Orioles Card "O" the Day

An intersection of two of my passions: baseball cards and the Baltimore Orioles. Updated daily?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mark Belanger, 1981 Donruss #472

Since I kvetched about the placement of the 1971 Orioles' starting rotation in a recent installment of MLB Network's "Prime 9" series, it would be unsporting if I failed to mention last week's countdown of the top nine double play combos in baseball history. In a list that featured such dazzling shortstop-second base duos as Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, Omar Vizquel and Roberto Alomar, and Dave Concepcion and Joe Morgan, the #1 pair was none other than Mark Belanger and Bobby Grich.

Although Grich did not take over for Davey Johnson at second base until 1973, and joined the Angels as a free agent after the 1976 season, he and Belanger made their four-year partnership count. They each won all four Gold Glove Awards given at their respective positions in that span, providing support up the middle for a club that won back-to-back American League East titles in 1973 and 1974 and averaged 91.5 wins from 1973-1976. With backup from Bobby and "the Blade", the O's pitching staffs finished first, second, first, and fourth in the A.L. in team ERA, and Jim Palmer won all three of his career Cy Young Awards. (He struggled with injuries in 1974; Mike Cuellar finished sixth in voting that year despite 22 wins as Catfish Hunter topped a competitive field.)

If you ever wonder how important a defensively skilled double play combination can be, look at the Brian Roberts-less Orioles from the first two-thirds of last year. How many innings were extended because the Birds couldn't turn two? The same problem occurred in 2008, when Roberts was healthy but Miguel Tejada was gone. Miggi's replacements were found wanting, to say the least. We might never have a Belanger-Grich combo again, but I'd settle for competence.


Field of Cards said...

Ah, Mr. Belanger. He left the planet far too soon.

Having Grich for such a brief period still annoys me. Same with Roberto Alomar. They were both brilliant.

Kevin said...

FofC - The O's were really blindsided by the onset of free agency. Lost Reggie Jackson and Grich.