This month we dive into the best defensive outfields to have played together in the American League. There are still the same questions of the value of statistics, word of mouth and accolades and the introduction of advanced statistics to shed just a little more light on defensive prowess.
1914 Red Sox: LF Duffy Lewis, CF Tris Speaker, RF Harry Hooper
“The Golden Outflield,” Duffy Lewis and Hall of Famers Speaker and Hooper dominated in the years after World War I. Lewis was known for his defense in an outfield with Speaker who was considered by far the best fielding outfielder of the first half century of Major League Baseball. Lewis’ strong arm from the outfield rarely even bounced the ball to throw out a runner in his 22 assists of 1914. Lewis’ was briefly the namesake for a feature at Fenway Park, Duffy’s Cliff was a 15 foot incline in left field that he would have to navigate.
Hooper added 22 assists in right and Speaker 30 from center in 1914. Speaker was so smooth in center that he would make his break on fly balls before contact with the bat was made, often making the catch with a cigarette still in his mouth. He played especially shallow in right, contributing to his MLB record 448 career outfield assists. In 1918 he played so shallow that he converted two unassisted double plays. It truly was the dead ball era… even in the last nine years of his career, during the live ball era, he continued to play shallow but his early jump on fly balls allowed to to excel even as players powered up to try to hit the ball over his head.
While Speaker was the best center fielder in baseball for half a century, Hooper was the best fielding right fielder in his time. He was speedy in Fenway’s deep right field and sported a powerful arm to get the ball back to the infield. Hooper was the first outfielder to slide feed first to catch the ball in a “rump slide.”
The Jim Piersall Red Sox and Indians of the late '50's
These two teams are paired together as the “Jim Piersall” teams when he had the best supporting casts in the field. The slick fielder suffered from psychiatric disorders so badly that he was later portrayed by the guy who played the titular knife wielder from “Psycho” in “Fear Strikes Out.” It was playing the field in baseball that was his sanctuary away from the truly “psycho” overbearing pressure from his father. Oddly, he had to support his family after high school when he dislocated his jaw in a high school basketball game. When his father witnessed it being snapped back into place he himself had a heart attack and had to be taken to the hospital. The pressures from his family, and pressures from a new manager who wanted to move him to shortstop sent Piersall into some serious mental health issues where he would act out against teammates on the field and start fights with opponents. After successful electroshock therapy, his behavior reversed but he couldn’t remember any of his episodes. When he returned, Casey Stengel who made it to the majors in 1912 and managed until 1965 called him “the best defensive right fielder I have ever seen.” He won two Gold Gloves, one with the Red Sox in ‘58 and another in ‘61 with the Indians, led the AL three times in fielding percentage, twice in putouts, and once in double plays. He had three seasons with an Rtot over 20 (‘53, ‘55 and ‘56) and his ‘58 and ‘59 seasons were pretty good as well (Rtots of 14 and 17).
1958 Red Sox: LF Ted Williams, CF Jackie Jensen, RF Jim Piersall
The 1958 Red Sox season saw Piersall roaming the Fenway Park outfield with Jackie Jensen in center and Hall of Famer Ted Williams in left. Jensen won the AL MVP award that season and a Gold Glove the next season. There wasn’t much of a difference in fielding from Jensen’s MVP season of ‘58 and his Gold Glove year of ‘59. In ‘58 he had 293 putouts, a .981 percentage 14 assists, 6 errors and 3 double plays, compared to ‘59 where he had 311 putouts, a .982 percentage 12 assists, 6 errors and 4 double plays (he had a career best Rtot of 12 in ‘59 and was league average in ‘58). Jensen won the MVP by leading the league in RBI with 122 (one of three times in his career he led the league in RBI), hitting 35 homers and getting onbase at a .396 clip. Jensen had 1463 career hits in just 11 seasons, 199 home runs, the league leader in stolen bases in ‘54, triples in ‘56 and RBI in ‘55, ‘58 and ‘59. Jensen retired after the ‘59 season at the age of 32 due to a fear of flying. He tried to come back two years later with the help of a nightclub hypnotist hired after a panic at at an airport, but he was back out of the game after just one season.
The Splendid Splinter, Williams, was not known for being a good fielder. He was known for being a disinterested fielder, often spending his time in left practicing his swing while the rest of his team was playing defense. This contributed to several seasons of double digit errors, or rather low numbers of putouts in the shallow left field of Fenway Park. He was 39 years old in 1958 and in the last seasons of his career, but he didn’t balloon up to double digit errors, he was hardly one of the best fielders in the league, in fact he was a bit below average, but this was an exceptional year from his two outfield mates. Williams’ best fielding year might have actually been 1955 when he was a bit above average for once and he played with a younger Piersall and Jensen, although 1958 was closer to the Gold Glove awards won by both men.
Piersall was traded to the Indians after the ‘58 season where he joined an outfield with Minnie Minoso and Rocky Colavito. Piersall’s ‘59 season saw him commiting just one more error in the outfield, converting four fewer assists, but he did start two more double plays from the outfield. Colavito and Minoso were both nine-time All-Stars, Minoso the winner of three Gold Gloves to go with Piersall’s two All-Star games and two Gold Gloves. Minoso won Gold Gloves in ‘57, ‘59 and ‘60.
Minoso was the first dark skinned latin player in the MLB and first black player for the White Sox. In his 1959 season, Minnie had 317 putouts, 14 assists and only 5 errors. He wasn’t just a celebrated fielder, he was considered one of the most exciting players of his time, making plays in left field, leading the league in stolen bases in ‘51, ‘52 and ‘53, triples in ‘51, ‘54 and ‘56, doubles in ‘57 hits in ‘60 and hit by pitch TEN times. He had 1963 career hits, a .298 AVG, .389 OBP and hit over .300 nine times.
Rocky Colavito was the slugger of the ‘59 Indians outfield but his non-Golden fielding was respectable nonetheless. He had 319 putouts in left, seven assists and five errors to nearly match the more exciting Minoso who only bested him in outfield assists although Colavito’s arm was considered the strongest of any AL outfielder in his time. In 1958 he led the league with six double plays from the outfield and put together a streak of 241 errorless games. Rocky hit 42 home runs in ‘59 to lead the league along with 111 RBI and a third place finish in MVP voting. He lead the league in SLG (.620) the year before, and in 1965 he led the league in RBI (108) and walks (93). Over his 14 year career he notched 1730 hits, 374 homers, hitting 40+ in three seasons and got onbase at a .359 clip despite a .266 AVG. The three defenders were all quite a bit better than average with Rtots of 17, 17 and 15 (Colavito, Piersall and Minoso, respectively)
1969 Orioles: LF Don Buford, CF Paul Blair, RF Frank Robinson
These Orioles made it to the World Series but lost to the Miracle Mets, ironically due to masterful outfield play from Tommie Agee. That Mets outfield had especially good play from Agee and Cleon Jones all season, but they didn’t quite have a great fielding third member. Agee was a two-time Gold Glover, but the Orioles’ Paul Blair was an eight-time winner and 1969 was one of his best seasons with some of the best support in right and left that he had during his career. That year Blair was 25 years old, won his second Gold Glove and went to his second of eight World Series. He lost the Championship that year. It was the first of three consecutive trips to the World Series and he won four Championship rings over his career. That year was statistically his best year in the outfield, fielding more than 400 putouts, committing only five errors, completing 14 outfield assists and an Rtot of 26. Blair mostly played because of his glove, he was only a .250 hitter over his career, hitting only 134 home runs over 17 years. He did collect 1513 hits and stole 174 bags and was the standard for centerfield defense for a nine year stretch from 1967 to 1975.
Blair was hit in the face with a fastball in 1970, a frightening injury that he credits getting over thanks to the help of a hypnostist to regain his confidence. This run in with a hypnotist actually worked because he went on to hit 9 for 19 in the World Series that year.
