Several years ago, at the height of Ron Santo’s Hall of Fame-related tantrum-throwing, I made the argument that Santo’s five Gold Gloves meant almost nothing due to their general irrelevance to true fielding ability and how more often than not they’re more reflective of a player’s offense than of his defense. Witness Eric Chavez over Joe Crede or, until this year, Derek Jeter over anyone else. It’s not that Gold Gloves are entirely meaningless, but they tend to reflect less on the caliber of a player than people think; chalk this up to human tendency to just believe in the significance of awards, I suppose.
But when you look at Gold Glove winners past, you tend to notice a pattern in the repeat winners; they’re not necessarily players anyone remembers as great. Mark Langston. Tony Fernandez. Even our old pal Grindy McGrinderstad took home three – three! – as an outfielder for the Angels. There are some fantastic players among those winners, absolutely, but on the whole they don’t scream “greatness!”
Which brings us to today’s announcement that our very own Mark Buehrle took home the hardware from the hill for his excellent glove work this season. Buehrle’s always been a good fielder, and we know this, and we all kind of knew that as long as Mike Mussina refused to quit and Kenny Rogers refused to die, he would never get any recognition for it. And lo, they relented, and Buehrle joined the ranks of the Langstons, Rogerses, and Mussinas of the world and all told, that seems about right.
When you look at the names on those lists of winners, what do you see? Generally speaking, every player on that list can either be called “Legend” or “Local Cult Hero,” with very few in-betweens, and I think all signs point to Buehrle’s career ending up as the latter, somewhere on par with an Andy Pettite or a Jack Clark, players described by outsiders as pretty good and by daily witnesses as something special. Not like a well-kept secret, but like something the day-in, day-out fans have never seen before. No one in baseball will ever tell you Buehrle is one of the best pitchers around, but on the South Side of Chicago you could ask 100 people and 90 would tell you he’s the greatest to ever wear the capital X.
The real diagnosis obviously lies somewhere in between, but now we know the baseball powers-that-be agree: Mark Buehrle is at least pretty good. Not just regular good, either: we’re talking Mark Langston good here, people.