Monday, November 29, 2010
Mark Belanger, 1981 Donruss #472
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.