Don Buford was a bit of an onbase-machine for the Orioles in the late-sixties and early-seventies. Played just over half the games of his ten year career with the Orioles, and although he only hit .270 in Baltimore, he was drawing walks to the tune of a .385 OBP. 1969 was the first year that he was the regular left fielder next to Blair and it was his best fielding season with the Orioles with an Rtot of 11. He contributed seven assists next to only four errors, and his range that season gave the outfield their best third member of Blair’s celebrated defensive career. Early in his career he was an infielder for the White Sox know for having a strong arm and being so fast he could “run a hole in the wind.” Unfortunately for his infield career, he was nicknamed “Stonefingers” and “Iron Glove” for his fielding. When he went to the Orioles he was moved back to outfield where he had played in the minors. The move not only solidified the outfield, but his bat took off as well.
This was also the best defensive season in Baltimore for Hall of Famer Frank Robinson who manned right field. It was one of very few seasons in Robinson’s incredibly celebrated career that he was an above average fielder with an Rtot of six. He only had three errors in right and made nine outfield assists. In his career “The Judge” won nearly every award in baseball: two MVP awards (one in each league), Rookie of the Year, Triple Crown, All-Star MVP, World Series MVP, Major League Player of the Year, and Manager of the Year to go with a Gold Glove at the beginning of his career. The year he won a Gold Glove he had an arm injury that caused his AVG to drop to .266. He pretty much won that award with one hand tied behind his back. He went to 14 All-Star Games and five World Series, winning two Championships. The only award he never won was the Silver Slugger and that’s because they didn’t start giving those out until four years after he retired.
1978 Red Sox: LF Carl Yastrzemski, LF Jim Rice, CF Fred Lynn, RF Dwight Evans
I feel like a homer with all of these Red Sox teams, perhaps it’s that the stadium is shaped in a way that is conducive to playing fielders with different strengths in the different positions.These teams split time in the outfield between the Very Good Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans in center and right and Hall of Famers Jim Rice and Carl Yastrzemski in left, also spending time at first and DH. Rice was the only one of the four to never win a Gold Glove, although he was a steady defender, even posting the best play of any of them in ‘78 with an Rtot of eight, three errors and 13 assists. Yaz won seven Gold Gloves (including one in ‘77), Lynn won four (‘75 and ‘78) and Evans took home eight (‘76 and ‘78).
Most of these players have either been covered in my survey of the Red Sox in September and the other players are members of the Hall of Fame already so here are some quick hits on the Boston outfield of the mid-to-late-'70's.
Rice: played all three outfield positions at one point during the season. Total Rtot of eight, only three errors, 245 putouts and 13 assists
Yaz: He split time between LF, 1B and DH the season that he was 38 years old. In his outfield play he had two errors but also two double plays in his eight assists and 136 putouts. He logged 63 innings in center with no errors even at his advanced age.
Lynn: This was one of his Gold Glove seasons, one of his most prolific years, catchign more than 400 putouts and converting eleven assists.
Evans: Another Gold Glover in ‘78, he had more than 300 putouts in right field and made 14 assists.
1980 A's: LF Rickey Henderson, CF Dwayne Murphy, RF Tony Armas
On a per-game basis of fielding, Rickey Henderson’s 1981 was better than his 1980. He won his only Gold Glove award in ‘81, had an Rtot of 22, compared to 18 in ‘80, an dhad 323 putouts in 107 games. In 1980, however, he played the full season, catching 412 putouts in left (the first player I have seen to have more than 400 from left field in a season), 17 outfield assists and a slightly higher fielding percentage than his Gold Glove year. He was great fielder and could make some hard plays look easy, but he also liked to make can of corn easy catches look flashy, whipping his glove around in the instant he would catch the ball.
It was the especially good play from his outfield-mates in 1980 that made that season special. Dwayne Murphy was a six-time Gold Glover known for his great range in center and ‘80 was the best fielding season of his career with a 22 Rtot (fielding percentage of .990). He made 13 outfield assists and reeled in a monsterous 501 putouts from the cavernous center field of Oakland. He led the league in total chances in 1980, 1982 and 1984. In his 12 year career, Murphy had only seven seasons of more than 100 games played and he won Gold Gloves in six straight seasons. He had 1069 hits over his career, 166 homers and a hundred steals. He only had a .246 career AVG but his .356 OBP (leading the league in walks in ’80, ’81 and ’82), getting on base at a rate similar to a .300 hitter. A chronic foot problem and an injury to his back cut his career short.
Tony Armas was the strong arm in right field where he posted a career high 17 assists and 374 putouts in the outfield. It was also by far his best Rtot, of 22, equalling the Gold Glover Murphy in right. The Silver Slugger and two-time All-Star Armas was more known for his bat than his glove, leading the league in homers twice in his 14 year career and RBI once. He was a Silver Slugger and a two-time All-Star, receiving MVP votes in three seasons. He amassed 1302 hits and 251 homers over his career. Folks my age probably better remember his son, pitcher Tony Armas, Jr., who was a reliable pitcher for the Expos and Nats in the early 2000’s.
1987 Angels: LF Jack Howell, CF Gary Pettis, RF Devon White
The California Angels of 1987 saw the confluence of two of the great center fielders of all-time in the same outfield and a utility man in left who put together an above average season. Garry Pettis was a five-time Gold Glove center fielder from ‘85 to ‘90 for the Angels and Tigers. He was a double digit outfield assist guy in ‘84 and ‘85 until runners stopped trying to take the extra base. In ‘87 he only had two assists while runners didn’t try to advance. He had 344 putouts in 131 games, 464 the previous year playing a whole season and sported an Rtot of 15.
Devon White was a seven-time Gold Glove center fielder from ‘88 to ‘95 in his own right. The only year in that span that he did not win the award was the year he fueded with the Angels manager who had him sent to the minors. He was traded to the Blue Jays the next year and rattled off five straight Gold Glove Awards. He was known from his smooth style of tracking down balls in the outfield. Announcers would marvel that his strides appeared to be eight to ten feet long. White was a rookie in ‘87 and he mostly played right field but also played 64 games in center. Across the outfield that season, White had 424 putouts, 16 assists and an Rtot of 27. In Devo’s career he won three World Series, two with the Blue Jays and one with the Marlins, was a three-time All-Star, had 1934 hits, 208 homers, and 346 steals.
Jack Howell was hardly a star fielder in left for the Angels this year, but he did keep himself out of trouble, committing only two errors for an Rtot of three over 89 games while White and Pettis handled the rest of the real estate with great range. Howell also logged 48 games at third and 13 at second in ‘87. He was above average in left and his 23 homers at the plate didn’t hurt the team either. Pitching for California in ‘87 was a bit of a mess and they only won 75 games. You can’t catch them all if the pitchers are walking guys and the ball is landing over the fence.
1991 Orioles: LF/RF Joe Orsulak, LF/CF Brady Anderson, CF Mike Devereaux, RF Dwight Evans
Dwight Evans book-ended his career with the the 1991 Orioles. He only played 67 games in right field but he only had two errors as a 39 year old in his final season and six assists for old time sake. This was the only season he played outside of Boston in his career of eight Gold Gloves.
Joe Orsulak took over the mantle as the strong arm in this Orioles outfield, leading the league with 22 assists while splitting his time between the corner outfield spots. Those 22 assists were an Orioles record even though he missed 19 games. He only had one error on the season, converted four double plays from the outfield and had an Rtot of 9. He never had more than nine assists in a season after ‘91.
Center field was patrolled by the “acrobatic” Mike Deverauex known for robbing home runs. That leaping ability came early, he set the Wyoming state record for high jump in high school. 1991 was by far his best season playing the field, he only had three errors compared to 399 putouts and ten assists for a fielding percentage of .993 and an Rtot of 16. The highlight of Devereaux’s career came in 1995 after a mid-season trade to the Braves when he hit .305 in a four game sweep of the Reds in the NLCS on his way to be named the MVP of the series.
