It is so much more difficult to build a reputation as a great fielder than it is as a great hitter. The big boppers and their stats get the most pub and if you aren’t the most acrobatic, flashy fielder around, hardly anyone outside the sport will call you the best at your position. That’s where Gold Gloves come in. They represent a stamp of approval that considerable pride can be attached to–even if 10 minutes after the announcement no one outside your team or family remembers that you won.
Only among the most discerning is superior fielding ability really recognized. If a player goes on an errorless streak and it is dutifully noted in newspaper, radio and television accounts of games, the fans will know he’s got something special going on. If a player makes diving stops and the instant reply shows him to be as agile as Mary Lou Retton in his gymastic moves to hang onto the ball, people might start believing in him as a fielding god.
Gold Glove awards for the 2012 season were announced the other day and I’m guessing that no one made book which player would win the award at which position, or even made an off-the-cuff remark to a fellow baseball fan about whom might be the best in their spot. There is a lot of chatter about worthy MVP or Cy Young candidates, but nada on Gold Gloves.
I watched a bunch of Major League baseball this season, in person and on television, and if someone had come to me a couple of weeks ago and asked me to write out a list of whom I thought would win the Gold Gloves by position in each league I would have been farther off base than the time I took last place in the NCAA tournament office pool. At least that time I got some of my predictions right.
For the most part I’d say that when it comes to outfielders who do the job without making obvious mistakes, and pitchers who pick up bunts, they are harder to differentiate between than infielders and catchers who handle the most chances and probably the toughest chances.
These are this year’s winners in the American League: Pitcher (tie), Jake Peavy and Jeremy Hellickson; catcher Matt Wieters; first base Mark Teixera; second base Robinson Cano; shortstop J.J. Hardy‘ third base Adrian Beltre; left field Alex Gordon; center field Adam Jones; right field Josh Reddick. The only sure thing I would have picked was Teixera. I would have leaned towards Cano and Beltre, but I never would have guessed the others.
These are this year’s winners in the National League: Pitcher Mark Buehrle; catcher Yadier Molina; first base Adam LaRoche; second base Darwin Barney; shortstop Jimmy Rollins; third base Chase Headley; left field Carlos Gonzalez; center field Andrew McCutchen; right field Jason Heyward. This was Buehrle’s first year in the league, but he was always a good fielder in the American League. Molina was a no-brainer. Rollins is a perennial with four wins. McCutchen makes sense. The others? Could have fooled me.
This was a refreshing year. There were nine first-time winners of Gold Gloves. Sometimes in the past you had to wonder if reputation as a great fielder carried the day for a veteran and swayed the masses. While the multiple winners over the years were acknowledged great fielders, was it accurate to say that third baseman Brooks Robinson was the best fielder of the year 16 times or pitcher Greg Maddux 18 times? Those are fantastic accomplishments and I do think winning a Gold Glove is a significant achievement. And maybe they were that great. But perhaps a time or two in some season when they were physically below part or something that someone else might have had a legitimate claim to the award.
In any case I bet that every one of this year’s Gold Glove winners is thrilled to be recognized, even if by the time next season starts no one remembers that they won one.