Hyperbole is everywhere you look in the world of sports. This guy is the best shortstop of all time. This guy is the worst quarterback in the league. This highlight was the best play of the year. There is so much careless exaggeration from all sides at all times that I think a lot of us have grown numb to it. Hearing that something was the worst or the best just means that it was bad, or good, and seldom more that that.
But I am being completely, absolutely honest when I say that Rafael Palmeiro's American League Gold Glove award in 1999 is probably the worst sports award ever. It's the sports award equivalent of those CFL teams drafting dead guys. You probably don't need me to go over the history, but to quickly go over the history, Palmeiro won the Gold Glove at first base in '99 despite starting 28 games at first base and 128 games at DH.
It's not that Palmeiro was necessarily a bad first baseman - he had won consecutive Gold Gloves as a full-timer in 1997 and 1998. It's that, in 1999, Palmeiro wasn't a first baseman. He won an award for a position he hardly played.
Terrible. And also, an opportunity. An opportunity to test a theory of mine that, no matter what happens, and no matter the consensus, there will always be a contrarian. According to my theory, there must have been somebody who came out in defense of Palmeiro winning the award. I spent too much time trying to track that somebody down. Below are some of my findings.
To give you an idea of how frequently Palmeiro's Gold Glove award is cited, even today, one needs to look no further than the Google drop-down when you enter his name:
It really is terrifying how accurately that captures the things for which Palmeiro is remembered. Palmeiro is most remembered for his stats, his hilarious Gold Glove, and his endorsement of Viagra. While Rafael Palmeiro won more than just the 1999 Gold Glove, it is safe to say that people aren't searching in huge volumes for information about his two previous seasons.
Whenever Palmeiro's Gold Glove is cited now, it's done to remind the audience that the Gold Gloves are flawed and barely relevant. Nobody now is going to come to Palmeiro's defense. So I narrowed my search to results from 1999. I figured my best bet would be looking at responses that were fresh, immediate.
The responses were critical. Heavily, consistently, predictably critical. A representative response, from Jack O'Connell:
The biggest oversight was at first base in the American League. The choice was the Rangers' Rafael Palmeiro,which was ludicrous not because he isn't a good fielder, but because he played only 28 games at the position this year.
Even the Associated Press threw in some voice. The opening of the AP article on the awards:
Seems like some managers and coaches weren't paying much attention this year.
Texas Rangers first baseman Rafael Palmeiro won his third straight American League Gold Glove despite playing just 28 games at the position this year.
All right, so maybe a Rangers beat writer stood up for the team's star player. Evan Grant?
The off-season is becoming an embarrassment of riches for Rangers designated hitter and first baseman Rafael Palmeiro.
Tuesday, the emphasis was on embarrassment.
What about Palmeiro himself? Surely Rafael Palmeiro would support Rafael Palmeiro winning the Gold Glove, right? Phil Rogers:
"When I heard about it, I laughed," said Palmeiro, who nevertheless is expected to cash the $50,000 check he will receive because of a bonus clause in his contract with the Texas Rangers. "I guess people are respecting me for what I've done in the past."
The $50,000 bonus check is an overlooked part of this story. Palmeiro didn't just win an award he shouldn't have won - he won an award he shouldn't have won, and got $50,000 he shouldn't have gotten. That is $1,786 for every game he started at first base!
From the same Rogers article:
"That's a joke," one AL executive said. "What are those guys thinking?"
I was just about to give up after two hours of research when I stumbled across this article at CNN/SI, written by ... Ticker, whatever that is. No author put his name to this, which maybe isn't surprising.
[...] Texas Rangers first baseman Rafael Palmeiro was a stunning recipient of his third straight award today.
Palmeiro, steady when healthy, was banged up the entire year and committed one error in 246 chances. By contrast, Palmeiro's own teammate, Lee Stevens, posted a .994 fielding percentage over 1,292 chances at first base.
This does not support Palmeiro winning the award. However, this is the most supportive article regarding Palmeiro winning the award. Literally, the most supportive that I found. "Steady when healthy." "He shouldn't have won, but hey, when he played, he was all right!
My theory is in tatters. Granted, I did not consult responses from everybody on the planet. I was limited in my research. It's possible that there was somebody out there who thought Palmeiro deserved his Gold Glove. But based on what I found, I think Palmeiro's win might literally be among the most indefensible things of all time. I don't know that anybody even tried to defend it.
Including the voters. Rogers:
White Sox manager Jerry Manuel said he was taken aback when he learned Palmeiro had been named to the elite team of fielders. But while he can't recall his exact ballot, he believes he could have voted for Palmeiro.
The Gold Gloves are so horrible.