Tom Lohr has eaten a hot dog at all 30 MLB ballparks and is the author of "Gone to the Dogs: In Search of the Best Ballpark Hot Dog."
Defense Is King
Defense is probably the most underrated aspect of baseball. Most fans don't give it a second thought as it is one of the basic fundamentals of the game. The ball is hit in your direction and you either catch it on the fly or scoop it up and gun it to a base for an out. Considering most hits come off a batter's stick in the 100 mph range, getting to a ground ball, getting a glove on it and then tossing it to a base in some smooth motion is really an acrobatic feat not to be dismissed. Even the best hitting teams have a hard time reaching the post season without at least a decent defense on the field.
Defense can win games as much as hitting. Losing a game by a run scored via an error, or winning one by robbing the competition for a hit with a spectacular play, decides more matches than one realizes. Defense is so important to the success of the game that since 1958, the Gold Glove Award is presented to the best defensive player at each position in each league. Only one second basemen or shortstop, or any position, can win per league per season. Only the absolute cream of the defensive crop wins a Gold Glove. The award has been sponsored by Rawlings since its inception. In case you don't know the game well, Rawlings is the major manufacturer of baseball gloves.
Defense is most apparent in the middle infield, the area covered by the shortstop and second baseman. While the corners at first and third base are not to be ignored, the vast majority of ground balls are hit up the center area of the diamond in the defensive responsibility range of the shortstop (SS) and second baseman (2B). Having a Gold Glover at any of those positions give a team's defense credibility and helps win games.
But what if you had both a shortstop and a second basemen of Gold Glove caliber? The entire middle infield would be sealed tight, and the duo that turns the vast majority of double plays would be such slick fielders that advancing baserunners for the opposing team could only be achievable by a fly ball. A duo like that would be any fan's or manger's dream. Can it happen? Did it happen? The answer is yes, there are 12 SS/2B duos that flashed the leather and turned double plays like you and I change socks. Considering baseball began in the late 19th century, landing a middle infield worthy of Gold Gloves is a baseball rarity. Here are the teams and players that have accomplished it.
Luis Aparicio/Nellie Fox (1959-60)
This Chicago White Sox tandem won the first two Gold Gloves ever presented for the shortstop and second baseman positions. Aparicio was more than just a fluke. During his career, he was a 13-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year, league stolen base leader, and is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Those Gold Gloves? He won nine of them.
Nellie Fox only won a paltry three Gold Gloves (remarkable for anyone unless you are comparing them to their teammate Luis Aparicio), but he was an All-Star 15 times and was also the league MVP. Like his partner on the field, Nellie is also enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Gene Alley/Bill Mazeroski (1966-67)
I know it is hard to believe (especially for me as I can walk to PNC Park from my house), but the Pittsburgh Pirates used to be a baseball powerhouse. Not only did they have the bats, but had the titanic twosome of Gene Alley and Bill Mazeroski acting like human vacuum cleaners on the field. Few balls got by them. Alley was never a big time threat at the plate, but his defense earned him a spot on two All-Star rosters.
Bill Mazeroski is a baseball legend. It should be for his fielding, but it is for his hitting. Not his career hitting, but just one hit really. He hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series to win if for the Pirates. It remains the only Game 7 walk-off homer in baseball history. As for his defense, Bill won eight Gold Gloves and was a ten-time All-Star. Naturally, Maz is in the HOF. He and Alley were amazing on the field. How good were they? In 1966 Alley and Mazeroski turned 166 double plays, a record that has yet to be broken.
Jim Fregosi/Bobby Knoop (1967)
The Angels were still a relatively new team when this dynamic duo of double plays comprised their middle infield. Fregosi was a speedster and still holds the Angles' record for most triples in a season. His only Gold Glove year was 1967, but his bat plus defense put him on six All-Star teams.
Bobby Knoop had an anemic bat, but he was valued for the three consecutive Gold Gloves he won. He also managed to land a spot on the 1966 All-Star team.
Mark Belanger/Davey Johnson (1969, 1971)
In the late 60s and early 70s, the Baltimore Orioles were one of the best, if not the best, teams in baseball. Guys like Boog Powell and Frank Robinson supercharged their offense, but their defense was absolutely awesome. Belanger and Johnson were baseball magnets in the middle, but third base was manned by none other than Brooks Robinson, who is considered to be the best defensive third baseman of all time. During Belanger and Johnson's Gold Glove years, Brooks was also won one for third base. That gave the Orioles three Gold Glovers out of a four-man infield. It's a wonder they were ever defeated.
Belanger's glove helped Baltimore win four league championships and he won the Gold Glove eight times. Johnson also helped win those four championships, and gathered three Gold Gloves along the way as well as four All-Star spots. To most younger fans, Johnson is best remembered for his time after being a player. He went on to manage clubs for many seasons was was twice selected as Manager of the Year
Mark Belanger/Bobby Grich (1973-76)
After Davey Johnson parted ways with the Orioles, Baltimore filled his spot with Bobby Grich. Bobby was not only also a Gold Glove level player (winning four of them), but he also swung a mean bat. Grich won the Silver Slugger Award in 1981 and led the American League in home runs the same year. His glove plus bat made him a six-time All-Star.
