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Best Infields

 

     When it comes to offense, it's pretty hard to beat the Cincinnati Reds of the mid-1970s - with two-time MVPs Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench, plus Hall-of-Fame caliber third-baseman Pete Rose and Hall-of-Famer Tony Perez, they sparked the Big Red Machine - one of the most potent offenses of all time.

     They were no slouches defensively, either, with three Gold Glovers - Morgan, Bench and shortstop Dave Concepcion.  And in 1975, steady Pete Rose led all NL third basemen except one (Doug Rader of the Astros) in fielding percentage.  But were they the best ever?  Well, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to rank them with this list of the best fielding infields of all time:

 

1. 1969 Baltimore Orioles

 

1B - Boog Powell

2B - Davey Johnson, Gold Glove

SS - Mark Belanger, Gold Glove

3B - Brooks Robinson, Gold Glove

C - Elrod Hendricks

 

     This was the high-water mark of the late '60s and early '70s Orioles superior infields - with the legendary Brooks Robinson at third, they also had a superlative keystone combination in Mark Belanger and Davey Johnson.  In 1969 and 1971, these three won Gold Gloves, book-ending the three years in which the Orioles went to the World Series.  From 1973 to 1975, Bobby Grich replaced Johnson at second, and Grich, Belanger and Robinson won Gold Gloves.  Boog Powell provided soft hands at first throughout this period.

   Before the dynastic Orioles of the late 1960s, the '64 Orioles set the record for fewest errors by an infield - just 45 - with Robinson and Luis Aparicio winning Gold Gloves, Jerry Adair at second and Norm Siebern at first.  The record stood until the 1999 Mets dethroned them.

 

2. 1906 Chicago Cubs

 

1B - Frank Chance

2B - Johnny Evers

SS - Joe Tinker, led NL in fldg pctg

3B - Harry Steinfeldt, led NL in fldg pctg

C - Johnny Kling

 

   The melodious double-play combo of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance was as good as advertised - while it is true that they didn't turn the most double plays, if you control for the fact that the outstanding pitching staff didn't give them a lot of double-play opportunities, they were head and shoulders above the rest of the league.  Third baseman Harry Steinfeldt and shortstop Joe Tinker both led the league in fielding percentage, and the Cubs committed 34 fewer errors than anyone else in the league.

     Under Chance's often brilliant guidance, what the trio did was to bring fielding into focus.  They devised new defensive strategies to defeat the bunt, the hit-and-run, and the stolen base (the key run-producing techniques of the dead-ball era) and implemented the first known version of the rotation play.

 

3. 2000 Cleveland Indians

 

1B - Jim Thome

2B - Roberto Alomar, Gold Glove

SS - Omar Vizquel, Gold Glove 

3B - Travis Fryman, Gold Glove

C - Sandy Alomar, Jr.

 

   Perhaps the most decorated keystone combination of all time, with second baseman Roberto Alomar (now a 10-time Gold Glove winner) and shortstop Omar Vizquel (a 9-time winner).  Travis Fryman also won a Gold Glove at third base.  With Vizquel committing just 3 errors all season long, the entire infield committed just 34 errors, one more than the record set by the New York Mets a year previous.

 

 

4. 1980 Philadelphia Phillies

 

1B - Pete Rose

2B - Manny Trillo

SS - Larry Bowa 

3B - Mike Schmidt, Gold Glove

C - Bob Boone

 

   This infield featured multiple Gold Glove winners third baseman Mike Schmidt (10), second baseman Manny Trillo (3), and shortstop Larry Bowa (2), though only Schmidt took the gold this championship season.  First baseman Pete Rose had the best NL fielding percentage at his position.  Catcher Bob Boone had already won two Gold Gloves, in 1978 and 1979, and would go on to win five more in 1982, 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1989.

 

 

5. 1950 Brooklyn Dodgers

 

1B - Gil Hodges

2B - Jackie Robinson

SS - Pee Wee Reese 

3B - Billy Cox

C - Roy Campanella

 

   First baseman Gil Hodges, second baseman Jackie Robinson and third baseman Billy Cox had the best fielding percentages at their positions, respectively.  Pee Wee Reese had topped the NL the year before, and catcher Roy Campanella was the premier fielding catcher of the 1950s.

 

 

6. 1982 St. Louis Cardinals

   The only year in which Ozzie Smith and Keith Hernandez - perhaps the finest fielding shortstop and first baseman of all time - shared an infield.  Tommy Herr provided outstanding defense at second base, and Ken Oberkfell led NL third basemen in fielding percentage.

 

1B - Keith Hernandez, Gold Glove

2B - Tommy Herr

SS - Ozzie Smith, Gold Glove

3B - Ken Oberkfell

C - Darrell Porter

 

7. 1999 New York Mets

   The addition of third baseman Robin Ventura, who copped his sixth Gold Glove, greatly improved an already strong infield by allowing slick-fielding Edgardo Alfonzo to move to second.  Adept as Alfonzo and Ventura were, Rey Ordonez stole the show, winning his third straight Gold Glove - the acrobatic shortstop routinely made plays across the infield that had never been seen before.  With his unparalleled creativity, Ordonez was the best fielding shortstop since Ozzie Smith - in 1999, he also cut down on his errors, making just 4, down from 17 in 1998, to lead major league shortstops in fielding percentage.  

     John Olerud provided a solid pair of hands at first; he would win a Gold Glove in Seattle the following year.  The Mets set the record for fewest errors by an infield - 33 - breaking the record set 35 years earlier by the 1964 Baltimore Orioles.

 

1B - John Olerud

2B - Edgardo Alfonzo

SS - Rey Ordonez, Gold Glove 

3B - Robin Ventura, Gold Glove

C - Mike Piazza

 

 

8. 1959 Chicago White Sox

   The keystone combination of Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox was outstanding, and catcher Sherm Lollar won his first of three Gold Gloves.

 

1B - Earl Torgeson

2B - Nellie Fox, Gold Glove 

SS - Luis Aparicio, Gold Glove 

3B - Bubba Phillips

C - Sherm Lollar, Gold Glove

 

 

9. 1968 Chicago Cubs

   Third baseman Ron Santo and second baseman Glenn Beckert won Gold Gloves (it was Santo's fifth in a row), and shortstop Don Kessinger would earn one the next season.  Ernie Banks, a former Gold Glove winning shortstop, led NL first baseman in fielding percentage.

 

1B - Ernie Banks

2B - Glenn Beckert, Gold Glove 

SS - Don Kessinger

3B - Ron Santo, Gold Glove

C - Randy Hundley

 

 

10. 1998 Baltimore Orioles

   Just 35 combined errors from first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, second baseman Roberto Alomar, third baseman Cal Ripken, Jr., and shortstop Mike Bordick.  (Their backups committed another 11, giving the infield a total of 46, one more than the record set by the 1964 Orioles - a record which was obliterated by the 1999 Mets.)

 

1B - Rafael Palmeiro

2B - Roberto Alomar, Gold Glove 

SS - Mike Bordick

3B - Cal Ripken, Jr.

C - Lenny Webster/Chris Hoiles

 

 

 


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