ST. LOUIS — Brooks Robinson turns 70 in May and has made just one concession to age. At Baltimore Orioles fantasy camps these days, the ground balls get lost in his glove at first base so he doesn’t have to bounce any throws across the diamond.
During his playing days, Robinson was known as the Human Vacuum Cleaner. He had a hold on the American League Gold Glove from 1960-75. His collection was so expansive he distributed them like party favors to family members while still safely filling his trophy case.
With 16 Gold Gloves, he is tied with pitchers Jim Kaat and Greg Maddux for the most since the Rawlings-sponsored award made its debut 50 years ago. It’s a tie he playfully breaks.
“I’ve always said that pitchers don’t count anyway,” Robinson said with a laugh. “I see Jim all the time and I tell him that, too.”
Does Robinson’s collection make him the best at his position in the history of the award? That’s something the people get to decide in fan balloting to determine the all-time Gold Glove team.
The ballot will be unveiled today at Times Square in New York. Three members of the original Gold Glove team, Willie Mays, Frank Malzone and Minnie Minoso, are scheduled to attend and cast the first votes.
Whatever happens, Robinson said, it’s about time that home runs share the spotlight.
“It’s great to see defense get a little bit of attention, because too often it gets overlooked,” Robinson said. “I negotiated 23 one-year contracts, and not once do I remember the general manager taking note of any of the plays I made or factoring that in at all.”
There are several interesting choices for fans. Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith won 13 Gold Gloves, the most at his position, but current New York Yankees star Derek Jeter, who has won three and is in his prime, is also on the ballot. Johnny Bench was a 70s catching icon and won 10 Gold Gloves, but current star Ivan Rodriguez has 12.
Outfield stars from the past, such as Mays and Roberto Clemente, who won 12 Gold Gloves in a 13-year period, will be challenged by active players Ken Griffey Jr., Torii Hunter and Jim Edmonds. Griffey had a clean sweep in the ‘90s, getting all 10 of his Gold Gloves in that decade.
“There’s nothing better than a good baseball debate,” Smith said.
Kaat, who won 16 straight Gold Gloves from 1962-77, believes his reputation was enhanced when he returned to the mound three days after having his teeth knocked out by a comebacker and cleanly fielded another tough chance right back at him.
He gave away three of the Gold Gloves to the three organizations with whom he won them, the Twins, White Sox and Phillies, and donated several to be auctioned for charity.
Maddux, who won 13 of his in succession from 1990-2002, joked he keeps them in his “dig-me room” at his home.
Kaat and Robinson, who are close friends, discussed Maddux’s total at Bruce Sutter’s Hall of Fame induction last summer in Cooperstown, NY.
“Brooks said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to slow Maddux down; he’s going to catch us,’” Kaat said. “I said, ‘He already has.’”
Even at third base, Robinson has competition from Mike Schmidt (10 Gold Gloves) and Scott Rolen, who has seven and is only in mid-career.
“I’ve talked to (Tony) La Russa and Jim Fregosi, who managed him in Philadelphia, and this guy is the real deal,” Robinson said. “He can do everything.”
Fourteen players on the ballot won 10 or more Gold Gloves. Mays and Clemente top the outfield list with 12 apiece and first baseman Keith Hernandez and shortstop Omar Vizquel each has 11.
“If you’re included,” La Russa said, “I don’t think you have to win.”
One obvious omission is Barry Bonds, who has eight Gold Gloves. But his defense declined precipitously around the time he began bulking up to begin his run at the home run record.
Robert Parish, Rawlings’ president and chief executive officer, said a 50th anniversary team has been in the works since he joined the company 31/2 years ago. Parish was convinced the idea had legs when he presented a Gold Glove to Edmonds two years ago at the annual dinner held by the St. Louis chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America and was struck by the audience’s sense of awe upon viewing the trophy.
Fans can vote online at RawlingsGoldGlove.com, as well as at thousands of sporting goods retailers, by mobile device and text message, or by mail through June 19.
The company also will begin awarding Gold Gloves to college, high school and even youth league players this year.
“Defense is a really important aspect of the game,” Parish said. “It’s time it gets the attention it deserves.”