Good Luck With Those Colorado Rockies, Melvin Mora
(This article was originally published in volume 6, number 2 of La Prensa del Beisbol Latino, a publication of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).)
In late October, the Orioles declined their 2010 option on Melvin Mora, making their longest tenured player a free agent. While the move was unsurprising considering the third baseman struggled to post a career worst .679 OPS this past season at the age of 37, Mora’s decade of service in Baltimore deserves recognition.
Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson agreed. In September, “Number 5” made a rare appearance at Camden Yards to participate in a ceremony honoring Mora for playing more games at third base than any Oriole in the club’s 56-year history, other than Robinson himself. “To receive the award from Brooks, for me and my family, we feel blessed,” Mora acknowledged to The Baltimore Sun.
Mora’s family is worth mentioning, too. In 2001, his wife Gisel gave birth to quintuplets, raising the couple’s total number of offspring to six to match Mora’s uniform number. Just two years earlier, Mora had been a 27-year-old rookie with the New York Mets. They shipped him to Baltimore in the heat of the 2000 pennant race for a two-month rental of All-Star shortstop Mike Bordick. Few would’ve imagined that Mora would last a decade with the Orioles, including a pair of All Star appearances of his own.
One of ten children reared in Agua Negra, Venezuela, Mora saw his father shot dead at point blank range when he was six, boxed as an amateur and became a professional soccer player at age 16. He later accepted $10,000 to try professional baseball with the Houston Astros, but found himself laboring in the Chinese Professional Baseball League in Taiwan by 1998 after failing to advance past Triple-A. Down but not out, he hit his way into a minor league offer from the Mets and made his major league debut the following year. He batted .161 in just 31 at bats over 66 games, but got an opportunity to play during the post-season, and batted .429 in the NLCS, including his first big league homer.
After being dealt to Baltimore, Mora performed as a semi-regular, “super sub” for a few seasons, shuttling between the infield and the outfield. When he led the AL in hitting for much of the first half and batted .317 in 2003, however, the O’s decided to let club home run leader Tony Batista depart as a free agent and make Mora the regular third baseman. Mora responded with a career year, including a .340 batting average that remains the highest qualifying mark in team history.
He started the Melvin Mora Foundation in 2005 to fund educational and medical needs in Venezuela, but his family established a year-round home near Baltimore in Fallston, MD. Though Mora’s career with the Birds appears to be over, it’s safe to say he’ll be back at Camden Yards sometime down the road to become the third Latino player in the Orioles Hall of Fame. Cuban Mike Cuellar and Luis Aparicio of Venezuela were inducted jointly in 1982.
by Malcolm Allen