Angel Gloves Aren't Gold but They Could Surely Be Bronzed

Times Staff Writer

Proof exists, on the baseball fields of the American League, that all that glitters is not necessarily gold. Consider the plight of the Angels' defense, which, according to the numbers, is better at what it does than anyone else in its class.

In 117 games, Angel fielders have committed but 69 errors--eight fewer than their nearest rival, Detroit. The Angels have a team fielding percentage of .985, which also outscales the Tigers (.983) and is a pace that would eclipse the franchise record.

A year ago, the Angels shared the league leadership in fielding while turning 202 double plays, another club record.

OK, Angels, show us your Gold Gloves.

Well, second baseman Bobby Grich has four. But all those were won while he was with the Baltimore Orioles--none since 1976--and now, Grich platoons at the position with Rob Wilfong, who has no Gold Gloves.

Catcher Bob Boone won one in 1982, but he's crouching on 38-year-old, surgery-scarred knees and has committed six errors, third highest in the league.

Center fielder Gary Pettis won a Gold Glove lass season, but matched last season's error total of four by June and admits to being caught in a down year. "If last year was an 'A' season," Pettis says, "I'd be somewhere between a 'B' and a 'C' this year."

And that's it.

Break down the Angel defense, one-by-one, and this is what you have:

--Boone, the oldest catcher in baseball.

--Joyner, who has at least has good excuse for his lack of a Gold Glove. He's a rookie. He has also made 10 errors, three in one game last week, which is a total surpassed only by Kansas City's Steve Balboni (15) and Boston's Bill Buckner (12).

--The second base platoon of Grich and Wilfong. Grich once shone as brightly as any second baseman in the sport, but now he is 37 and has appeared in 10 fewer games than Wilfong, a career utilityman.

--DeCinces, who is playing 12th major-league season with a bad back, a bad shoulder, a bad knee. --Shortstop Dick Schofield, who is a defensive specialist--almost to a fault. Schofield's glovework keeps him in the lineup despite his .241 batting average and despite the presence of Rick Burleson, who has hit around .300 all year.

--Left fielder Brian Downing. Downing once played 244 games without committing an error.

--Pettis, who is only just beginning to recover from post-Gold Glove depression.

--And, the right-field platoon of George Hendrick and Ruppert Jones, which has drawn positive reviews mainly through comparison with the right fielder they displaced. Reggie Jackson committed eight outfield errors in 1985, hence his move to full-time designated hitter.

This is the crew that leads the American League in fielding. The Angels have a 4 1/2-game lead on second-place Texas in the AL West as they open a nine-game trip today in Detroit. And, from Manager Gene Mauch on down, they insist they have built such a lead largely on the strength of their defense--which, they contend, offers more than meets the eye.

"We play steady defense," Pettis says. "We can make the spectacular play, but we make it look so routine, nobody realizes how great a play it actually was. We don't get ourselves into trouble with our defense."

From DeCinces: "Defense is synonymous with winning. You watch the Dodgers. They overcome their poor defense with their outstanding pitching. When they don't get a play, they come back with their pitching to bail them out. If they were solid defensively, the Dodgers would be there right in the hunt.

"Defense is something that isn't noticed unless it's real bad. We do it day in and day out, without much attention, but it's what allows a ballclub to stay in a pennant race."

DeCinces, who believes he has lost out on a handful of Gold Gloves in past years, questions the selection process for the most prestigious of defensive awards. The Gold Glove voting is done by each league's managers and coaches, who rely more on reputation and recall than computer print-outs.

"I wish I knew what I lacked," DeCinces said. "Buddy Bell's a great third baseman, but one year he won the Gold Glove when he made 22 errors and didn't even play the last month. I made 14 errors and was hustling, diving for balls. But it's a no-contest vote. Buddy had won it before, so they gave it to him again."

Sour grapes? Grich doesn't believe so.

"Of the four Gold Gloves I won with Baltimore, three I deserved and one I didn't," Grich said. "I made 24 errors in '74, but I'd had a spectacular year the year before, so they voted me in again. But then, I think there have been times when I've been slighted in Anaheim."

DeCinces can see a similar scenario developing at shortstop, where Schofield went 40 games without committing an error, has expanded his range well beyond last year's and has committed just nine errors overall.

But Schofield doesn't talk a good game. For him, calling off the left fielder on a pop fly is the definition of lengthy conversation.

Toronto's Tony Fernandez has been all but conceded the 1986 Gold Glove at shortstop--despite the fact he and Schofield are dead-even in errors.

DeCinces believes three Angels are having Gold Glove caliber seasons in 1986: Schofield, Pettis ("At first he struggled a little bit, but I still don't see anybody who covers ground better") and . . . DeCinces.

"I'd like to think I'm having a Gold Glove year," he said. "I look at most of my errors (10) and they've usually come when I gone out of my position to go after a ball or have done something abnormal. I take pride in my range. I don't know if there's anyone around who has better range."

Maybe the Angels will conclude 1986 without adding to their Gold Glove collection. Maybe they'll continue to lead the league in fielding and no one will notice. Maybe everyone will keep writing about Wally and Reggie and the starting pitching rotation.

Then, again, there's always the playoffs.

"More attention is paid to defense in the postseason, definitely," Grich said. "Look at World Series heroes like Dick Green, Julian Javier, all the publicity bout Mickey Stanley moving from center field to shortstop for the Tigers in '68. People get into every single play during the World Series."

Thus, the Angel fielders have been shown their brass ring. If they do it in October, they will find a way to get their due.

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