- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

Their names are forever linked with the Baltimore Orioles, the men who have been the face of this franchise over the course of the last 48 years.
You need not mention their last names, because in all of their cases, the first name will suffice: Brooks, Frank, Eddie, Cal. They are the Orioles, and the Orioles are them.
And for the first time since baseball was in its infant stages in this town, not one of them still wears a Baltimore uniform.
Every season since Brooks Robinson made his debut in 1955 (the year after the St. Louis Browns moved east), at least one of those four giants has played for the Orioles.
Frank Robinson's Baltimore career (1966-71) coincided with the middle portion of Brooks' 23 years at third base. Brooks' final season in 1977 was also Eddie Murray's rookie year. And by the time Murray left town in 1989 (he did come back for part of the 1996 season and later as a coach), Cal Ripken was already well into The Streak and had assumed the throne as the face of the Orioles.
Ripken, of course, retired last season, and Murray recently left to become hitting coach of the Cleveland Indians. In the process, the link was broken. The organization no longer has a face.
Brady Anderson, who played 14 seasons with Ripken, could have taken over the title, but he was released last November. Even had he stayed, Anderson's days were numbered and the 38-year-old's production had greatly diminished in recent years.
The player with the most clubhouse seniority now is pitcher Scott Erickson (acquired during the 1995 season), though today he'll be making his first game appearance in 20 months after undergoing elbow surgery in 2000. Shortstop Mike Bordick is next on the list, having joined the Orioles in 1997, though his service is not continuous (he spent the second half of the 2000 season with the Mets).
Is there one player on this team that can sustain the legacy?
"No one player can take that torch," said Jerry Hairston, in his second full season in the majors. "I think it will be a collection of guys."
Indeed, without one true household name on their roster, the Orioles are marketing the team concept in 2002. A host of players are appearing in commercials and team promos this year, from youngsters like Hairston and Jay Gibbons to veterans Bordick and Jeff Conine.
There are certainly plenty of unfamiliar faces to choose from. Baltimore figures to have about 15 players under the age of 30 on its opening day roster.
"If you're looking for younger guys, just look around the room," said Gibbons, a 25-year-old outfielder. "There's a ton of them."
But someone must emerge from the pack. Someone must take control and say, "This is my team."
Who is the most likely candidate? According to no less an authority than the Iron Man himself, it could be Hairston.
During his retirement press conference last June, Ripken specifically mentioned the 25-year-old second baseman by name when asked who he though the next face of the organization might be.
"Any time you get Cal Ripken's endorsement, it really sets you back," said Hairston, the Orioles' first homegrown, position-player prospect since Ripken to stick in the big leagues. "I was kind of surprised but pleased that he would say that. But I think, especially now that Cal's gone, there's not one person that could personify what the Orioles are about or ever take the place of Cal Ripken."
Hairston has the squeaky-clean image (a Jehovah's Witness, he never swears and he and his wife are active in the community), the baseball lineage (his father, Jerry Hairston Sr., played for the White Sox in the '80s, while his late grandfather, Sam Hairston, was the first African-American to play for the White Sox) and a whole career ahead of him.
The current Baltimore regular with the highest ceiling (when it comes to baseball talent) may be Gibbons, who surprised many as a rookie last season by clubbing 15 home runs in limited action. The Orioles' best left-handed power hitter since Rafael Palmeiro, Gibbons could make a real name for himself by becoming the first player ever to hit the B&O; Warehouse in a game.
The Orioles' marketing department must be thinking in those terms, because one of their 2002 commercials features Gibbons launching balls through various windows in the warehouse.
The fact that the organization has chosen to promote him is not lost on the unassuming Gibbons.
"It means a lot," he said. "It means they see something in me, that there's a possibility of sticking around here a while and, hopefully, putting together a nice career."
There are other potential candidates, from young pitchers Sidney Ponson, Josh Towers and Jason Johnson to injured outfielder Chris Richard to still younger players who have yet to debut at Camden Yards.
But until one of the aforementioned assumes the throne, the Orioles will live on as a franchise without a face for the first time in a half-century.
For now, the chain from Brooks to Frank to Eddie to Cal is cut off.
"You can do all the marketing you want," Hairston said. "The biggest thing is you've got to win. Until then, it's not fair to the guys who have done great things in the past. The Orioles are about winning, and we need to start winning to be compared to them."


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