Everyone likes to be recognized for a job well done. But despite playing his best defensive seasons the past two years, Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy never thought he'd win a Gold Glove.
These days, shortstop is a position of flash – of acrobatic, diving plays, off-balanced throws and behind-the-back tosses.
But Hardy was rewarded Tuesday, winning the first Gold Glove of his eight-year big league career, joined by second-time winners Adam Jones and Matt Wieters to make the Orioles' first trifecta of Gold Glove winners since 1998.
Hardy was the feel-good story of the night. He was a finalist last season in his first year with Baltimore but didn't win, edged by Angels shortstop Erick Aybar, despite leading AL shortstops with a .990 fielding percentage.
This season, Hardy received recognition and redemption. He led all AL shortstops again in fielding percentage, this time with a .992 mark, committing just six errors in 779 chances.
"I never really expected to get it, but I'm surprised and honored at the same time," Hardy said Tuesday night. "It's an award that in the past I've seen a lot of shortstops get it that are really flashy and kind of catch the eye of a lot of people.
"I don't look at myself in that way. I just look at myself as just trying to be consistent and steady and I never felt like people noticed really until [Orioles manager] Buck [Showalter] would always talk about it and I think that was a big part of me getting noticed."
Showalter often trumpeted Hardy as one of the best defensive shortstops in the game. While the Orioles struggled defensively through the first half, Hardy held the infield together. Showalter raved about Hardy's unorthodox way of taking throws. He talks about how he has a great "clock" – knowing exactly how much time he needed to throw out a runner, which Showalter said often made difficult plays look routine.
"I had no choice," Showalter said of raving about Hardy. "He's making two or three plays every night and it was so impactful. And I happen to think J.J.'s substance is his style. I don't know if flashy is the word, but he can do things that other people can't do."
Showalter said Hardy should have won the Gold Glove last season and that last year might have been a better defensive year than this one for Hardy, but that's not to take anything away from this season.
Stats aside – Hardy also led AL shortstops in games (158), putouts (244), assists (529), range factor per game (4.89) for the second straight season, defensive wins above replacement (2.8) and total zone runs (21) – Hardy's presence allowed Showalter the confidence to bring up 20-year-old rookie Manny Machado to play third beside him in August. Machado not only blossomed in the field but also held his own offensively, playing a big part in the Orioles' late-season surge.
"If we hadn't had J.J. Hardy at shortstop we might not have done it," Showalter said. "The asset of playing [Machado] right next to J.J. and learning the right way to play the infield and the wisdom and experience he was able to give him was another big part of being able to bring him up."
Add in that Hardy is truly one of the game's good guys and it is nice to see him win. And now that Hardy has finally won a Gold Glove, he's become validated as a fine fielder. Like Jones and Wieters before him, his name will now immediately pop up during talk of the best defensive shortstops.
"It's like when you're Muhammad Ali and you're the heavyweight champion," Showalter said. "Once you win one of these things, people all of a sudden are aware at how good you are and how hard you work to be good. It's hard to unseat the champion. You're going to beat the heck out of them."