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The Outfield Gold Glove Sham
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
October 13, 2005

So I am sitting here watching the NLCS, and Jim Edmonds makes one of his fantastic catches for which he is so well known.

A word about Edmonds – you know, it seems that most people are bent on dogging him. There are two schools of thought on his great catches. The first says that he is selfish and times his catches, so that he might turn otherwise mundane fly balls into highlight reel fodder. The other school of thought is that he is so slow that he has to constant dive to make great catches because he can’t track anything down. Both of these are unkind assessments of the player. All I know is that the catch he made while he was with the Angels, the one where he dove flat out with his back to the plate and caught the ball fully extended, was one of the three greatest plays I have ever seen.

As an aside, I would put that play way ahead of Willie Mays' "the Catch," which was also a fantastic play. Willie once said that he used to wear his hat a size too big so that it would fly off of his head when he ran the bases, to make himself look fast. Just sayin'.

Anyway, back to Edmonds. The announcers are sitting there looking at the replay, and they mention that Edmonds has won seven Gold Gloves in his career, including the last five.

For just a moment, this hit me as odd. "You mean to tell me that Andruw Jones hasn't won a Gold Glove in the last four seasons?" I thought to myself. I was bewildered. Then, the moment passed, and I realized – of course, because they award Gold Gloves for outfielders to the top three outfielders, regardless of which outfield position they play. It all came back to me.

Let me just say – in years past, I was more passive towards this phenomenon. I mean, after all, the centerfielders have the most terrain to govern, plus they have to call off the other outfielders on fly balls. But then something very important happened – I joined a softball league. And, as luck would have it, I got to play centerfield.

For several weeks, I manned centerfield for my softball team in City Park in New Orleans. And for several weeks, I was very good. Every ball that came to me, I caught easily. This game was simple. Ball comes off the bat, I follow it, call it, and catch it. No problem.

Then one day our leftfielder couldn't make the game. Our captain came up to me and, with the kind of camaraderie reserved for conversations between two men who know how the game is supposed to be played, he entrusted me with a switch to leftfield. "This team has a lot of righties, so I need the best guy in left field." I smiled, knowing as he did that the "best guy" was me, and I took my position.

Well, the leftfielder never returned, so the job was mine for the rest of the year. And I was never the same. In fact, I was down right terrible.

First of all, balls hit to left field are simply hit harder than balls to centerfield. I guess it makes sense intuitively – when you pull the ball, you generally get a hold of it better than when you hit it straight away. This one time, this dude hit the ball straight at me. The moment I saw the ball hit, I put my glove up, but could not get it up fast enough. The ball hit the left field fence on a hop, and three runs scored before I had time to say "Craig Biggio."

Secondly, the ball that comes to left field does so with a strange arcing trajectory (the same for right field as well, I suppose). You know what I mean – like those replays that show a ball in the air to left (or right) clearly fair while flying through the air, then slicing foul at the last second. I think Carlton Fisk knows something about this. Anyway, those slicing balls hard to keep up with, and even when you think you have a beat on the ball, it can get away from you fast.

Thirdly – and this may just be me, or the way the field I played on was graded – but you can't see shit from left field. From center, the game is in front of you, simple and easy to see. But from left field, everyone is playing next to you. You look to your left, and the shortstop, second baseman, first baseman, umpire, and pitcher, plus any runners on base, all kind of blend into one big indecipherable mess. Not to mention the fact that the third baseman invariably obscures the hitters, so that more often than not, the ball comes flying up seemingly from the third baseman's head. Left field is simply more disconnected from the game.

I never got to play right field, but I would point out that right field has all the issues left field has, plus the added advantage of having to make all the right field to third base throws, which makes it even harder than left field to play.

Thus, in my anything but humble opinion, while centerfield is more glamorous and visible, left field and right field are more difficult positions to play, and require more skill which is not as easily translated to the highlight reel.

What is the point of all this? The point of all this that the way we award Gold Gloves to outfielders is stupid. Stupid stupid stupid. S-T-U-P-I-D.

If Major League baseball wants to award Gold Gloves to outfielders generally without giving one for each position, why not do the same for infielders. Why not award three Gold Gloves to third basemen, second basemen, and shortstops regardless of the positions they play. Why should we distinguish between the three field-the-ground-ball-and-throw-to-first positions when we don't distinguish between the three catch-the-fly-ball-and-hit-the-cut-off-guy positions?

Jim Edmonds, in my opinion, is a gifted outfielder, one of the best defensive outfielders of this generation. But you what? So is Andruw Jones, and for my money I think Andruw Jones is better. Unfortunately, they each play centerfield, which means only one of them should win a Gold Glove.

Wouldn’t it have been nice, in 1991, if both Ozzie Smith and Barry Larkin could have won the Gold Glove at shortstop. Surely they were both better defensively than Matt Williams that year, and yet because they both played shortstop, only Ozzie Smith won, and Matt Williams got to take home the trophy at third even though he couldn't carry Barry Larkin's glove on to the field for him.

Last year was particularly ridiculous as three centerfielders – Edmonds, Jones, and Steve Finley – took the Gold Gloves for the outfield positions. In the AL, it was two out of three, with Ichiro Suzuki winning for his exploits in right field along with centerfielders Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter. Amazingly, in the AL since 1988, 43 out of 51 outfield Gold Gloves have gone to centerfielders. In the NL, this number is a lot less disparate thanks to some guys named Gwynn, Bonds, and Walker.

This just in, the atrocious Bernie Williams somehow won four Gold Gloves in a row from 1997 to 2000. It is one thing to award excellent centerfielders unfairly, but it is another thing altogether to award mediocre centerfielders for no reason whatsoever.

Anyway, in short, if we want to favor the more glamorous positions on the field when it comes to Gold Glove coverage, then lets annually give Gold Gloves to three centerfielders, four shortstops, and two catchers, then tell all the other players on the field that if they want a Gold Glove, they should play a more visible position.

However, if we would like to award defensive excellence at each position, give one Gold Glove each season to each position, which means a leftfielder, a rightfielder, and a centerfielder, and be content that we have doled out the awards fairly to those fielders who are the best at what they do at their position.

And, of course we will always reserve one special Gold Glove for DH, given annually to Rafael Palmeiro.

Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Asher resides in Alexandria, VA, and can be reached at asher@baseballevolution.com.

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