MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

It was great to see Baltimore Orioles third baseman Ramon Urias selected as the 2022 American League Rawlings Gold Glove winner at third base. Urias, who was selected off waivers from the St. Louis Cardinals by the Orioles in February of 2020 and was one of the most versatile players on what was the biggest surprise team in baseball and was one of the out-of-nowhere faces that best epitomized the out-of-nowhere Orioles of 2022.

He played second base, shortstop and third for the Orioles before settling in as the club’s regular third baseman and made all the plays at the hot corner, including many that were spectacular.

He also carried a reliable bat, hitting 16 home runs; and while the Gold Glove is certainly warranted for Urias, it might have been the bat that got him over the top and made him the first Orioles third baseman since Manny Machado to win the Gold Glove, and the third in franchise history, joining the great Brooks Robinson, who won a record 16 in a row.

Urias, you see, started just 84 games at third base this season.

The Rawlings Gold Gloves used to be the recognized gold standard by which fielding excellence was measured. Yet for the past couple of decades, things have been different, and not necessarily for the better. Most of the voting on the award is done by managers and coaches, with the biggest guiding hand coming from a representative from each team’s public relations department.

The PR rep goes to the manager or the coach of the team before a game and asks him to select his Gold Glove winners at each position, and most times statistics are used in the selection process – offensive statistics, since prior to a game, a manager’s mind is on the game his team is about to play, and not selecting nine Gold Glove winners.

Thus, stats – offensive stats – are relied upon a great deal in order to speed up the process and get the PR guy out of the manager’s hair so he can start concentrating on the day’s game. For instance, for years Rafael Palmeiro was one of the best-fielding first basemen in the league – slick, smooth, made all the plays. Yet the year he finally won the Gold Glove, he was the Texas Rangers’ designated hitter for over 80 percent of the team’s games.

Now the Rawlings Company (this is not a Major League Baseball award) selects finalists for each position, and guess what? Orioles shortstop Jorge Mateo, arguably the best shortstop in the American League, was not even a finalist.

While Mateo produced some big hits for the Orioles and showed surprising power at the plate, his batting average hovered around .220 all season, just as Mark Belanger’s did when he was winning eight Gold Gloves in 10 seasons during the legitimate day of the award. And what about the great Ozzie Smith, who until he found his bat in his prime as a St. Louis Cardinal, still managed to win Gold Gloves with the Padres and in the early days of his Cardinals career despite a low batting average.

Overall, the Wizard took home 13 Gold Gloves in a row.

In fact, Hall of Fame pitcher and Orioles broadcast analyst Jim Palmer mentioned Ozzie Smith in a tweet in which he blasted the process that snubbed Mateo: “Were (managers and coaches) closing their eyes when Jorge Mateo made Ozzie Smith like plays all season at SS?” … Just give (it) to Jorge and admit U messed up.”

Mateo’s excellence was recognized, however, by a more legitimate process, as the 2022 Fielding Bible Awards, given to the best defensive players at each position by Major League Baseball and Sports Info Solutions, are voted on by a panel of experts who consider statistical analysis, the eye test and any other factor they wish to use.

In announcing Mateo as the best fielding shortstop in baseball, SIS wrote, “Shortstop was one of the most competitive positions this season when it came to the DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) leaderboard, with seven players racking up double-digit marks. Mateo’s 14 DRS finished just one behind Miguel Rojas and Jeremy Peña for the MLB lead. Mateo, though, also finished second behind Amed Rosario with a 7.5 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and led all big league shortstops by converting 72% of his double-play opportunities.”

This is not to play down the accomplishment of Ramon Urias or any of the Gold Glove recipients of 2022. They all deserve our sincere congratulations.

But Jorge Mateo is arguably the best defensive shortstop in the game, and he deserved to win a Gold Glove.

Go to the Bible if you don’t believe me.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT