Former Orioles infielder Mark Reynolds, who recently announced his retirement from baseball, says the 2012 season in Baltimore is probably the favorite season of his career — and he has no shortage of reasons as to why that’s the case.
After he was released by the Colorado Rockies last summer, the 36-year-old Reynolds said he enjoyed being home with his wife and kids, and he wavered on whether to continue his career or retire. He concluded around Christmas that he would hang up his spikes for good, ending a career that spanned 13 years, featured eight teams and produced 298 home runs.
Reynolds, a native of Virginia Beach, Va., and graduate of Virginia, was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 16th round of the 2004 MLB Draft. After a four-year stint with the D-Backs from 2007-2010, Reynolds was traded to the Orioles for right-handed reliever David Hernandez in December 2010 to solve the club’s third base riddle.
Reynolds played a role in the Orioles’ improbable run of success in 2012, when they finished 93-69 overall. It was Baltimore’s first winning season and playoff run since 1997.
“It was such a loose clubhouse. Guys were playing for each other,” Reynolds said on Glenn Clark Radio April 13. “Early summer, Camden was packed. I still remember the game against the Yankees where I think we had three or four straight home runs to take the lead and that place was rocking. It was so much fun, and then we got back for the playoffs and got to play home games against the Yankees there. Just to be in that atmosphere and that environment, it’s always fun when you’re in it because the fans are into it, but there was something special about being at the yard.”
The 2012 Orioles, rather infamously, won 93 games despite a +7 run differential due in part to a 29-9 record in one-run games and 16-2 mark in extra-inning games. They hit 214 home runs as a team, the second-best mark in the American League, with seven players hitting double-figure homers. Orioles relievers posted a 3.00 ERA, the second-best mark in the majors.
The Orioles went 38-20 from Aug. 1 to the end of the regular season. What triggered that run? Reynolds might have seen it coming. Reynolds recalled straining his oblique in May 2012, later reporting to Double-A Bowie for a rehab assignment and seeing firsthand how good top prospect Manny Machado was. Machado’s early August promotion took the Orioles to another level.
Veteran J.J. Hardy was entrenched as the Orioles’ steady shortstop, but the club was having problems at third base, with Robert Andino, Wilson Betemit, Ryan Flaherty, Steve Tolleson and Reynolds all getting turns at the hot corner. Baltimore badly needed a defensive upgrade at third, and Machado transformed the defense.
“The team takes on its own personality, and I think that year we just thought we were never out of it,” Reynolds said. “We were so close in that clubhouse. Everyone was pulling for each other. There were no individuals trying to do individual things. Everyone was pulling on the same end of the rope. When you get into those situations and a team kind of comes together like that, it’s really fun to be a part of. Being down two or three runs late in the game, we had a lot of sluggers on that team. One swing of the bat could change it. We played solid defense when Manny came up and went off.”
Reynolds got off to a rough start at the plate in 2012, but he rebounded with a solid second half, hitting .231/.334/.462 with 16 homers after the All-Star break. But his biggest contribution to the team was how well he took to first base; he started 105 games at first base that year after starting just 43 games there in 2011.
With Machado at third and Reynolds at first, the defense took on a unique look, with Reynolds’ toe drags and belly flops at first quickly becoming the stuff of legend.
“I was honestly learning on the fly. I had never played first base before,” Reynolds said. “It was either that or go DH and I was like, ‘No, I don’t want to DH.’ I went over there and just kind of taught myself. Obviously, we had some instruction from the coaches but it just came natural, just the footwork. Whatever I did I guess kind of worked and I guess it’s what came easiest to me rather than trying to be robotic over there and trying to do everything the right way. I kind of did it my way. I guess the toe thing kind of became a thing for a little while and just kind of learned on the fly.”
Shortly after Machado was called up, it appeared Machado and Reynolds had hooked up for a spectacular out, something they did often from August on. Detroit Tigers infielder Jhonny Peralta hit a ground ball down the third base line, which was corralled by Machado. He spun and threw a rocket to Reynolds, who was initially ruled to have held the bag with his foot.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland successfully argued the call. Reynolds threw his glove on the dirt, jawed at the umpires and got ejected. Manager Buck Showalter got tossed as well. The call didn’t lead to any runs, but the Orioles ended up losing, 5-3.
“This was before replay. The first base umpire called him out, and so Jim Leyland comes running out of the dugout and he’s like, ‘Hey, can you ask the other umpires what they think?’ And I’m like, ‘There’s no way. You had the best view, dude. You can’t overturn the call,'” Reynolds recalled. “They sit there in their little huddle and call him safe. … I just couldn’t believe that another umpire thought that they could see that I was on the bag. And it turns out if you freeze-frame it, I was on the base. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a big game. We needed the win.”
Reynolds touched on several other topics as well, including …
On hitting a home run into the second level of Camden Yards in 2011:
“I just remember everyone making a big deal out of it because maybe one other one had been hit up there before. It was just one of those moments where the wind was blowing out [and] I got a cutter middle, middle away and swung as hard as I could. All the elements were right that day. It was hot out, day game, ball was flying. It was one of those swings where you swing hard in case you hit it, which I did a lot in my career. I connected right on it. It was pretty neat because I hit it and it was gone. I just put my head down and started running. And then I got in the dugout and the guys were like, ‘Dude, it went in the second deck. Never seen a ball hit up there before.’ That was pretty cool.”
On becoming a meme when he ate sunflower seeds during a David Ortiz home run trot:
“One of my wife’s best friends is a photographer and we’re doing family pictures, which is the worst day of the year. We’re out at this warehouse doing whatever. We’re taking pictures in these windows. We get done and my wife’s friend sends us over a picture and it’s all my family all dressed up and then me all dressed up in the Orioles uniform eating sunflower seeds. It’s actually hanging up in my little sports room right now. It’s pretty cool. It kind of took a life of its own. I was just standing at third base pissed off. David Ortiz just went deep, and I just wanted some sunflower seeds and it turned into a whole thing.”
On playing for Buck Showalter:
“From what I understand, he still wants to manage, so he’s still got some chances. I don’t know what the criteria is for Hall of Famers for managers — I assume you’ve got to have a World Series — but knowing Buck and playing for him for a couple of years, he’s just a great manager of people, great leader, and he always puts guys in positions to succeed. It stinks that he never got one or hasn’t gotten one yet, but if he gets another chance, I would love to see him get one. He actually texted me [April 12] congratulating me on retiring and things like that. It was just out of the blue, and he had some nice things to say. I love hearing from old managers just to get connected again, because you’re with these guys more than you are your family during the season and you become real close with people. It was good to hear from Buck again.”
To hear more from Reynolds, including his thoughts on playing the 2020 season in isolation, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles