The Atlanta Braves are messing up my angle here.
See, just two years ago, Atlanta accomplished what Seattle just did: two Gold Glove winners and a Rookie of the Year award all in the same season (that’s Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis, and Ronald Acuña Jr., for those of you curious), all of them position players. That might trick you into believing this kind of event is commonplace.
Spoiler alert: it’s not. Especially not in the American League.
Truthfully, it would have been even less of a rara avis and more of a Avis Rent-a-Car had Shohei Ohtani posted one year earlier, prior to the 2017 season, when both Andrelton Simmons and Martin Maldonado won Gold Gloves for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, USA, Planet Earth. And if pitcher Gold Gloves count (they don’t), Dallas Keuchel and Jose Altuve both won Gold Gloves in 2015, when Carlos Correa won Rookie of the Year for Houston. Future Astro Justin Verlander was also involved in a ROY/2GG trifecta in 2006, when he won the ROY for Detroit along with future HOFer Ivan Rodriguez and pitcher Kenny Rogers, again, if pitcher Gold Gloves counted for this exercise, which they emphatically do not. But to get to three position player Gold Gloves and Rookie of the Year in the American League, you have to travel back in time to the land of three-color baseball cards and set your wayback machine for Baltimore in the year 1973.
The Orioles had an orange-hued fist on Gold Glove hardware throughout the 70s, led by one of the greatest third basemen of all time in Brooks Robinson, who won the Gold Glove every single year from 1960-1975. Not to be outdone, Mark Belanger dethroned perennial winner Luis Aparicio of the White Sox to secure eight Gold Gloves at shortstop from 1969-1978. Davey Johnson had 2B on lock from 1969-71, and Bobby Grich took over for him from 1973-76. Paul Blair pitched in from the outfield, winning all but one year between 1967 and 1975. And if it counted, which it deeply does not, Jim Palmer owned the Gold Glove for pitching from 1976-1979.
It’s not surprising, then, that Baltimore managed to sneak a Rookie of the Year winner in there at some point, and that point was in 1973, when center fielder Al Bumbry won the ROY award. (In case this is your first time hearing of him, Bumbry went on to have a very nice fourteen-year career in the bigs with a career batting average of .281 and an All-Star turn in 1980.) Four Orioles won the Gold Glove that year, and not a one of them was a pitcher.
Over in the National League, the gap wasn’t quite as extensive between the Braves and the next team with two position player Gold Gloves and a Rookie of the Year as it was between the 2020 Mariners and 1973 Baltimore Orioles. The 2002 Rockies had the trifecta, with perennial All-Star Todd Helton at first and Hall of Famer Larry Walker in the outfield, as well as a young pitcher named Jason Jennings taking home ROY honors. (The 2003 Marlins, who would go on to win the World Series that year, also had the trifecta, although with a pitcher Gold Glove winner in Dontrelle Willis.) The 1986 Cardinals, who had perennial Gold Glove-winners Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee, also had a pitcher ROY in Todd Worrell. For a purely position-player docket you only have to go back one year to the 1985 Cardinals, who had Smith and McGee and also ROY and future Mariner, Vince Coleman. Even with back-to-back ROYs, St. Louis was dimmed by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who took home four consecutive ROY awards in 1979-1982, and then again between 1992-1996.
The reason for highlighting the rarity of this accomplishment is to point out that the two awards, Gold Gloves and Rookie of the Year, are often won by teams at different stages of their developmental cycles. Prior to this year, where the Gold Gloves were decided by a numbers-only-no-voting approach, GG awards were usually awarded over and over again to the same players until said player was overtaken by a new star—Don Mattingly getting edged out first by J.T. Snow, then Rafael Palmeiro at first.
Rookie of the Year awards, on the other hand, tend to be won by players who were high draft picks, meaning the team who received said draft pick played poorly enough recently enough to merit such a high pick, which doesn’t usually mean you have a ton of Gold Glove-caliber players rolling around on the field. There are exceptions, of course; Ichiro Suzuki was both the Gold Glove winner and the Rookie of the Year in 2001, because technically he was a rookie in MLB although not to baseball itself. Acuña was a free-agent signing rather than a draft pick, as was Yordan Alvarez in 2019 when he won ROY for the already-loaded Astros. But the overall trend line holds.
This makes what the Mariners accomplished in 2020—two Gold Glove winners and a Rookie of the Year, one a rookie himself and the first-ever rookie recipient of a 1B Gold Glove award, all position players, and two of the three homegrown in the organization—a rare feat indeed. There were factors working in the Mariners’ favor: a shortened season meaning super-prospect Luis Robert couldn’t build up a head of steam and make a late-season push to dethrone eventual winner Kyle Lewis; that same shortened season forcing the Mariners to play their defensively gifted but offensively struggling rookie first baseman Evan White every day; the infield wizardry of one Perry Hill helping J.P. Crawford alchemize his glove from bronze to gold. But it’s also a sign that while the Mariners are rebuilding, they’re doing so with some pretty good players on the field, and that tends to lead to good outcomes. Just ask the Orioles from anytime between 1966-1983.