Mark Belanger, who played shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles for 17 years from 1965-1981, does not have the same build as Brendan Ryan. Mark was 6’1″ and weighed 170 pounds dripping wet. He was rail post thin. Scarecrows were build better.He was so skinny he looked malnourished, obviously not a fast food customer.
Ryan on the other hand is 6’2′ and weighs 195.He is more solidly built, a product of year round training of exercise, weights, and nutrition. But they have two things in common. Both are great fielders and neither could hit.
Mark hit .287 in 1969; .270 in 1976; and .266 in 1971. But those three years were an aberration, a fluke that can not be explained. He played 54 games in his last season for the Dodgers in 1982 and over his 18 seasons his career batting average was .228. That could never happen today. Fans, managers, front office, media, none would allow a player to hit .228 for 18 years. And he hit a whopping 20 home runs. There were pitchers who had more homers than Mark.
Ryan has only played six seasons and his career average his .244, but in 2012 hit .194 in 141 games. Atrocious.But like Belanger, Ryan was kept in the lineup for one reason-defense.
Belanger had range with a capital R. He had 5,786 assists, 3,005 putouts, and was in 1,054 double plays. His fielding average was .977, making 210 errors. He was the perfect fit for the Orioles, who had Brooks and Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, and other hitters who could carry the load. Mark simply had to make the plays and he did that better than any shortstop of his era, earning eight gold gloves.
Ryan was voted the second best defensive player in 2012. That is player, not just shortstop, but for all positions. He was beat out by that Trout guy down in Disneyland. Ryan does not average the assists that Belanger did, but Ryan has range and a strong, accurate arm, making only nine errors in 134 starts.
Everyone wants offense. That is the age we live in. In Belanger’s time, fans appreciated more than home runs, more than sluggers. They appreciated the intricacies of the game, the little things, not that defense is little, but fans enjoyed all aspects of the game.
There is little patience today, so how far will the Mariners go with a shortstop who hit below the Mendoza line, but who got outs for his team and pitchers with his glove and arm? Will he be traded? Unlikely anyone would trade for a light hitting shortsop. Carlos Triunfel and Nick Franklin are waiting in the wings. The Mariners seem to like both and Triunfel has a great arm.
The question is how much do you give up for a better hitting shortstop. Some other player may get more hits with his bat, but will he get more outs with his glove. Shortstop is a key position. If you do not get the right balance, which is better for the team, offense or defense? That, Shakespeare said, is the question. I wish I had the answer. I bet the Mariners do to.