April 24, 2019

Is Mark Belanger a Hall of Famer?

January 10, 2011 by · 11 Comments 

Edgar Martinez who played 18 seasons for the Seattle Mariners, primarily at designated hitter, received 33% of the vote this year for admission to the Hall of Fame.  A 7-time all-star, Martinez finished with a career .312 batting average.  Ordinarily, that lifetime batting average alone would get you into the Hall, but Martinez played only 591/1412 games in the field and was, essentially, a one dimensional player.

Martinez’ candidacy has raised the question of whether a one-dimensional player belongs in the Hall.  However, we already have one dimensional players in the Hall.

Relief pitchers are essentially one dimensional players.  How else do you explain that two of them–Bruce Sutter and Rollie Fingers–are in the Hall in spite of lifetime losing records?  You would never have traded say Dave McNally or Dave Stewart, two very good pitchers who each won 20 games in four straight seasons, for either relief pitcher.  No one is suggesting that McNally and Stewart are Hall worthy, which in turn suggests that neither of the two relievers belongs in the Hall.

In any case, there are Hall of Famers who were world class hitters, but mediocre to poor defensively.  You think Harmon Killebrew, for example, would have played that much in the field if there had been a DH in his day?

If we grant admission to players such as DHs and relievers who were one-dimensional, then we should think seriously about admitting players who played Hall of Fame caliber defense, but were weak with the stick.  And that brings me to former Oriole shortstop Mark Belanger.  He won 8 gold gloves while anchoring the infield for the Birds from 1969-1978, during which time Baltimore appeared in 3 World Series and won the A. L. East 5 times.  Only 3 other shortstops have won more Gold Gloves than Belanger, including  Ozzie Smith (13) and Luis Aparicio (9) who are in the Hall of Fame and Omar Vizquel, who has 11 and might be headed to the Hall himself one day.  Belanger also retired with the highest fielding percentage of any American League shortstop in history (.977)

“The Blade” did receive 16 votes for the Hall in 1988, his first year of eligibility.  This represented only 3.7% of the total and thus, he was removed from the ballot after that first year.  Interestingly, he finished 26th out of 44 players on the ballot.  Lee May, a pretty fair slugger, finished 27th with 0.7% of the vote.

If you’re an other-worldly hitter who happens to stand in the hole between second and third with a glove on your hand (see Honus Wagner and his error totals, which topped out at 74 in 1912. . . . 74??!!) you will get elected to the Hall of Fame.  Why shouldn’t you also be enshrined if you are an other-worldly fielder who happens to stand in the batter’s box with a bat in your hands?

Austin writes about the Valley League Baseball as well as the Hagerstown Suns.  He’s been an Oriole fan since 1964 and he’s fairly certain that Mark Belanger does NOT belong in the HOF, but he also likes provoking conversation!

Comments

11 Responses to “Is Mark Belanger a Hall of Famer?”
  1. rob says:

    Rabbit Merinville all glove no bat is in the hall. I agree with you on Edgar and Mark.

  2. Kurt Smith says:

    The only players that I can think of who are in the Hall almost exclusively for defense are Brooks Robinson, Bill Mazeroski and Ozzie Smith, but I think that is changing. Most players in Belanger’s day agreed that he was the best fielding shortstop of his time, and that is probably Hall-worthy.

  3. Chip says:

    There’s precedent for this kind of conversation. Witness Mazeroski. For my money, it’s been proven time and again that sound defense is integral to winning, and if a player was head and shoulders above the others with the glove, won ball games with his defense, he absolutely deserves consideration. After all, it’s not the Hall of Fame of Offense. Do you think Jim Palmer would have won as many games as he did without Belanger and Blair up the middle, plus Johnson and Brooks?

  4. Austin says:

    You guys are making me think more and more that Belanger IS a HOFer!

  5. Wagner committed 32 errors in 1912. He had 74 DPs. I think you looked in the wrong column, but he did commit 60 errors in 1905. However, this was only the third worst total (out of 8) among NL shortstops that year. Wagner’s defensive WAR is actually on the plus side for his career, so I think this tells us that gloves were not state-of-the-art back then and official scorers weren’t all that forgiving.

    Back to Belanger, though. He is one of the greatest defensive players (not just shortstops) of all-time, but his offense contributed so little, whereas the other players mentioned as in primarily for their defense (Brooks Robinson and Ozzie Smith, especially) weren’t great with the bat, but did make offensive contributions.

    I realize you were just trying to generate some discussion, and you did a good job. I just want to steer you back to your original opinion that Belanger was an admirable player, but not a HOFer. :)

  6. That’s supposed to say “…this was the only the third worst total (out of eight) among NL shortstops…”

    I guess the number 8 followed by a closed parentheses is converted to a smiley face with shades. 8)

  7. Austin says:

    That’s exactly what I did! (Look in the wrong column initially.) And you’re right–I keep coming back to the idea that there has to be a proper balance in a player’s profile. Smith and Mazeroski, for example, hit enough to balance stellar defense. (Brooks, I think was a relatively good offensive player, though without the defense, those numbers would not have gotten him into the HOF.) Had Belanger hit even .250 for his career, or had a .340 OBP, he might have made it. Hitting .228 for a career as he did would require several seasons with no errors at all to achieve the balance that I’m talking about. By the way, Dan, from what source did you get your error totals for given years? I can’t find that on baseball-reference.com

  8. @Austin – There’s no source, at least that I know of, that lists errors by position by year. I just looked at each of the team pages, for that particular year, on b-r.com to find out how many errors each shortstop made.

  9. Rob says:

    The problem with Belanger in the Hall is that great fielding simply isn’t worth as much as great hitting.

    Half the came is run prevention (the other half is run scoring). Fielding only makes up a part of that (and a significantly smaller part than pitching). Even a great fielder isn’t going to accomplish what a good hitter is.

    And Belanger was well below average at the plate. He wasn’t just an average or below average hitter (like Brooks Robinson or Ozzie Smith), he was a below replacement level hitter. He took away from his team at the plate.

    Edgar Martinez actually provided some value to his team while he played third base. Once he became a DH, he filled an official position for AL teams – and was among the best hitters in the game.

    He’s a Hall of Famer. Belanger isn’t.

  10. Scott Libbee says:

    Earl Weaver would pray for two things: 1.) A three run homer 2.) That the other team would hit the ball to the Blade in the 9th. Nobody was better than the Blade including Ozzie. Ozzie had the ability to make a hard play look impossible. The Blade just made the plays wihtout all the glitter and back flips plus did Ozzie ever get a bad hop on all that turf? If you compare Ozzie’s 10 best years to the Blade with the Glove, the Blade was better. Ozzie just did it a little longer and was a better hitter than the Blade (who wasn;t)

    Bottom Line: If Jim Rice and Gary Carter are in the Hall..you gotta put the Blade in there.

  11. Scott Libbee says:

    Kurt—Brooks was much more than just a Glove. When he retired, his 276 Hoem Runs were the most for ANY 3rd Baseman ever. Naturally, that has been surpassed in the Steroid era. Plus, unlike a guy like Cal Ripen who was a terrible hitter in the clutch…Brooks is known as one of the best clutch hitterrs of his time. Brooks got it done when there was two on and two out.

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