Heading into this season, the Orioles were known for being strong up the middle defensively. Now, with the team coming off its best season in 15 years, that strength is being acknowledged on a national stage.
Shortstop J.J. Hardy, center fielder Adam Jones and catcher Matt Wieters were named American League Gold Glove winners at their positions Tuesday night. It's the first time since 1998 that three Orioles have earned baseball's annual benchmark of fielding excellence in the same season.
The Orioles' three Gold Glove winners — chosen by a vote of managers and coaches — are also the most of any team in the majors this season.
“That's something I'd really like to be known as, that if you can't defend, you're going to have a tough time playing for the Baltimore Orioles,” manager Buck Showalter said. “And all three of these guys take huge pride in their defense. It's a pretty good reputation to have. Those are three guys who take that side of the ball very seriously.”
Some of the best Orioles teams were built on stellar defense — it has long been regarded as a key component to “The Oriole Way” — and there's no secret that this year's team picked up steam once it improved defensively after having the most errors in the majors at the All-Star break. Even through those struggles, the team had three cornerstone defenders in Hardy, Jones and Wieters.
“Right up the middle we were strong, and it showed most of the year,” Jones said. “We played our tails off. We played a lot of games. We made a lot of plays to help our team. … It's not about making all the plays and robbing all the hits, robbing home runs. It's not necessarily about that. It's about making all the routine plays. It's about holding runners, doing a lot of different things that people don't see on a day to day basis. To have your coaches and your peers tell you, ‘I appreciate the way you play the game,' That's one of the biggest compliments you can get in the game besides winning.”
It is the ninth time in club history that at least three Orioles have earned the honor in a year and the first time since second baseman Roberto Alomar, pitcher Mike Mussina and first baseman Rafael Palmeiro received the award in 1998. The Orioles also won at least three Gold Gloves from 1969 to 1971 and 1973 to 1976.
This is Hardy's first career Gold Glove, while Jones and Wieters became two-time winners. Wieters has won the award for AL catcher in back-to-back seasons. Jones became the first Oriole to win a Gold Glove in a decade when he was selected as the top center fielder in 2009.
Hardy, 30, finished the season with the highest fielding percentage by an AL shortstop (.992) since Mike Bordick had a .998 percentage for the Orioles in 2002. His 529 assists were the most in the league at his position since Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. had 531 in 1989.
Hardy was a Gold Glove finalist last season, but the award went to Los Angeles Angels shortstop Erick Aybar, who wasn't among the final three this season.
“It means a lot to me, for one. I think it's an award I've always hoped to get,” Hardy said. “I never really expected to do it. I never really expected to get it, but I'm surprised and honored at the same time. ... It's an award that in the past I've seen a lot of shortstops get it that are really flashy and kind of catch the eye of a lot of people. I don't look at myself in that way. I just look at myself as just trying to be consistent and steady and I never felt like people noticed, really, until Buck would always talk about it, and I think that was a big part of me getting noticed.”
Hardy, who made just six errors in 779 chances, also topped major league shortstops in range factor, which measures a player's total assists and putouts per game — Hardy averaged 4.89 — for the second straight season. He led the AL in games (158), putouts (244), defensive wins above replacement (2.8) and total zone runs (21), which measures the number of runs above or below average a player is worth based on plays made.
In beating out finalists Brendan Ryan of the Seattle Mariners and Elvis Andrus of the Texas Rangers, Hardy became the fourth Orioles shortstop to win the award, joining Luis Aparicio (1964, 1966), Mark Belanger (1969, 1971, 1973-1978) and Ripken (1991, 1992).
Jones, 27, who was voted Most Valuable Oriole for the second straight year, capped his best major league season with his second Gold Glove. He was the only AL center fielder to play in all 162 games and led them in putouts (439), marking the second time in three years he was the league leader in putouts at his position. He also ranked second in range factor per game (2.75) and third in assists (seven) among AL center fielders.