After Cal Ripken Jr.‘s retirement in 2001, the Orioles were destined for a rebuild. The franchise’s greatest player had finally hung up his cleats after a decorated 21-year career with the club, leaving behind two decades of surehandedness in the field and prowess at the plate.
The year prior, Baltimore had dealt away infielder Mike Bordick around the deadline to the Mets for a package of minor leaguers led by utility man Melvin Mora. Mora was 27 years old at the time of the deal and had been a below-average hitter when facing major league pitching.
However, in his seven-year minor league career, Mora had flirted with a .300 batting average across each level, showing some promise in that aspect. His best asset was his ability to play anywhere on the diamond, helping him find a spot in the lineup card and continue his development as a hitter.
Mora continued to bounce around position-wise in his first two full seasons with the Orioles, however, he began to recapture that success at the plate. 2002 was the first year his OPS+ drifted above league average, as he hit 19 HRs with 64 RBI. Defensive metrics were also starting to shift in Mora’s favor, as he accumulated 2.1 dWAR, the 4th most in the American League.
At age 30, it seemed as if Mora had finally hit his stride in the big leagues, even if it was much later than most.
Mora’s 2003 was the true beginning of his prime as Mora slashed .317/.418./503 on the season. Mora was the Orioles representative at the All-Star game, pinch-running and helping the American League to a 7-6 victory. The year was shortened to just 96 games as Mora suffered multiple injuries including a partially torn MCL after a collision with the outfield wall in Toronto.
This knee injury would not only end his season, but also his time in the outfield.
In 2004, Baltimore moved Mora to third base, a position he had not played since 2000 with the Mets. Having a 32-year-old change positions was a risky move, but it paid off in a big way.
Mora was on fire from start to finish, en route to what was by far the best season of his entire 13-year career. Both Mora’s 27 HRs and 104 RBI were 2nd-best on the O’s, behind his infield counterpart Miguel Tejada. His .419 on-base percentage led all of MLB, and his .340 batting average and .562 slugging percentage were 2nd-best and 5th-best respectively in the American League.
Even though he was not selected as an All-Star this season, Mora was named AL Player of the Month in May, and a Silver Slugger to go along with an 18th place finish in the AL MVP race.
2005 was not nearly as impressive as the prior season for Mora, but he was still a top hitter in the league. He posted a 117 OPS+, hitting another 27 HRs. His slash line (.283/.348/.474) dropped back down to where it had been prior to 2003, however, Mora was named to his second and final All-Star Game, this time as a third baseman.
Mora would spend four more seasons as the Orioles starting third baseman, playing league average baseball outside of a 2008 reminiscent of the past. By the time his Orioles career came to an end, Mora had hit 158 HRs, driven in 662 runs, stolen 82 bases, and produced a 109 OPS+. He would go on to be inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame in 2015.
In 2017, Mora’s name was listed on the BBWAA Hall of Fame Ballot. Although it would be his only time on the ballot as he did not receive any votes, being named is an accomplishment in its own right.
Melvin Mora is currently the 21st best player in terms of bWAR in franchise history and 15th since the team moved to Baltimore. While his time with the team did not yield much team success, Mora’s contributions to the club on the field should place him firmly among the top Orioles of the 2000s.
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