Positive feedback finally found the Orioles yesterday when they became the only team this year to win three Gold Glove awards for defensive excellence.
After an otherwise disappointing season in which the club established a major-league record for fewest errors in a season, pitcher Mike Mussina, first baseman Rafael Palmeiro and second baseman Roberto Alomar were selected through the poll of American League managers and coaches sponsored by Rawlings.
Alomar earned his seventh Gold Glove, Mussina his third in a row and Palmeiro his second straight.
Yesterday's honors marked the first time since 1976 that three Orioles have been recognized in the same season. Mark Belanger, Bobby Grich and Jim Palmer were the last threesome.
Atlanta and San Francisco each had two players recognized yesterday -- pitcher Greg Maddux and center fielder Andruw Jones for the Braves, first baseman J. T. Snow and left fielder Barry Bonds for the Giants.
Maddux's award was his ninth in a row, Bonds his eighth straight. Seattle center fielder Ken Griffey won his ninth in a row and Texas' Ivan Rodriguez got his seventh, surpassing Jim Sundberg for the most by an AL catcher.
The Orioles' golden day continues what has been a defensive renaissance for the club. After collecting only two Gold Gloves from 1985 to '95, the Orioles have won a combined seven in three seasons.
Since the award's inception in 1957, only the St. Louis Cardinals have won more than the Orioles. The Cardinals own 57 1/2 awards to the Orioles' 57.
Alomar, like Palmeiro a pending free agent, was second among AL second baseman in fielding percentage (.984) and committed 11 errors. The award was his second in three seasons with the Orioles. Though less consistent than in past years, he remains the game's most gifted player at his position.
Mussina, who did not commit an error in 49 chances, won his third straight Gold Glove despite two stays on the disabled list.
Palmeiro committed nine errors, ranking fourth among AL first baseman in fielding percentage (.994), and had said he might lose the award to Seattle first baseman and former Oriole David Segui. However, Palmeiro also recognized the power of being an incumbent with an award predicated heavily on reputation.
"I was surprised last year more than this year," he said. "Once you win it, you kind of set the standard. Once you're voted in, if you just go out and play your game, they keep voting for you. But they're not going to give it to you for no reason."
A case could be made for a fourth Orioles winner in Cal Ripken, who led AL third basemen in fielding percentage, but Robin Ventura won at the position.
In their history, the Orioles have produced 12 Gold Glove winners, Ripken included. All became repeat winners.
The awards mirror a season in which the Orioles were guilty of only 81 errors, three fewer than the previous record set by the 1988 Minnesota Twins. Their .9868 fielding percentage edged the 1990 Toronto Blue Jays (.9861).
Gold Glove winners
P: Mike Mussina, Orioles
C: Ivan Rodriguez, Texas
1B: Rafael Palmeiro, Orioles
2B: Roberto Alomar, Orioles