Craig Heist, wtop.com
WASHINGTON — You could certainly make the argument that Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche was the team’s MVP in 2012, hitting .271 with a career high 33 home runs with 100 RBI in 154 games as he helped lead the Nats to the Nationals League Eastern Division title, and on Tuesday night he capped off his year by winning his first career Gold Glove award.
LaRoche made just 7 errors during the year in 1,367 chances while leading all National League first basemen in fielding percentages (.995), games started (149) and innings (1,323.1).
In early October, just after the Nationals had clinched the NL East, I asked LaRoche if winning a Gold Glove ever crossed his mind.
“That’s voted on by the players so if any of that does happen, it’s obviously real cool to get and to have other players on other teams to view you that way,” he said. “If it happens, that’s awesome.”
LaRoche’s steadiness at first base and his consistency at the plate were remarkable especially considering he missed almost all of the 2011 season after having shoulder surgery. What he brought to the table this year did not go unnoticed by his teammates.
“Health is the biggest thing for him and for everyone,” said Nats third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who won the Gold Glove in 2009. “When he’s healthy and gets his at-bats and gets to play a full season, this is what he does. This is who he has been his whole career when he is healthy and he’s a good guy to have on your team.”
The awards were announced Tuesday night. And the Orioles laid claim to three Gold Glove winners this year.
Centerfielder Adam Jones and catcher Matt Wieters won Gold Gloves for the second consecutive season while shortstop JJ Hardy won his first Gold Glove. The Orioles were the only team to have three players honored and one of only two teams, the Yankees being the other, with more than one selection for 2012.
Hardy was deserving after a season in which he led all American League shortstops in games (158), fielding percentages (.992), putouts (244) and assists (529). He made just 6 errors in 779 chances and his .992 fielding percentage was the highest mark by an AL shortstop since Mike Bordick’s .998 mark for the Orioles in 2002.
Hardy is the fourth Orioles shortstop to win a Gold Glove, joining Cal Ripken, Luis Aparicio and Mark Belanger.
“I’ve always hoped, but I never expected it,” Hardy said. “It’s definitely an award in the past I’ve seen a lot of shortstops get that are real flashy and kind of catch the eye of a lot of people. I don’t look at myself that way. I just kind of look at myself as just trying to be consistent, steady, and I never felt like people noticed really until Buck (Showalter) would talk about it and I think that was a big part of getting me noticed.”
“I had no choice but to talk about him,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. “He was making two or three plays every night that I think were so invaluable. I happen to think JJ’s substance is his style. I consider him to be very stylish. I don’t know if flashy is the word because he does things that other people can’t do.”
Jones led American League centerfielders in games played (162) and putouts (439). It’s the second time in the last three years he has led the league in putouts at his position. And he ranked third in assists with seven.
Jones is one of three Orioles outfielders to take home a Gold Glove, joining Paul Blair who won eight and Nick Markakis who was a winner in 2011.
“I think winning the first one was important because it’s the first one,” said Jones. “But I think this one is earned because the team won. All 52 guys that were in our uniform this year, we went out there and played hard every day. There was somebody new every day that came up big. I look at the Gold Glove as a personal award, but it’s also a team award. We all made each other better and it’s appreciated.”
It is the ninth time in Orioles history they have had at least three players win Gold Gloves in the same year. The last time was in 1998 when second baseman Roberto Alomar, pitcher Mike Mussina and first baseman Rafael Palmeiro accomplished the feat.
Wieters recognizes that the team’s defense, especially in the second half of the season, was one of the reasons the Orioles were able to make their first playoff appearance after a 14-year drought.
“I think it is something we take pride in,” he said. “I think defensively, it’s something you can always work at and get better at and to have three guys win a Gold Glove in the same year is pretty special.”