11/02/11 12:30 AM EST
Gordon takes home first Gold Glove
Left fielder's 20 assists led Majors in 2011
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
Gordon won the Rawlings Gold Glove Award as the American League's best defensive left fielder on Tuesday night. The vote was by the league's managers and coaches.
He was selected over the New York Yankees' Brett Gardner and the Tampa Bay Rays' Sam Fuld. Royals right fielder Jeff Francoeur, also a finalist, lost out to the Baltimore Orioles' Nick Markakis.
"I was thrilled, I couldn't be happier about the award. I have a lot of people to thank. It would it have been nice to see a teammate, Frenchy, with me but just to have both of us up for the award was great," Gordon said. "Just changing positions last year, I never thought I'd be in this position today."
AL GOLD GLOVE WINNERS
|C||Matt Wieters, Orioles||1|
|1B||Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox||3|
|2B||Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox||2|
|3B||Adrian Beltre, Rangers||3|
|SS||Erick Aybar, Angels||1|
|LF||Alex Gordon, Royals||1|
|CF||Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox||1|
|RF||Nick Markakis, Orioles||1|
|P||Mark Buehrle, White Sox||3|
Gordon is the 10th Royals player to win a Gold Glove. He's the fifth outfielder; Amos Otis won in 1971-73-74, Al Cowens in 1977, Willie Wilson in 1980 and Jermaine Dye in 2000.
Frank White won eight Gold Gloves at second base between 1977 and 1987, and Mark Grudzielanek won at that position in 2006. George Brett won at third base in 1985, and pitcher Bret Saberhagen and catcher Bob Boone both won 1989.
While Gordon was known as a hard-working, strong and adaptable athlete, his switch from third base to the outfield in 2010 went amazingly well. It all came about after a broken finger sidetracked his Spring Training that year and he got off to a poor start when he returned in April. With Alberto Callaspo available to play third base, Gordon was shipped off to Triple-A Omaha and, mindful that hot prospect Mike Moustakas was due for arrival soon at third base, the Royals shifted Gordon to the outfield.
"It wasn't easy at first, and you could probably ask some of the Triple-A pitchers I was playing defense behind about that," he said. "But I got sent down and put in the work down there and when I got to the big leagues, I was maybe not quite ready but pretty close."
Gordon credited Minor League instructor Rusty Kuntz and Royals outfield coach Doug Sisson with honing his skills.
"Those two coaches definitely made it a lot easier for me," he said.
After 68 games for Omaha in 2010, Gordon was back with Kansas City and started 55 games in left field and three in right field with few problems. Key factors were that Gordon embraced the change and worked endlessly to improve himself.
As a bonus, Gordon was a hot hitter for Omaha. That didn't carry over to Kansas City in 2010, but his fielding prowess did.
"Everything that he did was with a purpose. There was no fooling around," manager Ned Yost noted early this season. "He works, and when he works, he's 100 percent focused on what he's doing. And he's as good at it as anybody I've ever seen and as disciplined with it as anybody I've ever seen."
Gordon had a system to keep his outfield play sharp. During batting practice this year, he shooed the shagging pitchers away from left field and concentrated on fielding every ball hit his way as if he were in a game. Yost also felt that Gordon's quick, infield-style release on his throws helped him gun down overly-enthusiastic baserunners.
In fact, the entire Royals outfield became a huge weapon, leading the Majors with 51 assists, most since the Detroit Tigers had 50 in 2002. It was the most by the Royals since 53 in their inaugural season of 1969. Francoeur had 16, tying for second in the Majors, and center fielder Melky Cabrera had 13. The other two were recorded by Mitch Maier.
"I think Frenchy and Melky might have had a stronger arm than me, but I do think I got to the ball quickly and had that quicker release, and that definitely helped me transition to the outfield," Gordon said.
His assists total grew throughout the season and his 20 broke the club record of 17 by Dye in 1999 and by Mark Teahen in 2007. Oddly enough, Teahan also was a converted third baseman, moved to make room for Gordon at third base.
Gordon especially recalled the Royals' series in late July at Boston.
"The ones that meant a lot of me were off the Green Monster, because I didn't know how I was going to react to the big wall and how I would adjust to it," he said. "But I played a couple balls off the wall and made three outfield assists at second base."
Royals outfielders were involved in 26 plays that cut down runners at home plate, most in the Majors since 1978 when the Montreal Expos had 30 such plays.
Gordon believes that Sisson's insistence on practicing outfield throws before every series this season, unlike most clubs, was a big factor. Even though he's now a Gold Glove winner, Gordon noted that he's still new at the position and he'll keep working to get better.
"I had a couple of errors and I think my range can improve," he said.
Actually, he had three errors. Oh, yeah, work to be done.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.