MLB Playoffs 2011: 25 Defenders You'd Most Want the Ball Hit to in Huge Spot
Nowadays, fans in general watch MLB to see offense. That’s just the way it is.
However, defense has been glorified through a variety of ways on sports entertainment shows across the cable channel lineup, including ESPN, MLB Network and others.
Players today love to be included in the “Plays of the Week.” The flashy catches, such as reaching over the wall to pull back a home run, diving grabs, behind-the-back flips to second base, scooping a ball to first to nip a runner by a half-step—a multitude of incredible defensive plays can now be seen every single night.
However, great defense in baseball during the postseason is what can change the whole makeup of a game.
In 1970, Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson was selected as the World Series MVP partially because of his defense. It didn’t hurt that he hit .429 and belted two home runs for the Baltimore Orioles against the Cincinnati Reds. However, he made several sparkling plays at third during the series that sealed his MVP votes as well.
Throughout baseball’s history, there have been quite a few players who stood out because of their fabulous defensive play, and we will attempt to highlight the top 25 defenders that you would most want on the field in a pressure-packed postseason game.
And here we go…
When picking players for this particular list, one would be hard-pressed not to include Torii Hunter.
During his 15-year career, Hunter has created a highlight reel as long as a typical Movie of the Week feature.
There may have been no catch as eye-popping as the home run he took away from slugger Barry Bonds during the otherwise completely screwed-up 2002 All-Star Game.
Hunter has yet to reach the World Series, but there is no doubt that in his prime, he was the type of player who you wanted in your outfield—a man who would go through walls for you.
Ken Griffey Jr.
Like Torii Hunter, center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. unfortunately never made it to the World Series during his career. If he had, who better to roam the outfield when needing a huge defensive play?
Griffey won 10 straight Gold Gloves, and his reckless style of play and the way he went after every single ball hit anywhere near him were primary reasons why his later career was marred by injuries.
However, if needing to go into battle with the finest, Griffey would clearly be a man to go with.
There may have been no finer second baseman defensively than Roberto Alomar.
A man with incredible range, Alomar made even the hardest plays look incredibly easy. Inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame this year along with Bert Blyleven, Alomar was one of the guiding influences that led the Toronto Blue Jays to consecutive World Series championships in 1992-1993.
Baltimore Orioles shortstop Mark Belanger never won any hearts and minds with his bat, compiling a .228 lifetime average and batting just .183 during postseason.
But defensively, the left side of the Orioles' infield was clearly in good hands with Belanger at short and Brooks Robinson at third. Belanger won eight Gold Glove in his career, and while not flashy, he was one of the steadiest shortstops ever to play the game.
Only one particular play leads me to want this player on this list, and it was one of the most incredible throws in the history of baseball.
On April 27, 1998, the Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder unleashed a throw from the warning track against the fence to nail Neifi Perez at third base. The throw not only made it there on the fly, but it was accurate and in time to easily tag a stunned Perez.
If I'm looking for a right fielder to make a crucial throw when most needed in postseason play, that's the right fielder I want on my team.
Tampa Bay Rays first baseman amazingly has no Gold Glove Award to his credit. However, he is easily one of the slickest defensive first baseman in the major leagues.
From July 20, 2008, to August 21, 2010, Kotchman fielded 2,379 consecutive balls without making an error, breaking a record previously held by Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis.
While Kotchman doesn't have the hardware on his mantel for his defensive prowess, he is clearly a man I want manning the first-base bag in a pinch during the postseason.
During the New York Yankees' run of three straight World Series appearances and two wins in the mid-1970s, slick-fielding Craig Nettles anchored the hot corner.
Nettles won the Gold Glove Award in the years that the Yankees won their back-to-back World Series championships, and Nettles was a key figure who provided outstanding defense during the postseason.
With speed to burn and an uncanny ability to be a pest at the top of the batting order, center fielder Kenny Lofton was a key component on a Cleveland Indians team that twice went to the World Series in the mid-1990s.
As much as Lofton was a pain offensively for his opponents, oftentimes he aggravatde them even more defensively. Winning four straight Gold Gloves, Lofton often left opposing hitters exasperated with his amazing circus-like catches in center field.
There are a number of first baseman who were slick with the glove through the years, and many of them would be worthy of this list. However, first baseman Mark Grace proved to be a guiding force that solidified the infield for the Arizona Diamondbacks during their 2001 World Series championship season.
With four Gold Glove Awards to his credit, Grace played the first base bag exactly as his name indicated—with grace.
He also got the D-Backs' rally started in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series with a single, which led to the heroics of Luis Gonzalez later in the inning.
Cuban-born left fielder Sandy Amoros had a brief seven-year career in the majors and never really distinguished himself offensively. However, in the decisive Game 7 of the 1955 World Series for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Amoros made a defensive play that forever defined his career and made his name unforgettable in the minds of Dodgers fans.
