If you go back to Sept. 6, 1995, the night Cal Ripken Jr. surpassed Lou Gehrig’s never-to-be-broken consecutive-games-played record of 2,130 to become baseball’s “Ironman,” something else remarkable happened.
The night was full of baseball dignitaries in attendance, and a few notables like Joe DiMaggio, Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson spoke during the post-game ceremony. At the end of his comments, Brooks said to Cal and the still-packed stadium, “For a long time, a lot of people around here have called me ‘Mr. Oriole.’ Well, tonight, Cal, you are now ‘Mr. Oriole.’”
Even in the euphoria of the night, Brooks’ comments were quite startling. It was the symbolic passing of a baton from one generational icon to another. It was also a gesture coming from such a humble place, something only Brooks could pull off. As much as Ripken was respected and beloved, I am not so sure Brooks’ generation was really buying what their hero was selling that night.
This sort of age-related memory discourse goes on with almost any debatable topic. Which generation’s music was the best, Sinatra or Elvis? Rock or rap? Were the young men who lived and served during World War II really “the Greatest Generation”?
So it is in sports, where the players you watched seem to survive as the best ever, even when the hard evidence starts to speak to a very opposite reality. As someone who covers sports for a living, I must always battle myself to the core of this toughest test of objectivism. And I find myself waging such a battle right now.
A long time ago, I was able, through such objectivism, to privately and publicly admit that the Phillies’ Mike Schmidt, not Brooks Robinson, was the greatest all-around third baseman of all time. This admission was made more difficult due to my personal admiration and appreciation of Robinson the person. I was able to still live with myself by rather easily qualifying my admission of Schmidt’s all-around superiority over Brooks by simply saying, “But defensively, nobody could match Brooks.”
Now, I am finding it harder to stick to my age-old belief that Brooks was the best defensive third baseman I have ever seen. In time, if he can stay healthy, there is no doubt that Manny Machado could very well wrest both mantles from Schmidt and Robinson, and be both the greatest all-time third baseman and greatest hot corner defender as well.
Whether he surpasses Schmidt will boil down to a simple numbers-accumulation game. Will his production be greater and can he win more than the 10 Gold Gloves Schmidt won? Brooks won 16 Gold Gloves.
Machado’s defensive range is otherworldly. His arm is like a cannon. The only area of defense to which Brooks was truly superior is that of arm accuracy. Machado’s 2016 season was fraught with some defensive sloppiness and nonchalance in that area of his game. It’ll be interesting to see if those issues were a one-season blip for Machado or become a frustrating part of his game, as is his base running.
So is there anything that could stop or halt the seemingly steamrolling changing of the defensive guard at the hot corner? Assuming Machado’s peccadilloes of 2016 are quickly put behind him, there are two other ways Robinson could hold onto his No. 1 ranking of defensive third baseman. The first would be some sort of injury issue surrounding Machado’s two surgically repaired knees. However, in this case, his two surgeries were both repairs and strengthening in nature, and don’t figure to jeopardize his physical abilities or chances for a long career. Ironically, the other way Machado might fail to overtake Robinson is if he actually prefers to move over to shortstop. Machado will not turn 25 until July 6. He is eligible for free agency after the 2018 season when he will be just 26.
The irony is that perhaps the only thing that can stop Machado from becoming the greatest all-time third baseman would be a high-profile free-agent signing to a team that might value a $350 million player more at shortstop.
Top photo: Orioles player Manny Machado (Photo WikiCommons)
Stan “The Fan” Charles is founder and publisher of PressBox.
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