Around the Cage: The game's best glove
Who is the best defensive player in Major League Baseball?
The nightly highlight reels of center fielders scaling walls, shortstops diving into the hole to snare grounders, popping up and firing to first, and the countless creative ways to turn a double play help make baseball a beautifully artistic game.
Every position player can make a huge impact and win a game with the glove, and whether it's Greg Maddux from the pitcher's mound, Pudge Rodriguez behind the plate, Brooks Robinson at the hot corner or Roberto Clemente in right, every era of baseball has had its best defensive players.
So who gets the crown in 2009? Who is the best defensive player in baseball, the gutsiest defensive player, and night in and night out, which player's flashy plays do you most look forward to watching on the highlights?
Those were the latest Around the Cage questions, and to get the answers, MLB.com's beat reporters hit the clubhouses, offices and broadcast booths of the Major Leagues spoke to a host of luminaries around the game.
Many of the players answered by mentioning their own teammates, which is understandable considering they get treated to 162 games of excellence with the best seat in the house.
But plenty of big leaguers kept coming back to the same names, and one of those was Torii Hunter, the dashing and daring Angels center fielder who garnered votes in all three categories.
"'Who changes the game with their defense?" said Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum. "In that case, I always felt that Torii Hunter is that guy -- the best and the gutsiest. He changes the game around with his defense. He did some pretty incredible things in Minnesota, though he had the 'baggie' to deal with instead of a wall, and I'm not sure what role that played in it. He's pretty good."
Also residing in the "pretty good" list is Detroit third baseman Brandon Inge, who used to be a catcher and has shown excellence at both positions. But Inge was too humble to name himself as the best.
"Jack Wilson," Inge said, naming the Pittsburgh shortstop. "He's really good, and I don't even know if he's won a lot of Gold Gloves, but he should. He gets to every ball [and] he dives for every ball that he doesn't get to. [It's] just the effort that he puts into it. He lays out for everything. He's got the quickest hands in the league as far as double-play balls. He gets the ball and gets it out of his glove faster than anyone I've seen."
Here's a quick rundown of more of the answers from Around the Cage:
They Said It ...
WHO IS THE BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER IN BASEBALL?
Ty Wigginton, IF, Orioles: "I'd go with Brandon Inge. He's got more range than any other third baseman and the guy's an incredible athlete. You can see him sliding into the dugout as a catcher and diving into walls as a center fielder. You've seen him go into the stands as an infielder. He's a stud."
Joe Crede, 3B, Twins: "I like Scott Rolen a lot. He's a lot of fun to watch. He just gets good reads over there. For as big a guy as he is, he moves really well. He's got really great hands. That's always fun, watching him out there."
A.J. Hinch, manager, D-backs: "Shane Victorino. One, he has tremendous speed and he also has the kind of arm that can shut down a guy from going first to third or second to home. He runs down just about everything in the outfield. He's well-rounded in how he impacts the game."
Marlon Byrd, OF, Rangers: "Jimmy Rollins. He gets to everything and makes all the routine plays. His errors come on baseballs that nobody else can get to but him."
Mike Cameron, CF, Brewers: "B.J. Upton. I love the way that kid plays the game. He's got speed, he's got an arm and he plays shallow. He's just so smooth. Some guys, they go hard as hell and crash head-first into walls and there's no reason for it. They don't know any better, or they're doing it for show. I don't like that. I also really like Jacoby Ellsbury. I like the way he plays defense."
Bo Porter, 3B/OF coach, Marlins: "Evan Longoria. He's playing the hot corner. And his range and arm strength, it's above average. He takes hits away down the line. Having a third baseman of his caliber, what it does is it allows the shortstop to play up the middle more, because you have a guy who has glove-side range and he has a strong enough arm to his backhand that it allows the shortstop to play more of the middle of the field."
WHO IS THE GUTSIEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER IN BASEBALL?
Inge: "Torii Hunter. He jumps up on the walls all the time. It's got to be him. I can't tell you how many times I've seen him rob home runs. In Minnesota, he would go up above that wall, and everyone thinks it's soft, but there are poles behind it and if you don't hit it in the right spot, you hit those metal poles. It takes guts to go up there. All of those years in Minnesota, I think he robbed me four or five times. I remember two instances where he went up over the wall and robbed me in center field, so he's got to be the gutsiest."
Dick Bremer, play-by-play announcer, Twins: "Torii Hunter was and is the most fearless outfielder I've seen this side of Ken Griffey Jr. Griffey's not in the outfield anymore, so I'll stay with Torii. It doesn't make any difference if the ball's hit on the turf. He's going to dive for it. It doesn't make any difference if the wall is fast approaching. He's going to go get the baseball. It was a joy to watch him all those years in a Twins uniform."
Matt Herges, RHP, Indians: "Miguel Olivo. He would run through a wall without you asking him if that's what you needed. And he can do it, too. He's strong."
WHO IS THE FLASHIEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER IN BASEBALL?
David Wright, 3B, Mets: "Brandon Inge. Every time you turn on the TV, he's diving for a ball or making a play like that. He's very flashy and I like the way he plays."
Trever Miller, LHP, Cardinals: "Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez. Any play they make up the middle, that tag team. They're the best players to watch night in and night out."
Corey Patterson, OF, Nationals: "I would say Gary Matthews Jr. The catch he made [off the bat of Astros infielder Mike Lamb on June 1, 2006] is the best I ever saw. He has great jumps to the ball. He is tall, lanky and has long strides. He has a good arm and good speed. "
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.