During the sixth inning of Game 7 against the powerful New York Yankees, manager Walter Alston moved Amoros into left field, replacing Jim Gilliam, who moved to second base. After the first two batters had reached base, Yankees' catcher Yogi Berra came to the plate.
Berra took an outside pitch and lifted a fly ball near the left-field foul line. Amoros raced over and at the last minute reached out to grab the ball. Amoros then fired to relay man Pee Wee Reese, who doubled off the runner at first base, effectively killing the Yankees rally.
Amoros' outstanding play helped lead the Dodgers to their first-ever World Series championship.
As a defensive replacement, I'll take Amoros in left field whenever I need a solid glove in a pinch during the postseason.
His 11 Gold Glove Awards speak for themselves, and Keith Hernandez has gone down in history as one of the greatest defensive first basemen who ever played the game.
However, Hernandez' steadying influence and leadership for the 1986 New York Mets was a key a factor in their drive toward the NL pennant and World Series championship. Hernandez literally changed the way teams attacked with his ability to take away the bunt and his overall defensive prowess.
When I want a player to man the first base bag in the most important game of the year for my team, Hernandez will be the one to turn to.
He wasn't nicknamed the Wizard because of any fancy magic tricks; he simply made playing shortstop look like magic.
When Ozzie Smith was traded from the San Diego Padres to the St. Louis Cardinals in late 1981, he instantly reaped dividends for the Cardinals, who went to the World Series three times in the next six years after the trade.
Smith's wizardry at shortstop is second to none, and his inspired play was a key to the Cardinals' success during the 1980s.
During his career with the Atlanta Braves, center fielder Andruw Jones made playing center field look like a simple romp in the park.
Although he later became known as a power hitter, it was Jones' defense that made him a fixture in the Braves' lineup, with 10 straight Gold Glove Awards from 1998-2007. Jones turned diving catches into an art form, and his many leaps at the wall to bring back what would have been home runs for opposing hitters are legendary indeed.
There may be no other player in baseball history who recorded more amazing catches on video than former center fielder Jim Edmonds.
Credited by MLB Network with the second-greatest defensive play ever made while a member of the Anaheim Angels, Edmonds continued working his magic in center after going to the St. Louis Cardinals.
In Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS against the Houston Astros, Edmonds made an incredible diving catch off the bat of Brad Ausmus, allowing the Cardinals to keep close and eventually win the deciding game.
One has to see the video to fully appreciate this play, but because MLB Advanced Media is so fiercely protective of its footage, we can't show it to you. However, the play that Chris Young made in Game 5 of the NLDS on Friday absolutely makes him a warrior I'll go to battle with in any important postseason game.
Jones channeled his inner-Willie Mays spirit with an incredible catch to rob Jerry Hairston, Jr. in a game that the D-Backs eventually lost in extra innings. However, Young's catch is indicative of the type of defensive player he has become.
"We'll see you tomorrow night!"
Those were the famous words issued by legendary broadcaster Jack Buck after Minnesota Twins center fielder Kirby Puckett lifted a home run over the left-field fence in the bottom of the 11th inning in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series.
However, it was Puckett's amazing catch in the third inning off Braves' slugger Ron Gant up against the Plexiglas fence that helped propel the game into extra innings and led to Puckett's famous home run.
Check out the catch at 2:33 into the attached video.
New York Mets outfielder Ron Swoboda was never known as a solid defensive player. In fact, players nicknamed him Rocky for his less-than-reliable ability to catch a routine fly ball hit his way.
However, in Game 4 of the 1969 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles, Swoboda took on the Rocky persona in a more positive way.
In the top of the ninth inning, with the Mets clinging to a slim 1-0 lead and leading the Series 2-1, the Orioles had runners on first and third with one out and Brooks Robinson at the plate. Robinson hit a fly ball to right-center that appeared like it would fall in.
Swoboda, racing from right field, dove for the ball, stabbing it for the out. While Frank Robinson scored from third on the play, Swoboda easily prevented the tying run from scoring. The Mets would go on to win the game in extra innings, and they captured their first-ever World Series championship the following day.
Whenever Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez decides to finally retire, he will go down in MLB history as the greatest defensive catcher in the history of baseball, bar none.
For the Florida Marlins, Rodriguez' play behind the plate was a huge factor in the Marlins capturing their second-ever World Series championship, one that wouldn't have happened if he hadn't adeptly blocked the plate in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the NLDS against the San Francisco Giants.
Rodriguez, who is not a large man, adroitly blocked J.T. Snow's attempt at barreling him over and jarring the ball loose in his attempt to score the tying run, allowing the Marlins to move on in the playoffs.
Former shortstop Walt Weiss was never regarded as a flashy player, never won any awards, and was definitely not fleet of foot. However, he was a steady defensive player who never got the credit for his great glovework.
That great glove certainly came in handy for the Atlanta Braves in the 1999 playoffs.
