King Kaufman's Sports Daily

The best fielders of all time! (Or at least since '57.) There must have been online voting shenanigans, which is just how it should be.


Salon Staff
August 23, 2007 3:00PM (UTC)

Fun publicity stunt by Rawlings, a leading marketer and manufacturer of baseball equipment and other sporting goods in the United States.

Hey, do a fun publicity stunt and I'll hook you up.

Rawlings announced its all-time Gold Glove team, actually the All-Time Rawlings Gold Glove Award® Team, since the award is trademarked, but I only go so far with these things.

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It asked 70 baseball experts -- players, managers, writers -- to come up with a list of 50 of the greatest fielders since 1957, which is as far as "all time" goes because that's when the Gold Glove award was introduced. Fans voted online, though I didn't hear about it, not that I'd have voted anyway. Here are the winners, and see if you can spot the one who's not like the others:

P Greg Maddux
C Johnny Bench
1B Wes Parker
2B Joe Morgan
SS Ozzie Smith
3B Brooks Robinson
OF Roberto Clemente
OF Willie Mays
OF Ken Griffey Jr.

Wes Parker?

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He played for the Los Angeles Dodgers from the mid-'60s to the early '70s, sort of the J.T. Snow of his day, an all-field, not-much-hit -- considering the position -- first baseman who retired at 32 after a perfectly good season because he just didn't want to play anymore. He recognized the incongruity right away.

"I'm the only one of the nine who will not be in the Hall of Fame," he told USA Today. "So this is the equivalent of the Hall of Fame for me."

I don't know what kind of voting irregularities had to happen to win an online contest for a mostly forgotten guy like Parker, who at any given time in his career was less famous than about a half dozen of his teammates, and that was 40 years ago. But I'm all for 'em.

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I mean, why have an online contest if the whole thing's going to wind up making sense?

If Rawlings wanted highly debatable results, it could have saved time by just listing the all-time Gold Glove leaders, since the voting for that award is goofy enough, weighted as it is toward reputation and offensive prowess. I get that that wouldn't have resulted in all those hits on the Web site.

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Here's how the all-Gold Glove team would have looked if Rawlings had just named the guys with the most hardware.

P Greg Maddux, Jim Kaat (tie)
C Ivan Rodriguez
1B Keith Hernandez
2B Roberto Alomar
SS Ozzie Smith
3B Brooks Robinson
OF Roberto Clemente
OF Willie Mays
OF Ken Griffey Jr.

Hmm. Mostly the same. The outfield and the left side of the infield are unchanged. Kaat joins Maddux. I-Rod replaces Johnny Bench, which I don't buy. Alomar replaces Joe Morgan, which I agree with, as far as that goes.

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And Hernandez replaces Parker. I can't really speak to that one. Hernandez was obviously acknowledged as a great defender during his career, which I remember way better than I remember Parker's, but I don't remember people speaking about his defense in the hushed, reverent tones that were used to talk about Parker's.

Then again, I do remember people talking that way about Snow, who, like Parker, won six Gold Gloves to Hernandez's 11. And I don't think Snow was in Hernandez's league as a fielder.

Neither Parker nor Snow had the stature of Hernandez, thanks to his hitting. It's crazy to want to give a defensive award to a guy based on his hitting, but gosh darn it, it's also hard not to.

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Two big problems with fielding stats is that there aren't any great ones, at least not to compare across eras, and that if there were, I probably wouldn't recognize them or know how to assess them without a full-time tutor, preferably a cute one. Fielding is the toughest nut to crack in the baseball analysis game, and I'm not the guy to crack it.

For what it's worth, the advanced stats at Baseball Prospectus say that Hernandez was slightly better at preventing runs than Parker, though the fact that Parker played in a lower-scoring era might have something to do with that, and the fact that he retired before his decline phase definitely does. The typist me votes for Hernandez. The fan me, always rooting for the goofy and the underdog, goes with Parker.

The part of me that loves the old stirrup socks is sort of torn, but goes with Parker. The slightly lower '60s style was a little more suave than the '70s-'80s stretched look. Apologies to Paul Lukas.

Where was I? Oh: The actual voters voted Parker, Don Mattingly, Hernandez, Snow.

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At second base, my sense of Alomar vs. Morgan was that Alomar was a better fielder, though it may be he was just more spectacular, which is one of the things that complicates judgments about fielding. We're impressed by spectacular plays, and we remember them, but spectacular plays are sometimes caused by poor judgment or footwork or a late break. The truly great ones make the spectacular plays look routine.

And anyway, one picturesque play by a guy can make us forget a dozen lousy ones he made.

But it doesn't matter. Neither of those guys could carry Bill Mazeroski's glove. Maz made it into the Hall of Fame on his glove alone. Where's he in this vote? Answer: He finished fourth among second basemen, behind Morgan, Alomar and Ryne Sandberg. According to Baseball Prospectus' numbers, he saved almost twice as many runs per game as Morgan did, and fully twice as many as Alomar.

I'll take him to man the keystone on my defense-only team, thanks.

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Mays-Clemente-Griffey? Sure. Hard to argue with that or with Smith and Robinson on the left side. There are other names that could come up. Mike Schmidt and Ken Boyer at third, Luis Aparicio, Mark Belanger, Dave Concepcion and Omar Vizquel at short.

What surprises me about this silly exercise is that current players didn't dominate. Derek Jeter finished second in the shortstop voting, ahead of Vizquel, Concepcion, Aparicio and Belanger. That's ridiculous, but at least he didn't win. Jim Edmonds and Andruw Jones finished 4-5 in the outfield voting. I'm shocked Jones didn't win it, and I wonder if he would have last year, when he was hitting 51 home runs.

I'm also shocked that Bench beat out I-Rod, by the way.

And how about this surprise: Carl Yastrzemski finished sixth among outfielders, ahead of Ichiro.

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A silly exercise, that's what I called it. That's just what we needed this week. Thanks, Rawlings, you leading marketer and manufacturer of baseball equipment and other sporting goods in the United States you.

Previous column: Living scandal to scandal


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