All-Time Gold Glove Team of the Best Defenders in MLB History

From Ozzie Smith and Keith Hernandez, to Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente, here are the top defenders in MLB history at each position.

NEW YORK, NY - CIRCA 1989: Ozzie Smith #1 of the St. Louis Cardinals goes down to field a ground ball against the New York Mets during a Major League baseball game circa 1989 at Shea Stadium in the Queens borough of New York City. Smith played for the Cardinals from 1982-96. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Who are the best defenders in the history of each position in Major League Baseball?

There isn’t an exact way to determine that. Gold Gloves are one way to evaluate that, but that assumes that all human voters are perfect in their assessments, which obviously isn’t the case. Gold Gloves also weren’t awarded until 1957. Advanced metrics such as defensive runs saved are helpful, but certainly not perfect and weren’t tracked until 2003.

Using a combination of accolades, metrics and the old-fashioned eye test, here’s what we came up with for the best defender in the history of every position.

Catcher: Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez

Over the course of his 21-year career, Rodríguez won a staggering 13 Gold Glove Awards, three more than the next closest. 10 of those Gold Gloves came as a member of the Texas Rangers, and he added another three with the Detroit Tigers. In between stints with the Rangers and Tigers, Pudge also helped the Florida Marlins to win the 2003 World Series.

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Among other impressive traits that Rodríguez had behind the plate, he possessed probably the strongest arm of any catcher in MLB history:

Rodríguez won the American League MVP in 1999, and made 14 All-Star Game appearances during his tremendous career. He was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 2017.

Honorable Mention: Yadier Molina

You could certainly make a case that this spot should go to Hall of Famer Johnny Bench, who finished his career with 10 Gold Glove Awards, as opposed to Molina’s nine.

But Molina won four Platinum Glove Awards as the best defender in the National League, despite the award not being established until his age-28 season. Defensive runs saved started being tracked in 2003, and over that time, Molina has 184 DRS, the top mark among catchers and the third-most among all defenders.

First Base: Keith Hernandez

Hernandez is pretty universally seen as one of the biggest Hall of Fame snubs. And while he did finish his career with an .821 OPS, his meal ticket was his defense, as he won 11 Gold Glove Awards, two more than any other first baseman in MLB history.

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Every year from 1978-1988, Hernandez won the Gold Glove Award at first base in the National League. The first five came solely as a member of the Cardinals, while the last five came exclusively with the Mets. Fittingly, he won the 1983 NL Gold Glove Award in a season that he split between the Cardinals and the Mets.

Honorable Mention: Don Mattingly

Speaking of players that many feel are Hall of Fame snubs, “Donnie Baseball” packed quite a bit into his injury-shortened career. Over 14 seasons spent exclusively with the New York Yankees, Mattingly won nine Gold Glove Awards, a mark that only Hernandez has topped at the position.

Second Base: Roberto Alomar

Alomar played for seven different franchises during his 17-year career, but his glove traveled with him wherever he went.

Alomar won six consecutive Gold Glove Awards from 1991-1996, while playing for the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles. In total, Alomar won 10 Gold Gloves, making him the only player in the history of the position to crack double digits in terms of winning that award.

In 2011, Alomar was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, although sexual misconduct allegations have damaged his post-career legacy.

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Honorable Mention: Ryne Sandberg

Sandberg won nine career Gold Glove Awards and posted a .989 fielding percentage across more than 17,000 innings at second base. Like Alomar, Sandberg is a Hall of Famer, having been inducted in 2005.

Shortstop: Ozzie Smith

Despite being just a .262 career hitter, Smith was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002. While you can attribute some of that to him having 580 stolen bases and over 2,400 career hits, the largest reason is obviously his work in the field.

In a 19-year career split between the San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals, “The Wizard” won a staggering 13 Gold Glove Awards, a record at shortstop. The first two Gold Gloves came with the Padres, and the final 11 with the Cardinals.

Honorable Mention: Omar Vizquel

Vizquel’s .985 fielding percentage is the top mark among all shortstops in MLB history, and his 11 Gold Gloves at shortstop are second only to Smith. Like Alomar — whom he shared a middle infield with in Cleveland from 1999-2001 — Vizquel’s legacy has been tarnished by some pretty heinous allegations of both domestic violence and sexual misconduct.

