Orioles: Glove story
Sorry, but I was on my flight home yesterday when the announcement came down that Adam Jones had won his first Gold Glove -- and the first by an Orioles outfielder since Paul Blair won the last of his eight in 1975 -- so I'm a little late to this party. It was no surprise, of course, since Adam's brother spilled the beans on his MySpace page last week, but it has generated quite a bit of conversation about the selection process.
Since I used to handle the balloting in Baltimore for The Sporting News (which distributed the ballots for Rawlings), I think I can give some decent insight into the situation.
The process definitely is flawed, though that doesn't mean the vast majority of players aren't very deserving. I think Adam Jones is a terrific center fielder and will go on to win a lot more Gold Gloves, but he does benefit from a format that awards three Gold Gloves to outfielders in each league without respect to their specific outfield positions.
That means there is a natural predisposition toward center fielders, who are generally considered the best all-around athletes in the outfield, and that predisposition has been magnified during the ESPN era. Since the managers and coaches who vote cannot vote for their own players, they depend on a variety of sources for information on opposing players. There is some direct observation, of course, but you can't discount the impact of the nightly highlight shows on the outcome of the voting.
In short, the guy with the most Web Gems is going to have a big advantage, and the outfielders with the most Web Gems are usually going to be center fielders. That's just the way of the baseball world right now. I don't know if that qualifies as injustice, but there are a lot of corner outfielders who get overlooked, and Nick Markakis has been prominent on that list the past couple of years.
The first year of the Gold Gloves in 1957, separate awards were given for left field, center field and right field. I think they should go back to that. If they awarded the infield Gold Gloves the way they award the outfield Gold Gloves, you'd have three shortstops and a third baseman winning in each league every year. Where's the sense in that?
But, in my opinion, the real problem with the Gold Glove selection process is the surprising weight that -- intentionally or subconsciously -- has been placed on reputation and offensive production. Past winners have a huge advantage in ensuing seasons, as evidenced by the time Rafael Palmeiro won one at first base during a season when he was the everyday designated hitter.
It's basically proof that some managers and coaches take the balloting very seriously, perusing the defensive stats carefully before making their choices, and some others take a more casual, instinctive approach that favors higher profile players.
In short, I applaud Rawlings for deciding a half century ago to create a high-profile award to reward excellence at each defensive position, but it's high time to perfect the selection process.