In the 10th inning of Game 3 of the NLDS against the Houston Astros, with the score tied 3-3, the bases were loaded with one out, and John Rocker was on the mound. Astros catcher Tony Eusebio ripped a Rocker pitch that appeared destined for the outfield, giving the win to the Astros.
However, Weiss dove for the ball, somehow came up with it, and threw home to force Ken Caminiti for the second out of the inning. Weiss would later say that the smash nearly ripped his glove off his hand.
"There's not a whole lot to think about. It's one of those plays where you put your glove where you think the ball is going to go," Weiss would later say. "Given the situation and what was at stake, it's probably one of the greatest plays I've made."
It was certainly a great enough play to want to put Weiss on this list. I'll take a guy who makes a dive like that any day of the week, and twice on Sundays.
When it came to playing third base, no one in baseball did it better than Baltimore Orioles Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson. With 16 consecutive Gold Glove Awards to his credit, Robinson is absolutely regarded as the best to ever field the position.
But his incredible defensive prowess in the 1970 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds will forever be regarded as one of the most incredible displays of defense in postseason history.
Robinson foiled the Reds time and time again with his trusty glove, and fans across the country who had never witnessed Robinson's amazing glove work were instantly awed by his wizardry at the hot corner.
New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter has certainly garnered quite a few achievements during his career—Rookie of the Year Award, five Gold Glove Awards, and earlier this year he became the 28th player in history to amass 3,000 hits.
However, his amazing flip play in the 2001 ALDS against the Oakland Athletics was forever documented and considered as one of the greatest plays in MLB postseason history, and one that defined Jeter's career as an instinctual player who seemingly knew what to do in any given situation.
In Game 7 of the NLCS between the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals, outfielder Endy Chavez made an eye-popping catch that saved the Mets' season, temporarily.
According to the New York Times:
But in the sixth inning, when Rolen hit a high drive to left field, Chávez looked for the ball, felt for the fence, reached for the World Series.
He leapt off the warning track as though it were a trampoline. For a moment, Shea Stadium went as quiet as the middle of winter.
Chávez’s right arm, decorated with a bright blue wristband, shot into the night sky. His glove, looking as wide as a fisherman’s net, bent over the left-field fence.
The fence was emblazoned with the slogan: “The Strength To Be There.” That slogan is about to get a lot of airtime, even though the Mets are not.
“When I caught the ball, my glove almost fell off my hand,” Chavez said. “I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to keep it on.”
Chavez had the ball, but barely. It was sticking out of the top of his glove, a flash of white cowhide visible over dark leather. As Chavez descended to the dirt, he used his left hand to corral the top of the ball and push it back into his glove.
Oliver Pérez, the Mets’ starting pitcher, jabbed a fist into the air. David Wright, the Mets’ third baseman, hopped on one leg. The crowd did a double-take.
“I saw something in his glove, but I didn’t know what it was,” said Anderson Hernández, a Mets infielder. “I wasn’t sure it was the ball.”
Instead of tipping his cap, Chávez casually hit his cutoff man. He threw the ball to José Valentín, who threw it to Carlos Delgado, doubling Jim Edmonds off first base.
Unfortunately, Chavez could not reach the ball hit by Yadier Molina in the ninth inning that eventually doomed the Mets.
In 1972, the Oakland Athletics were beginning their run of three consecutive World Series championships and were loaded with great players, such as Reggie Jackson, Vida Blue, Catfish Hunter, Gene Tenace, and left fielder Joe Rudi.
In Game 2 of the 1972 World Series at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Rudi climbed the wall in left field to rob Denis Menke of a potential game-tying double. Rudi's game-saving catch allowed the A's to go on to a 2-1 victory and ultimately take the series in seven games over the Reds.
In 1992, the Toronto Blue Jays were in their first-ever World Series, facing the powerful Atlanta Braves. With two runners on base, Braves outfielder David Justice hit a blast to deep center field.
Blue Jays center fielder Devon White raced back from shallow center and made an incredible catch up against the wall and fired the ball back in. Umpire Bob Davidson blew the call that should have resulted in a triple play, but nonetheless, White's catch ended a potential rally by the Braves, who would later lose the game 3-2.
With White's seven Gold Glove Awards during his career, he is definitely a player worthy of playing in my outfield when needing the best defensive players to pull out a postseason victory.
With 12 Gold Glove Awards to his credit, Hall of Fame center fielder Willie Mays is considered by many to be the best all-around player in the history of baseball.
He certainly helped cement that legacy with his amazing catch in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series between the New York Giants and Cleveland Indians.
While some may the catch itself wasn't that great, what made the catch incredible was that Mays was playing in shallow center field at the time Vic Wertz hit the ball. Back then, the outfield fence was 460 feet from home plate, so Mays had to run an incredible distance just to even get to the ball. With runners on first and second, Mays quickly turned and relayed the ball into the infield, allowing the lead runner only to advance to third.
It was just one of many amazing plays that Mays mad during his storied career.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle. Follow Doug on Twitter, @Sports_A_Holic.