Baseball is a sport based on statistics. We are constantly calculating batting average, homeruns, slugging percent, etc. It is much harder to calculate defensive play. There are not a whole lot of different numbers to crunch. Fielding is based on what we see. For some reason, we cannot show it clearly in the form of stats, but we know a truly great defensive baseball player when we see it.
Despite it being very difficult to decide who the greatest defensive baseball player is, we can still try. There is one stat we can base our decisions on: the number of times a player won the Gold Glove Award. The Rawlings’ Gold Glove Award is given out to players who display amazing defensive performance for a season. One is given to each position for both the National and American leagues following each season. The winner of the award is voted on by coaches and players throughout Major League Baseball.
The award was started in 1957. Therefore, any top notch defensive players prior to that year cannot be counted in the list. However, the players on this list are some of the best in the history of the game. Many are members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. It should not be too much of stretch to think that these are in fact the best fielders baseball has ever seen.
Before getting into the rankings, it should be noted the Gold Glove Award does receive a good amount a criticism. Many fans believe the award is simply a popularity contest. This is probably because there are no statistics to back up the claim behind naming a player the best defensive player at a particular position. However, one thing to keep in mind is that these players would not be so popular if they were not amazing at their position.
10. Johnny Bench – Catcher – 10 Gold Golves
Johnny Bench is one of five players to own ten Gold Gloves, the minimum number required to make the list. With all due respect to Ken Griffey Jr., Ichiro Suzuki, Andruw Jones, and Al Kaline; Bench did play the most difficult defensive position. As a catcher for the Cincinnati Reds, he not only brought in tons of Gold Gloves, but was also a 14-time All-Star and a two-time National League MVP. He was a major factor in the Reds 1975 and 1976 World Series titles. Bench was named the MVP of the 1976 Series. He was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989, his first year of eligibility.
9. Omar Vizquel – Shortstop – 11 Gold Gloves
Omar Vizquel is probably the least known member of the list. From 1989 to 2012, he was a member of six different teams. Vizquel was a three-time All-Star and won 11 Gold Gloves as a shortstop. He is currently a member of the Detroit Tigers’ coaching staff.
8. Keith Hernandez – First Base – 11 Gold Gloves
Keith Hernandez holds the record for most Gold Gloves by a first basemen. He gain all 11 in consecutive years. Hernandez was a member of two World Series winning organizations. He was a member of the 1982 St. Louis Cardinals and the 1986 New York Mets. Hernandez was a five-time All-Star and shared the 1979 National League MVP award with the Pirates’ Willie Stargell.
7. Roberto Clemente – Right Field – 12 Gold Gloves
Roberto Clemente was one of the greatest outfielders baseball has ever seen. He won 12 Gold Gloves as a member of the Pittsburg Pirates. He also a 15-time All-Star and was the National League MVP in 1966. Clemente won two World Series and was name the Series MVP in 1972. He was a first ballot Hall of Famer in 1973.
6. Willie Mays – Center Field – 12 Gold Gloves
This was the hardest decision of the entire list. Choosing between both 12-time Gold Glovers was no easy task considering both Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays are two of the greatest players in the history of baseball. The decision came down to number of All-Star Games they appeared in. Willie Mays made an astonishing 24 All-Star Game appearances! Mays was also a two-time National League MVP. He was a member of the San Francisco Giants’ 1954 World Series team and is a member of Major League Baseball’s All-Time Team. Mays was a first ballot Hall of Famer in 1973.
5. Ivan Rodriguez – Catcher – 13 Gold Gloves
Ivan Rodriguez holds the record for most Gold Gloves by a catcher. He owns 13 of them. Rodriguez was a 14-time All-Star and won the World Series with the Detroit Tigers. In 1999 “Pudge” was named the American League’s MVP. He holds two records for the position. Rodriguez has the highest caught stealing percentage of any catcher and has started at the position more times than anyone else in MLB history.
4. Ozzie Smith – Shortstop – 13 Gold Gloves
If you were fortunate enough to see Ozzie Smith play shortstop you will understand why they gave him the nickname “The Wizard.” This guy was pure magic. He won 13 Gold Gloves and went to 15 All-Star games. He was also a member of the 1982 St. Louis Cardinals World Series team. During his career, Smith set records for the most defensive assists of any player and the most double plays by a shortstop. He was placed in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002 in his first year of eligibility. If you are wondering why Ozzie is ranked higher than Pudge, you obviously never saw The Wizard dive, make a barehanded catch, and rocket the ball to first all before he ever touched the ground.
3. Jim Kaat – Pitcher – 16 Gold Gloves
Jim Kaat is the third and final member of this list that was a member of the World Series winning 1982 St. Louis Cardinals. From 1962 to 1977, Kaat won 16 consecutive Gold Gloves. The pitcher made three All-Star appearances. He retired with a career 3.45 ERA and 2,461 strikeouts. Kaat is currently a sportscaster for MLB Network.
2. Brooks Robinson – Third Base – 16 Gold Gloves
Like Jim Kaat, Baltimore Orioles third basemen Brooks Robinson also won his 16 Gold Gloves in consecutive years. His masterful defensive play earned him the nickname “The Human Vacuum Cleaner.” Robinson was an 18-time All-Star and the American League MVP in 1964. He won two World Series with the Orioles in 1966 and 1970 and was the MVP of the later. Robinson is a member of Major League Baseball’s All Century Team. He became a Hall of Famer in 1983.
1. Greg Maddux – Pitcher – 18 Gold Gloves
Nobody in Major League Baseball History was a better defensive player than Greg Maddux. He can back up this claim with his MLB record 18 Gold Gloves. Maddux was an eight-time All-Star and was a member of the 1995 World Series Champion Atlanta Braves. He is the only pitcher in MLB history to win the Cy Young Award four times in a row, showing he not only could field with the best but he could also bring the heat as well as any pitcher in the game. He was elected at a first ballot Hall of Famer in 2014.