What do Andy Messersmith, Jim Kaat, Phil Niekro, Steve Carlton, Joaquin Andujar and Fernando Valenzuela have in common?
They were all NL Gold Glove Award-winning pitchers who didn't deserve the honor. In each case, the Gold Glove Award should have gone to just one guy: Rick Reuschel. All told, ten seasons of Gold Glove snubs are represented by these six fine NL pitchers (Messersmith and Kaat both won two in a row, and Niekro won three in a row).
How did this happen? It may sound preposterous, but I have it figured out.
Andy Messersmith: GG in '74 and '75 for no real reason; at least it had nothing to do with actually "fielding" his position well. His Range Factor of 1.91 in '74 was slightly better than league average (1.88). He followed that up with a 1.51 in '75, which was significantly worse than league average. Let's face it: He was chosen simply because he was a high profile free agent who was signed by the Dodgers in '74 - and they went on to play (and lose) in the World Series. Somehow, the aura of all that notoriety lasted for another season; hence, the ridiculous second GG.
Rick Reuschel led the NL with a 2.77 Range Factor in '74 and a 2.95 in '75.
Jim Kaat: GG in '76 and '77 for no real reason; except his reputation from all those GG seasons in the AL carried over in his first two seasons in the NL. Kaat's Range Factor for both seasons was exactly 1.46. These would be the last of 16 Gold Glove Awards Kaat would bag. He actually deserved the first four.
Rick Reuschel led the NL with a 2.63 RF in '76 and a 2.57 in '77.
Phil Niekro: 3 straight GG - '78 (2.21 RF) - '79 (2.29 RF) & '80 (1.90 RF). Niekro had never won before, so it was simply his time. He was very good with the glove, but somebody else was better.
Rick Reuschel led the NL with a 2.52 RF in '78, a 2.86 RF in '79 and a 2.94 RF in '80. Do we detect a trend yet?
Steve Carlton was about as "high profile" as it gets for a pitcher in '81. He was a taciturn World Series champion in '80 and he was closing in on the 3000 career strikeout plateau. Of course, that has nothing to do with "fielding" - which Carlton rarely did that season (1.18 RF).
Rick Reuschel led the NL with a 2.59 RF in '81. Can you believe it?
Reuschel was out of commission for the '82 and '83 seasons. When he came back in '84, he was still leading the NL with a 2.53 RF, but '82 World Series champion Joaquin Andujar posted a respectable 2.38 RF to take home the Gold. He was colorful, and that's good enough here, folks.
By 1985, the opposing coaches and managers in the NL finally realized this Rick Reuschel fellow was pretty darned good with the glove. He won GG number one with a 2.97 RF.
Fernando Valenzuela: GG in '86 with a very nice 2.54 RF. He almost deserved it.
Rick Reuschel led the NL with a 2.84 RF in '86, so it appears he should have won back-to-back Gold Glove Awards. But no.
However, Reuschel led the NL with a 2.50 RF in '87. Not coincidentally, his team - the San Francisco Giants - just happened to play the Cardinals in that season's NLCS, thus creating the perfect candidate for the GG: Big Daddy!
For his career, the underrated Reuschel had a career 2.52 RF (compared to NL average 1.89 RF). In the National League, only Greg Maddux was a better fielding pitcher in the history of the Gold Glove Award. He was a guy who deserved all 18 of his Gold Gloves; proving that sometimes, they do get it right.