“Best” is a four-letter word in baseball

Jeff's new man crush: 2012 Gold Glove first baseman Joey Votto. (Mark Lyons/Getty Images)

I learned this morning there is a lot of deception in baseball. “How did I learn this?” you might be asking.

Shouldn’t I have known that Major League Baseball involves deception after things like Pete Rose, ‘Roidgate (a.k.a., the Barry Bonds saga) and the Chicago Black Sox scandal of 1919? You would think so, but I guess I’m just a slow learner!

I was reminded of the “sneakiness” of MLB at a harmless morning gathering around the office coffee pot. One minute, I’m enjoying my morning cup of Joe and the next minute, I’m engaged in a full-on baseball discussion/argument that involves deception.

And it all centered around one everyday word: “best.”

We all use “best” on a regular basis. He’s my “best” friend. This is the “best” cheeseburger I’ve ever had! You’re the best! However, the next time you get into a baseball conversation with a co-worker, friend or random stranger, be careful of the word “best.”

My co-worker and friend is a huge Atlanta Braves fan. We live in Atlanta, so I let that slide! He was giddy with excitement over the 2012 lineup for his Braves and was rattling off the projected batting order.

When he got to first baseman Freddie Freeman, my friend added a description that set my red flags in motion: “Freddie is the ‘best’ fielding first baseman in baseball!” The movie then hit pause and sipping my coffee quickly became less important.

I told my friend that he must be on crack, because Freeman’s not even the best fielding first baseman in the National League, let alone all MLB. I told him that Albert Pujols and Mark Teixeira are better fielders at their position than Freeman. After my buddy accused me of being insane, I asked him who won the National League Gold Glove at first last season. (Note: I had no idea who won the award, but I was PRAYING that it wasn’t Freeman for my argument’s sake!)

A quick search brought relief when I discovered that Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto won the Gold Glove at first in 2011. Votto quickly became “my man” after learning that news nugget!

My friend then said that the Gold Glove award is just a popularity contest and that it doesn’t determine the best fielders at each position in baseball. After I threw out the fact that Votto had a .996 fielding percentage last season, my friend said that Freeman also had the same percentage.

Did I mention that my friend is stubborn? Nevertheless, I then told my friend that Todd Helton actually had the best fielding percentage among NL first baseman in 2011 with a .997 mark. That did nothing to help my cause, though.

My friend started throwing stats like “range factor,” “total chances” and who knows what else at me. He even argued that old codgers like Helton don’t get to as many balls as young studs like Freeman, so fielding percentage is a misleading measuring stick.

After more “discussion,” my friend stuck by his claim that Freeman is the best fielder at his position in baseball. I stuck to my claim that Freeman is not the best, but that he might soon reach that plateau.

I accused my friend of being a Braves’ homer and being in love with Freeman. He said that while he does really “dig” Freeman, his claim was based on his head, not his heart. So, who truly is the “best” fielding first baseman in baseball?

Man, I just can’t wait for the 2012 season to start! If I can have this much fun around an office coffee pot, where can the upcoming baseball season take me?

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