, an age when most catchers best days are behind them.

    RAUL CHAVEZ (2006) – The back-up catcher hit .179 in 16 games in his limited duty with Baltimore, but began a string of three straight seasons with two Venezuelan catcher seeing action for the Orioles.

    LUIS HERNANDEZ (2007-2008} – Hernandez’ surprisingly strong showing after an injury to starter Miguel Tejada in 2007 helped him win the opening day shortstop job in 2008.  Concerns about his conditioning, and a glove that failed to live up to the hype weren’t enough to hold a job when his offense returned to the sub-par level that he established in the minors.

    GUSTAVO MOLINA (2007) – Acquired from the White Sox in waivers, Molina batted .222 in seven games and moved on the Mets after the season.

    GUILLERMO QUIROZ (present) – Still only 26, Quiroz is with his fourth major league team in 2008, and has already played more than with the other three clubs combined.  Injuries have held him back in previous years, but may be making a home for himself as a back-up in Baltimore.

    EIDER TORRES (2008} – One of a club-record six different starting shortstops so far this year, Salazar batted .222 in eight games, but the 25-year-old got sent back to triple-A after committing three errors in his five games at short.  He’s hitting .306 in the minors this year, so we may see him again.

    OSCAR SALAZAR (2008} – Salazar got into nine games earlier this year for the Birds, six years after his only other big league action (with the Tigers).  He slugged .647 on the strength of two homers in 17 at bats, but got sent back to the minors right around his 30th birthday.
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