Ripken did everything but impress voters

MIKE LITTWIN

December 05, 1990|By MIKE LITTWIN

As further proof that anything is possible, Cal Ripken did not win the Gold Glove award this year. I'm sure the voters had their reasons for picking Ozzie Guillen instead of Ripken. For instance:

Ripken is too tall. He's too slow. A few years ago, his own team tried to move him to third base.

He's got the wrong name. (What is this Ozzie deal? To win a Gold Glove at shortstop, you have to be named Ozzie? What about Ozzie "Uh, Da-ave, I won the Gold Glove" Nelson? Or Ozzie Osborne? Ozzie Osborne's pet snake? I guess the problem is, you can't really call somebody the Wizard of Cal. If only Cal Sr.'s dad had named his son Ozzie Sr.

Errorless streaks are overrated, or why else would so many incumbents get re-elected to Congress? Shortstops don't bat cleanup, unless they're Ernie Banks, and then they get moved to first base.

He's too tall. Shortstops are called Pee Wee or Scooter, when they're not named Ozzie, and you want to hang them on your rear view mirror. Cal is an outfielder, or a college.

He's not flashy. He drinks milk (OK, he drinks beer, too, but not on TV). He never does backflips taking the field.

He doesn't get to some balls that guys name Ozzie do. (The difference is, he catches all of them that he does get to.)

Don't forget the George Will backlash.

Did I mention he was too tall?

The man who sets a record every time he steps onto the field is, of course, the tallest shortstop ever. He has played in the most consecutive games of any shortstop ever. He has made the least errors in a season of any shortstop ever. He has had the longest errorless streak of any shortstop ever. And, now, for all time, he can be remembered as the tallest shortstop who made the least errors never to win a Gold Glove. If Ripken didn't win it this year, he never will.

What more does a guy have to do?

Frank Robinson, his manager, called it "a shame." But it is the managers and coaches who vote, so at least they can't pin this one on us sportswriters. (Here's how most of the managers fill out their ballots: They shout into the clubhouse, "Hey, who's a good shortstop?") Robinson's peers picked Guillen, a fine shortstop and probably a nice guy, but a fine shortstop and a nice guy who made 17 errors this season. Ripken made three.

Obviously, errors are not the only factor to weigh in selecting a Gold Glove winner. Range is probably more significant in measuring shortstops, and Guillen's range is Ozzie-like -- that's Ozzie Smith-like, the prototypical Ozzie shortstop who won his 11th consecutive Gold Glove. Yes, Guillen does get to more balls than Ripken, and any other year, sure, the guy gets the award and Cal sits at home wondering why he doesn't hit .300 any more. But not this year.

I mentioned the three errors, right? In an entire season, playing in every game, playing in nearly every inning, giving himself 680 chances to screw up, he made three errors. NASA makes three errors in the countdown to liftoff. I made three errors typng ths sentnce. Ripken's season extends well beyond consistency and unflashy competence and sure hands. Making three errors over an entire season of playing shortstop is a minor miracle. No wonder it had never happened before.

Statistics don't tell the story, and, in fact, you can make a strong statistical case for Guillen. Playing in 159 games, Guillen had 743 chances, whereas Ripken had 680. I don't know how to factor in pitching staffs -- did the White Sox pitchers throw more ground balls than the Orioles pitchers, who did, certainly, throw more home-run balls? -- but it's fair to suggest that if Guillen handled 11 chances for every 10 that Ripken handled that Guillen showed superior range. And although Guillen made 14 more errors, he still cleanly fielded 49 more balls than Ripken.

If Ripken had made, say, 11 errors, or even eight errors, then you could probably say that Guillen, who as a member of the Chicago White Sox will someday certainly play for the Orioles, deserved the award. But this was an extraordinary circumstance in which a record -- three errors, 95 consecutive errorless games -- has to be considered.

Even if you concede that Guillen is marginally a better shortstop, wasn't Ripken's season so remarkable that it had to be honored? It was in 1941 that Joe DiMaggio won the MVP award after hitting safely in 56 consecutive games and batting .357, ahead of Ted Williams, who hit .406 and led the league in homers.

The people at Rawlings, who sponsor the Gold Glove awards, said they wouldn't disclose the vote. But I was told that, although Ripken finished second, it was a distant second. It makes you wonder.

It's easy to imagine Ripken sitting at home, agonizing over each of those three errors, the one ball that didn't come up, the throw that slipped, and wondering what he might have done to have made all the plays. He can remember, of course, every error he made. Probably no other shortstop, unless the Amazing Ozzie Kreskin played the position, can make the same claim. And that's the point.

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