Dave Concepcion/Joe Morgan (1974-1977)
If the Orioles were dominating the American League in the early 1970s, their rivals in the National League was another dynasty: the Cincinnati Reds, better known in those days as “The Big Red Machine.” The Reds' infield was locked down by Concepcion and Morgan. Both were feared hitters and both won Silver Slugger Awards for their prowess at the plate. Dave won five Gold Gloves and was a nine-time All-Star. Joe played in the Mid-Summer Classic ten times and also won five Gold Gloves. With that defense and offense from a middle infield, it is easy to see why the Big Red Machine is considered one of baseball's best dynasties. Joe Morgan is in the Hall of Fame as he should be. Dave Concepcion is not represented in Cooperstown, although he absolutely should be.
Alan Trammell/Lou Whitaker (1983-84)
Not only did this duo make up the longest running double play combo in MLB history, these Tigers were also proficient hitters. Shortstops are not known as good hitters in general, but Trammell managed to win three Silver Slugger Awards durning his time, Whitaker won four. Between them they earned seven Gold Gloves. Trammell was 1984 World Series MVP and selected to six All-Star teams. Whitaker made five All-Star teams and was the 1978 Rookie of the Year. All of that time on the diamond turning double plays landed Alan Trammell in the HOF, Whitaker deserves to be there but isn't.
Omar Vizquel/Roberto Alomar (1999-2001)
Vizquel is a defensive wonder. He is tied for best career fielding percentage at .985 and is baseball's all-time leader in games played and double plays turned. He played with a slew of teams, picking up an astounding eleven Gold Gloves along the way. The three-time All-Star played for a remarkable 23 seasons. Alomar comes from a long lineage of baseball players. His father and brother were also big leaguers. Roberto was not only a slick fielder, with ten Gold Gloves to his name, he was also a proficient hitter. A career .300 hitter, he won four Silver Sluggers and was a 12-time All-Star. Of these two Indians, only Alomar is in the Hall of Fame.
Edgar Renteria/Fernando Vina (2002)
Renteria should be known for his soft hands, with two Gold Gloves in his trophy case. But it is his Silver Slugger Award winning hitting that makes him famous among fans, in particular his clutch hitting. He hit the game winning single in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, and hit game winning home runs in Games 2 and 5 of the 2010 World Series. All that and five All-Star selections.
The other Cardinal, Vina, was an All-Star in 1998 and won two Gold Gloves. His career is somewhat tainted from his supposed involvement in steroid use. However, he did hit the first inside-the-park homers in both San Francisco's AT&T Park and Milwaukee's Miller Park. Both stadiums have since been renamed.
Derek Jeter/Robinson Cano (2010)
If you don't know who Yankees great and Hall of Famer Jeter is, then you don't know baseball. In 19 seasons, Jeter did it all; won five Gold Gloves and just as many Silver Sluggers, won the Hank Aaron Award twice, played in 14 All-Star games, was a World Series MVP and American League Rookie of the Year. Yeah, those are some pretty awesome credentials. Too bad he played for the Yankees.
Cano won two Gold Gloves for his defensive skills. Plus, he has five Silver Sluggers and has been on 8 All-Star rosters. All that greatness....only to be tainted by being suspended for performance enhancing drugs....twice. He would be playing in the 2021 season, if he wasn't still serving out his suspension. Go ahead and hate on Cano, you have my permission.
Brandon Crawford/Joe Panik (2016)
Crawford is still taking the field, and at this time has won two Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger. He was also an All-Star twice; all with the San Francisco Giants. His claim to baseball oddity fame is being the only shortstop to hit a grand slam in post-season play.
Panik was a long time Giant, and is currently still an active player with the Toronto Blue Jays. In his short career, he has won a Gold Glove and was an All-Star in 2015.
Andrelton Simmons/Ian Kinsler (2018)
Simmons has won four Gold Gloves in a relatively short career. He has also snagged the little known Fielding Bible Award that recognizes the best fielder in each position in both leagues. Simmons is still an active player.
His fellow Angel during two of his Gold Glover years was Ian Kinsler. Kinsler is no defensive slouch. Recently retired, Kinsler won two Gold Gloves and was an All-Star four times. His baseball oddity is that he also has Israeli citizenship. Although he never won a Silver Slugger, he tapped 30 home runs and swiped 30 bases twice.
Good "D" Earns "W"s
It's a manager's and fan's dream to have such solid defense on the field. Championship teams never have sloppy fielding. The Gold Glove is the established hallmark of fielding excellence, and pairing up a shortstop and second baseman makes sneaking hits on ground balls extremely difficult for opponents. Free agency has dashed the hopes of having long running Gold Glove tandems like there were in the 60s and 70s, but it still can happen. Gold Glove talent also comes with a hefty price tag as well, making it even more unlikely many Gold Glove duos will grace our TV screens. There is always hope though, the next Gene Alley/Bill Mazeroski combo is out there somewhere.
Liz Westwood from UK on May 17, 2021:
This is a great baseball fact file. I have friends who travelled from the UK. A baseball game was high on their list of priorities whilst visiting the USA.
CJ Kelly from the PNW on May 16, 2021:
Nice hub. Couple of forgotten guys in there too, overshadowed by their more well known teammates. Thanks.