The Glove Club: Mark Belanger
By all human logic, it would seem to be impossible to stand out as a defensive player in an infield that featured the greatest defensive third baseman who ever played the game. But Mark Belanger did. He joined the Baltimore Orioles infield in 1967, and spent most of his major league career playing shortstop beside the incomparable Brooks Robinson.
But stand out, Belanger did. The rail-thin shortstop had great range, a great arm and a black glove that sucked up horsehide like a dog gobbling popcorn kernels. Robinson and Belanger made the left side of the Orioles’ infield virtually impenetrable.
Belanger stepped into the shortstop position replacing Luis Aparicio, a seven-time Gold Glover in his own right, who was traded back to the Chicago White Sox after the 1967 season. As great as Aparicio was in the field, no one asked why the Orioles replaced him with Belanger.
Belanger’s hitting isn’t what kept him in the lineup. And he was no Aparicio at the plate. In 17 seasons with the Orioles, Belanger batted .227. He hit better than .230 only three times.
But Belanger didn’t have to hit. He saved runs, snared potential hits and killed rallies. Between 1969 and 1978, he won eight Gold Gloves, and led American League shortstops in assists and fielding percentage three times each. He finished his career with a .977 fielding percentage, the highest ever for an American League shortstop.