April 06, 2011

X Marks the Spot-On Defense

Mark Langston, 1996 Upper Deck "Defensive Gems" series

The reason I got into baseball card-collecting in the first place was to acquire as many cards as possible that featured pitchers who field well.

I ask, rhetorically only, because the obvious answer is a resounding NO: Is there anything more exhilarating in baseball than a pitcher who fields his position adequately? (Sidebar: I enjoy the term “fields his position” because I never want to get confused and think we are talking about how a guy fields a different position that he does not play.) I mean, weak ground ball back to the pitcher? I’m on the edge of my seat! Will he get there in time? Should he, out of fear of throwing it away, underhand it to first? Granny-style!!! Boo-yah! Oh, and ground ball to the first baseman? WILL YOUR PITCHER REMEMBER TO COVER FIRST???? Arggghhhh! Also, pop-up somewhere in the infield? Who is going to point into the sky in order to bravely alert his infielders that the ball is somewhere in the sky? “Look up, a-holes! I’m not getting it—I’m the pitcher! I could fall off the mound!” The pitcher is the center fielder of the infield, if the center fielder was not allowed to go near a ball in play because he was an accident waiting to happen, and if the center fielder was directly responsible for the ball being in play because he doesn’t have a strikeout pitch.

Anyhoo, I especially craved cards that highlighted a pitcher’s ability to field—DEFENSIVE GEMS—yet showed them not playing defense. The dichotomy takes my breath away. That is why this is my favorite card in the whole world, for the purposes of this post.

All I know is this: If I’m a cameraman, and I ever have the outstanding good fortune to snap a portrait of a major league pitcher renown for his solid fielding, there’s only way I’m doing it—from the ground up, and that pitcher is crossing his arms. X-it, Langston!

BAM! In your face, lukewarm defensive pitchers! The only thing I would change here is that instead of a glove and ball, Mark Langston would be holding in one hand a wad of cash (his cash; I am broke—I’m a cameraman) and a bottle of Absolute in the other. On the bottle of Absolute, I would cross out “Mandarin” and write in permanent black marker, “Defense.” More:

When the subject of great fielding pitchers comes up,

Let’s be honest—when doesn’t this come up? It’s the only thing I talk about at parties. Also, I haven’t been invited to a party in four years.

Mark’s name is usually at the top of the list.

Usually? Dude only has SEVEN gold gloves. What an intro. When people talk about an obscure thing, sometimes they bring up this person. Wow! Where can I continue reading about this?!

Seven Gold Gloves
(’88-89, ’91-95)

In 1990, Mike Boddicker caught a ground ball in his hat and did a cartwheel to first base, wowing the voters. (Also, Langston had retired from baseball to play basketball that year, but finished second in the voting anyway.) In 1995, Langston has 26 errors, two of which caused his pants to fall down, but the voters went on name recognition alone.


Jeff said...

Growing up, Mark Langston and Chuck Finley were essentially the same guy to me. Tall lefties playing for the Angels.

Joe S. said...

I once tried to kick a guy out of someone else's party for not knowing that Albert Belle was the highest paid player on the Orioles payroll in whatever year it was.

College, right?