When I was growing up and really starting to love baseball in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the St. Louis Cardinals were terrible.
I’ve heard antidotal evidence that Anheuser-Busch, who owned the Cards at that time, were pretty much the basis for the movie “Major League”, but since Native American’s were more palatable to make fun of, they made the Cleveland Indians the featured star.
You never, ever, make fun of the largest brewer of beer in the country. You just don’t.
So by the time October rolled around, about the only thing my young self would look forward to was seeing if Ozzie Smith could win another Gold Glove.
I don’t know why I took such a weird pride in his streak of 13 consecutive Gold Gloves, but I know that every time it was announced that he won another one it was some sort of validation that what I was watching on regular basis was more than just average shortstopping… it was gold.
This week, it was announced that Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols amongst others were recipients of the 2010 Gold Gloves. Press releases were sent out. ESPN created fancy graphics. The sports sausage was made.
Unfortunately, probably unwittingly, the Gold Glove also forever forfeited its value as a meaningful award.
Back when Ozzie was building his Fort Knox of Rawlings mitts, the Gold Glove voters were lazy. The managers would fill out the names that they thought were good, turn them in and sometimes a mild dust-up would occur in a city if someone was robbed. The rest of us? We didn’t really care. And to be honest, we didn’t know any better. The managers got to see all these teams on a regular basis… we didn’t.
Now? Well, now we do. If you want to spend the money, you can literally see every single baseball game in an entire season. It’s all beamed, streamed and archived for ongoing analysis every day of every season.
Further, there is a whole new generation of Bill James-esque pundits and writers that are using advanced metrics to further scrutinize the award and push the thinking of what makes a great defensive player at any given position.
The voting, though? That really hasn’t changed. Give ballot to manager. Manager puts down a name he knows.
Which brings us to Derek Jeter.
The 2010 Gold Glove winner at shortstop for the American League didn’t deserve to win the award. He just didn’t.
If you go by things like the Fielding Bible or Zone Ratings, he didn’t deserve it. If you go by the eyeball test, he didn’t deserve to win it. Turns out that the only people that thought he deserved it were the managers too lazy to look at anything other than a list of names.
His named was called a day before the NL Gold Gloves were awarded. So when Yadi and Pujols got the nod you know what the reaction was?
Mild congratulations mixed in with a little “but if Jeter can win one…” line of snark mixed in. I’m sure people thought they were being funny or cute. Really, though, they were ringing the death knell for what I thought was a pretty venerable award.
From this day forward, I’m not sure that we can really ever use the Gold Glove as a standard of excellence for defense. Hell, I’m not sure that we should have ever.
I guess I couldn’t have been cynical enough to know better when I was younger, but it still makes me kind of sad that any time the conversation of ‘best SS of all time’ comes up, my whole 13 Gold Gloves for Ozzie argument is going to hold about as much weight as using Barry Bond’s HR’s in the ‘best hitter of all time’ debate.
Worse, yet- Jeter is going to sign a multi-million dollar free agent contract in the next couple months AND sleep with Minka Kelly.
Meanwhile, we’re left with tarnished gold.