We understand how important this skill in every game that's played around the world. From football to soccer, lacrosse to boxing.
In baseball, players are often overlooked for their defense at certain positions, and are often praised only for the offensive skills.
If Ted Williams, who many consider to be the greatest hitter the game has ever seen, but a mediocre defensive left fielder to boot, can get elected to the Hall of Fame without a cynical word—why couldn't second baseman Bill Mazerowski, the former Pittsburgh Pirate, inducted into Cooperstown in 2001, not escape criticism?
Mazerowski was considered the finest fielding second baseman in his era, though is largely remembered for the walkoff homerun that won the 1960 World Series against the New York Yankees. But cries of cronyism prevailed when the Veterans Committee elected him to the Cooperstown. After all, how could a lifetime .260 hitter make it to the Hall of Fame?
In honor of Maz, I have decided to assemble the all-time greatest fielding team in baseball history by position.
First Base: Keith Hernandez
The former St. Louis Cardinal and New York Met first bagger made the position important for defense. True, Charles Comiskey revolutionized first base in the late 1800s, but Hernandez's great range and powerful arm, and his ability to charge homeplate on bunts made him unique. Sure, his cross-town rival Don Mattingly was close, and was clearly a better hitter, but Hernandez was more innovative and had the position down to a science. Eleven gold gloves is still a record.
Honorable mention: Mattingly, Comiskey Gil Hodges, J.T. Snow, Willie McCovey, Vic Power.
Second Base: Bill Mazerowski
Mazerowski simply dominated his position. Soft hands and great range characterized his career along with eight Gold Gloves. Actually, believe it or not, when I saw Pokey Reese play the position for the Reds several years back, I had never seen the kind of range that he displayed at the position. But I couldn't give it to a guy who didn't do it over an extended period of time. Robert Alomar won more Gold Gloves than anyone at second base, but I was never overly impressed with him.
Honorable mention: Joe Morgan, Frank White, Willie Randolph, Roberto Alomar, Ryne Sandberg, Bobby Richardson, Tommy Herr, and, believe it or not, Doug Flynn.
Shortstop: Ozzie Smith
What a shock. No one could match the "Wizard of Oz" for his range, soft hands, and acrobatic moves. Ozzie was simply the best ever. With thirteen Gold Gloves, no one even competes. Interestingly, the second best I ever saw at that position was a player that only won one Gold Glove, the current White Sox manager, Ozzie Guillen. Go figure.
It was "Doc" Adams of the New York Knickerbockers who invented the shortstop position in 1848, not to add an extra infielding position but rather to "assist in relays from the outfield."
Honorable mention: Guillen, Omar Vizquel, Dave Concepcion, Rey Ordonez, Edgar Renteria, Mark Belanger and Tony Fernandez, Rabbit Marranville.
Third Base: Brooks Robinson
No surprise here either. Brooks was the greatest hands-down, and even did it in the post season—most famously against the Big Red Machine in the 1970 World Series. 'Nuff said.
Honorable mention: Graig Nettles, Scott Rolen, Ken Boyer, Terry Pendleton, Mike Schmidt, Buddy Bell and Matt Williams.
Left Field: Carl Yastrzemski
I'm not choosing the best overall outfielders the way the Gold Glove does; I'm breaking it down by position. I was all set to choose Barry Bonds, but while he was excellent in many respects, I always thought his concentration was poor at times. Yaz was fundamentally sound and was simply the best left fielder ever. He did a great job at managing the Green Monster.
Honorable mention: Bonds, Dave Winfield (I realize he moved to right later), Dusty Baker (won a Gold Glove). Sad I couldn't put more here, left field is usually reserved for the weaker outfielders.
Center Field: Willie Mays
Wow, there are a lot of candidates here. Gary Maddox, Ken Griffey, Jr, and Joltin' Joe—but Mays was simply the best. Who else could have made that catch against Cleveland in 1954? The throw was even better.
Honorable mention: Maddox, Griffey, Jr., Joe DiMaggio, Dom DiMaggio, Andre Dawson, Andrum Jones, Jim Edmonds, and Andy Van Slyke. I'm sure there are others I'm missing.
Right Field: Roberto Clemente
A.k.a. Superman. Great throwing arm and excellent range. Those who speak about him, from Tim McCarver to Willie Stargell, rave about his defense. Even more importantly, he was a wonderful leader and a great humanitarian, too. Dwight Evans was fantastic as well, but didn't have Clemente's ability to cover vast tracts of real estate.
Honorable mention: Evans, Dave Parker, Larry Walker, Tony Gwynn, Hank Aaron, and maybe someday Jeff Francour.
Catcher: Johnny Bench
The best all-around catcher, too. No one approached Bench in terms of throwing out runners, handling a pitching staff, pop fouls, blocking balls, etc. Bench's arm was so strong that he did, in unprecedented fashion, have his right arm behind his back as the pitch was being thrown.
Honorable mention: Ray Shalk, Thurman Munson, Carlton Fisk, Jerry Grote, Jim Sundberg, Ivan Rodriguez, Bob Boone, Tony Pena and, someone I saw with my own two eyes and was duly impressed, though no one will think I'm sane: Charlie O'Brien.
Right-Handed Pitcher: Greg Maddux
We don't think of pitching as an important position to field, but Greg Maddux is the best from the right side.
Honorable mention: Jim Palmer, Bob Gibson, Ron Darling, Phil Niekro, Orel Hershiser (great pickoff move) and Harvey Haddix.
Left-Handed Pitcher: Jim Kaat
Overlooked and under-appreciated as a Hall of Fame candidate. His fourteen Gold Gloves could get him into Cooperstown, although I doubt it.
Honorable mention: Ron Guidry, Mark Langston, Kenny Rogers, Mike Hampton.
Well, here are the greatest of the great gloves of all time. It's too bad more players like Hernandez and others, can't get in the Hall of Fame on their fielding merits alone.
Maybe someday that will change.