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Third Base: Brooks Robinson

Considered the gold standard of defense at the hot corner, Robinson won 16 Gold Glove Awards at third base during his illustrious career, a mark that is unlikely to ever be topped.

What makes Robinson’s career so remarkable is his consistency at one of the toughest defensive positions. He won the aforementioned 16 Gold Gloves consecutively, doing so from 1960-1975. And his .971 fielding percentage is fifth in MLB history, a pretty remarkable feat when you consider he logged 24,993 2/3 innings at third base in his career.

A lifelong Baltimore Oriole, Robinson was a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection in 1983.

Honorable Mention: Nolan Arenado

At perhaps any other position, Arenado probably would have been the winner, especially considering he is still adding to his legacy. At third base, he’ll have to settle for runner-up, which is still a pretty high achievement when you consider he beat out Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Scott Rolen.

Arenado is a 10-time Gold Glove Award winner, and on six occasions has won the Platinum Glove as the best overall fielder in the NL. Arenado’s 155 career defensive runs saved – which, again, weren’t tracked until 2003 — are fourth among all defenders, and second at third base only to Hall of Famer Adrián Beltré.

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Left Field: Alex Gordon

The No. 2 overall pick by the Kansas City Royals in the 2005 MLB Draft, Gordon began his career as a third basemen. But the shift to left field on a full-time basis in 2011 proved to be a career-altering one.

Since defensive runs saved started being tracked in 2003, Gordon’s 109 DRS are the most among left fielders, with Carl Crawford the next closest at 68. Gordon won eight Gold Gloves in left field, adding two Platinum Gloves as the junior circuit’s best defender.

Honorable Mention: Barry Bonds

If you only remember the version of Bonds that played left field at what’s now called Oracle Park later in his career, because there wasn’t yet a universal DH, this might surprise you. But Bonds is eighth in MLB history in assists by a left fielder with 158, and is tied with Gordon for most Gold Gloves at the position with eight.

Center Field: Willie Mays

Mays is the author of the most famous catch in MLB history, and that was just one amazing moment in perhaps the most complete career that the sport has ever seen.

Mays won 11 Gold Glove Awards, and his 188 career outfield assists are eighth in MLB history for center fielders. And yes, his over-the-shoulder catch in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series is one of the most iconic plays in the history of North American professional sports.

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Of course, on top of his defensive prowess, Mays’ 660 career home runs are sixth in MLB history. He also finished his career with 3,293 hits, which puts him 13th all-time in the category. Mays — who recently celebrated his 93rd birthday — was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979.

Honorable Mention: Andruw Jones

Probably the best defensive outfielder of the last 25 years, Jones won 10 consecutive Gold Glove Awards from 1998-2007 while playing with the Atlanta Braves. The 60 defensive runs saved that Jones posted are noteworthy because the stat wasn’t tracked until his age-26 season, at which point he had already won five Gold Gloves.

Right Field: Roberto Clemente

The only player with double-digit Gold Gloves in right field is Clemente, who won the honor in each of his final 12 MLB seasons.

One of the most celebrated stars baseball has ever had, Clemente spent his entire Hall of Fame career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Over 18 seasons with the Buccos, Clemente recorded 256 outfield assists, the second most among right fielders in MLB history.

His throw from the right field wall to home plate at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore during Game 6 of the 1971 World Series remains one of the most amazing the sport has ever seen.

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Honorable Mention: Ichiro Suzuki

Ichiro didn’t come to the United States to play until his age-27 season, but made up for lost time by playing in parts of 19 MLB campaigns. In addition to racking up 3,089 career hits, Ichiro was a 10-time Gold Glove Award winner, who had 103 career defensive runs saved in right field.

Pitcher: Greg Maddux

If you were going to name the pitching Gold Glove after anyone, it would be Maddux, who took home the honor 18 times during his illustrious career.

Besides having perhaps the greatest command of any pitcher in MLB history, Maddux’s defensive prowess was a major reason he was able to win four NL Cy Young Awards and 355 career games. Perhaps the most impressive fielding metric for Maddux is 25 defensive runs saved, despite DRS not being tracked until his age-36 season.

Maddux was a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection in 2014, with his glove work a not-insignificant part of his legacy.

Honorable Mention: Jim Kaat

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With apologies to Zack Greinke, it’s “Kitty” who gets the nod as the silver medalist for defense among pitchers. Over a Hall of Fame career that spanned 25 seasons, Kaat won 16 Gold Glove Awards.