Dwight Evans’ shorter season gave the opportunity for future three-time All-Star Brady Anderson to secure a spot in the Baltimore outfield. It was his first of eleven seasons playing 110 games or more for the Orioles and he had did a steady job at every outfield position, only committing three errors and adding three assists for an Rtot of three, just above average. That was the year he because one of the better hitters in the elauge by chaning his hitting philosophy in August to “swing hard all the time.” Anderson went on to have a 53 steal season in 1992 and a 50 home run season in 1996 (although that had quite a stink of PED suspicion behind it. He had 1661 career hits, 210 homers, 315 steals and despite his .256 AVG, he had a highly respectable .362 OBP.
1992 Mariners: LF Kevin Mitchell, CF Ken Griffey Jr, RF Jay Buhner
Out of the three guys to man outfield positions the most for the Mariners in ‘92, Griffey, Mitchell and Buhner, the trio had a TOTAL of only three errors on the season.
Kevin Mitchell is known for two things, being a slugger and his ridiculous one handed catch highlight for the Giants. Baseball saved his life. Growing up in San Diego Mitchell was a gang member who survived several gunshot wounds.
In 1989 playing for the Giants he led the NL in both home runs and RBI (47 and 125). This offensive explosion was directly linked to him starting to wear contact lenses before the season… which means he was a successful MLB player playing without clear sight for hyears before that. He wasn’t a very mobile fielder, he was sent to the DH position a number of times in ‘92, his first year in the AL, but he also never committed an error. He was a below average fielder when it came to range, but if he got to a ball, he made the play. In his career, he was the ‘89 NL MVP, a Silver Slugger and a two-time All-Star. He had 1173 hits, 234 homers, a .360 OBP that outperformed his .284 AVG over 13 seasons (only four where he played the whole year). He played for eight teams and was with the Mariners for only one year.
Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr was the most dynamic player of his time. He sported the sweetest swing in the game and the most electrifying highlights of robbing home runs in the field and had one of the strangest throwing arms at his position. He was a ten time Gold Glover, one for every year of the nineties. While he had his highest Rtot in 1996 and won the AL MVP in ‘97, 1992 was a year where he had only one error compared to 358 putouts and eight assists.
Jay Buhner only had two errors and 314 putouts and was second in the AL in outfield assists with a .994 fielding percentage. He was another corner outfielder on this team with limited range, although he tried to make up for it with his arm. This team lacked the range of pretty much every team on this list, but it was one of the better assist seasons for Buhner, none of them made mistakes and it was anchored by Griffey’s stylish play in center.
There were only a limited number of years for the Angels, California, Anaheim or Los Angeles of Anaheim, that multiple Gold Glove winners Darin Erstad and Jim Edmonds were both playing in the outfield at the same time. Like Devon White and Pettis, both guys were two of the best fielding center fielders of their time. The Angels moved Erstad to first base for some of his career to accommodate both players and he even won a Gold Glove there in 2004. His other two Gold Gloves were in 2000 for his play in left field and 2002 for play in center. In 1998 Erstad still split his time between left field and first base, but in the 70 games he played left field he only had one error to go with four assists. Erstad’s greatest claims to fame were from is versitile glove and his 2000 season where he led the league with 240 hits in a year that he had 25 homers, 100 RBI, 39 doubles, 28 steals, a .355 AVG and a .409 OBP. Over 14 years (one of a handful of players to play with Angels of California, Anaheim and Los Angeles) he had 1697 hits, 179 steals and a .282 AVG. He was a two-time All-Star, had three Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger and a World Series ring with the ‘02 Angels. He won one in ‘98 thanks to his ten assists, 312 putouts and five errors.
Edmonds was the center fielder for the Angels, known for his amazing diving catch heading directly toward the center field wall. He won eight Gold Gloves from ‘98 to 2005 playing for the Angels and Cardinals. In 1998 Edmonds made 393 putouts, ten assists and five errors. He was a Silver Slugger, four-time All-Star and won the World Series in 2006 with the Cardinals. Edmonds had two seasons with more than 40 homers. Over his career he had 1949 hits, 393 homers a .284 AVG and a .376 OBP.
