Now you can’t catch me. No, baby, you can’t catch me. ‘Cause if you get too close, you know I’m gone like a cool breeze. -Chuck Berry
Public Service Announcement: OK, here we go! Like the late great Harry Caray always says: “Hello again, everybody. It’s a bee-yooo-tiful day for baseball.” Defense, defense. Hold tight. Defense, defense. Fight! Fight! Fight! Flashing the old leather. That’s what here to talk about today. The web gems. What’s glove got to do with it, got to do with it? Everything.
- Who could forget Willie Mays. The Say Hey Kid. Who could forget the Catch. Jack Brickhouse couldn’t: “There’s a long drive way back in center field…way back, back! It is…oh, what a catch by Mays! The runner on second, Doby, is able to go to third. Willie Mays…just brought this crowd to its feet…with a catch…which must have been an optical illusion to a lot of people. Boy!”
- Who could forget Brooks Robinson. The Human Vacuum Cleaner. Sixteen consecutive Gold Gloves. Ain’t the beer cold?
- Who could forget Ozzie Smith? The Wizard of Oz. Back flipping his way into our hearts. The best fielding shortstop I ever saw. Go crazy folks, go crazy!
- Who could forget Roberto Clemente? The only player to have ever scored a walk-off inside-the-park grand slam. He could flash the leather. No matter what the weather. He had his shit together, boyeee. A powerful arm. A cannon for an arm. A rocket arm. Vin Scully: “Clemente could field the ball in New York and throw out a guy in Pennsylvania.” Good night, Mary Edgerley, wherever you are.
- Who could forget Jim Kaat. Kitty Kaat. Another Kaat with sixteen Gold Gloves. Kaat: “They give me this damned thing to me every year.” Holy Cow!
- Who could forget Captain Carl. Carl Yastrzemski, Carl Yastrzemski, the man they call Yaz. What, you thought a Red Sox wasn’t gonna make it? You thought I said are you alright, Spider? Playing the Green Monster like nobody’s business. Chew on this sports fans: Gold Gloves for outfield play are handed out to any three outfielders, regardless of position. Year after year, three center fielders are awarded. In the forty-five seasons that Gold Gloves have been awarded, 135 have been given to American Leaguers. Just nineteen of those went to left fielders. Never more than one in any year. Of those, fifteen are accounted for by just four men. Minnie Minoso with three. Joe Rudi with three. Dave Winfield with two. And Captain Carl. Carl Yastrzemski with seven.
But just like Big Mac, I’m not here to talk about the past. I’m here to find out who are the best defensive players in the game today. So let’s have at it. Shall we? Sure we shall.
Pitcher: Zach Grienke
You may know Zack Greinke as the reigning Cy Young award winner. You may know hom as the guy who throws a 97-mph fastball, a devastating slider, a 68-mph curveball and an occasionally devastating change-up. That’s you. I know him as the guy who is the best player defensively at his position. Greinke was a shortstop in high school, and he still plays the field like a shortstop. You may see pitchers make great plays. You may see them throw the glove up fast and make a nice stab at a screaming liner. But what you are seeing are reflex plays. Greinke knows exactly what he is doing every time.
Catcher: Ivan Rodriguez
I still hate Rodriguez for stealing Pedro’s MVP back in 1999, but that doesn’t take away from this. Since the Giants forced Mike Matheny to retire, there isn’t a better defensive catcher in baseball than Pudge. Jason Varitek is the best at calling a game, but defensively, behind the dish, nobody does it better than I-Rod. Nobody does it half as good. Baby he’s the best. He’s been the best for a long, long time.
First Base: Derrek Lee
Derrek’s been plagued by a myriad of injuries. A plethora of injuries. Wrist injuries. Back injuries. He just hurt himself Wednesday when eating before the game and a chair just collapsed on him. But when he’s healthy, he can flat out play first base. Jack be nimble, Jack be quick. Derrek is nimble around the bag. He is a master at hauling in bad throws. Stretching and scooping up bad throws. Baskin and Robbins style. Thirty one flavors, baby. Thirty one flavors.
Second Base: Orlando Hudson
If you read this space with any regularity, you know I love me some O-Dog. Orlando Hudson is a regular on Baseball Tonight highlights. A regular on Web Gems. May have the record for Gem of the Nights. May steal Bobby Alomar’s record ten Gold Gloves. Only the sixth infielder in Major League history to win a Gold Glove award in both the American and National Leagues. The best second baseman in the biz.
Third Base: Scott Rolen
The hardest working man in show business. Rookie of the Year. Seven Gold Gloves. Only Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt have more. Jim Leyland a few years back: “Let me tell you something about the Cardinals. They’ve got one of the greatest, and some people think the best, defensive third basemen of all time.” Enough said.
Shortstop: Jack Wilson
Jack Wilson was the best shortstop in baseball last year. Period. He led all shortstops in runs saved by a wide margin. He has taken over the MLB lead for most runs saved over the last three years. He has huge range. He makes the difficult plays look easy. Easy like Weezy. Moving on up. Just a stunning frequency with which he turns batted balls into outs. Now if he could just get it together with that bat. Gonna get it together. Watch it. Gonna get it together, Ma Bell. Mark Belanger, anyone?
Left Field: Carl Crawford
Laser arm. Wheels. The real deals. Tampa fans are head over heels. Making the impossible catches. The circus catches. Making them look routine. So clean it’s obscene.
Center Field: Jacoby Ellsbury
Ahhh, center field. Once, the most glamorous position in all of baseball. Once. You shouldn’t grab me, Johnny. My mother grabbed me once…Once! There was Ty Cobb. A man so good that Joe DiMaggio once said, “Every time I hear of this guy again, I wonder how he was possible.” There was Joltin’ Joe hisself. The Yankee Clipper covered so much ground in center field that the only way to get a hit against the Bombers was to hit ‘em where Joe wasn’t. It used to mean something to be the best center fielder in baseball. Like it used to mean something to be the Heavyweight Champion of the World. Like it used to mean something to be the Fastest Man Alive. I still think it means something, dammit. I’m Gumby dammit.
It means something to Jacoby Ellsbury. Backed by his blazing speed, Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury had no problem diving onto the warning-track dirt or into a patch of grass to make a highlight-reel catch. Though he is known best for his basestealing ability — particularly when he stole home in April against the Yankees — Ellsbury’s glove-work in center got him enough notice to be selected as the Defensive Player of the Year in MLB.com’s annual This Year in Baseball Awards. How about that?
Right Field: Ichiro
Ichiban. Number on on the charts, number one in our hearts. Number one from the Land of the Rising Sun. Getting it done. Ichiro’s defensive skills put him at the top of his class. His arm strength puts fear into the hearts of men. Throwing mugs out over and over again. Can I get an Amen! Dave Parker style. Roberto Clemente style. Thank heavens for Dwight Evans style.
And there you have it. Now don’t say I never gave you nothing.
Peace out homies. Six two and Even!