That empty space, where a Gold Glove would enhance the adornments of the room, is going to remain vacant on the mantelpiece of Cal Ripken Jr., who performs at a level of defensive efficiency that is the hallmark of professional competency and finesse. Unappreciated. Unhailed. Unrecognized.
Ripken was ignored in what amounts to a travesty, or a highway robbery, if not a Brinks Job, by most of the managers and coaches in the American League who passed him by and voted the honor instead to White Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen. Their lack of judgment is a disgrace to the baseball business. They just weren't paying attention.
It's a classic demonstration of loud flamboyancy taking precedence over quiet consistency. Case closed. It might do well for Ripken to demand a recount.
Guillen never fielded a ground ball he didn't want to turn into a grandstand spectacular. The most revealing statistic is in the errors-committed column: Ripken a mere three; Guillen 17, or more than five times as many mistakes.
Ripken's percentage of .996, compared to Guillen's .977, a 19-point differential, qualified for an American League record. Guillen had 42 more assists in the field, which might tell you how much ground he covers but, in truth, it points out he was playing behind a pitching staff that threw a preponderance of ground-ball outs.
"I'd like to win one of those things to be honest with you," said a disappointed Ripken. There was no attempt by the Baltimore Oriole infielder to put the rap on Guillen or cry about the obvious miscarriage of baseball justice.
"I'm the type player," he said, "who, if I'm doing my job right, makes all the plays look routine. I'm not very noticeable. I don't stand out fielding my position."
The latter part of the statement is the only thing we ever heard Ripken mention that needs to be challenged. He does "stand out" and has since he arrived with the Orioles in 1981.
One of the coaches who took part in the survey, conducted by the sponsoring Rawling's Sporting Goods, couldn't believe what heard. Merv Rettenmund, a one-time Oriole who coached for the Oakland A's last year and will be with the San Diego Padres in 1991, reacted with shock. "Wow," he said and there was a long pause as he attempted to rationalize how it could have happened.
"Ripken just makes all the plays," he said. "Guillen has a lot of flash, but I don't believe that qualifies him for being a Gold Glove shortstop. Once Cal catches the ball, the batter is out. He's always in good position, handles any kind of a play and when you measure consistency, the most important element, he is easily the best in the league.
"There are a lot of good middle infielders better than Ozzie. I'd list them as Ripken, Walt Weiss of the A's, Alan Trammell of the Detroit Tigers and Tony Fernandez of the Toronto Blue Jays in just about that order. Ripken knows the territory. You rarely see him have to dive for a ball. It was the same way with Mark Belanger, who knew how to position himself, and, like Ripken, made everything so smooth and easy."
A man who over 30 years ago preceded Ripken and Belanger at shortstop for the Orioles, one Willie Miranda, also was annoyed by the selection. Miranda made so many extraordinary plays he was called "Ringling Brothers," as in Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus.
The rejection of Ripken was so upsetting to Miranda he reacted by hollering, "Holy Cow." Then he went on to put his opinion in more profound perspective.
"I can't believe this," he said. "Guillen has got to know somebody. What Cal has done is fantastic. He plays all the time, every game, every inning, every out. Cal won't tell anybody but he has to be upset. Anyone would be. I feel hurt for him. What can we do about it? We need an investigation. I can't believe it."
For Ripken, it's a kick in the teeth. As a shortstop, Ozzie Guillen can't hold his glove, even if he does get the trophy and an honor that, when contrasted with what Ripken has done, carries a hollow ring.