Left Field was manned by Garrett Anderson, who contributed 11 assists, 326 putouts and three double plays. He was the only guy not to win any Gold Gloves in this outfield although he was a constant in the Angels outfield from ‘95 to 2008. He was known for his bat, 2529 hits, 522 doubles, 287 homers and a .293 AVG. He was a three time All-Star and two-time, won an All-Star MVP award and led the league in doubles in ‘02 and ‘03 (56 and 49). He was one of the leaders of the 2002 Angels World Series championship.
The last decade has seen higher frequency of athletic and skilled players all across the MLB. Along with last year's Red Sox outfield, there have been a lot of teams across both leagues with either a collection of players with great track records (or futures) or especially good seasons from great fielders, sometimes it just takes an all-time defensive year from two guys and a third who doesn't trip over his own feet. As the vast majority of these players are either still playing, not yet on the Hall of Fame Ballot, or still on the Ballot, the teams of this decade will get their own space here.
2010 Mariners: LF Michael Saunders, CF Franklin Gutierrez, RF Ichiro
One of the most successful outfields of all time, Ichiro and Gutierrez both won Gold Gloves. Gutierrez had a two year span from 2009 to 2010 where he had the best range in the game, he had 445 putouts and a 30 Rtot in ‘09 and over 400 putouts, no errors and a 12 Rtot to win his Gold Glove in 2010. Ichiro was one of the most graceful outfielders I have ever seen and despite his small stature he had one of the best outfield throwing arms the game has ever seen. He never had more than 12 assists in a seasons because runners learned really fast that they shouldn’t even think about taking an extra base on him. In 2007 he played in center and had more than 400 putouts, back in right in 2010 he still had 354 putouts even at the age of 36. Canadian Saunders only had to be just better than average in left field to make this one of the best outfields ever.
2012 Angels: LF Vernon Wells, CF Mike Trout, RF Torii Hunter, LF Bobby Abreu, RF Kole Calhoun
This was the year that Mike Trout won the Wilson Defensive Player of the year even though he has never been awarded a Gold Glove. Out of five players to get most of the outfield looks for the Angels in 2012 Trout was the only player who hasn’t won a Gold Glove yet. The trio of Vernon Wells (GGs from 2004 to 2006), Torii Hunter (GGs from 2001 to 2009) and Bobby Abreu had won their Gold Gloves before this seasona dn Cole Calhoun (GG in 2015) won his just a few years later. They didn’t play especially well as a unit, but they are one of the most awarded groups to pay in the same outfield in the same season.
2014 was an especially good year for outfield defensive units with especially great trios in Kansas City, Baltimore and Arizona. The Royals had two Wilson defensive winners, those like the Gold Gloves but there’s only one awarded per position for the whole MLB every year. Lorenzo Cain was the centerfield winner of the Wilson Award and Alex Gordon won the Wilson Award and Gold Glove for left field as well as winning the Platinum Glove as the best fielder in the AL. Gordon had 341 putouts and eight assists from left (24 Rtot), Cain only had two errors (19 Rtot) and the right field combo of Nori Aoki and Jarrod Dyson both played above average ball on defense (Rtots of 2 and 7, respectively).
While the Royals had two Wilson winners from the AL, the Orioles had two Gold Glove outfielders on their team in the same year. Adam Jones and Nick Markakis combined Jones’ range (374 putouts, his fourth GG in six years) and Markakis’ combo of 12 assists and no errors in right. Interestingly, left fielder David Lough had a better defensive season compared to the rest of the league (7 Rtot) in a season where he only had one error.
2014 was the year that the Diamondbacks had all three of their best defensive outfielders on the same team although they all won their awards in the years around 2014. Gerardo Parra was the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 and Gold Glove winner in ‘11 and ‘13, Pollock won a Gold Glove in 2015 and Ender Inciarte has won three straight Gold Gloves from 2016 to 2018. Parra was the mos