FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Question: When was the last time one team had three Gold Glovers in the outfield in the same season?
Question: When, realistically, might this happen for the first time?
Answer: In 2019, with the Boston Red Sox.
For the third consecutive season, Boston has a star-studded trio of defenders from left to right in Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts. From home run robberies to lunging grabs in the gap to perfectly timed leaps (remember Air Benny in Game 2 of the World Series?) to strong throws, they do it all as a group.
Last year, they came agonizingly close to pulling off the feat, as Betts won in right field, Bradley prevailed in center and Benintendi was a finalist in left.
It gives them something to work for this year.
“Any time you’re the first, it’s something special,” said Betts. “We definitely have the crew to do it. We almost did it last year. If we put in our work, we’ll have another chance at it.”
“It’s never happened? That would be pretty cool. It’s something we’ll work for,” said Benintendi.
So how come they haven’t pulled off this clean sweep of Gold Gloves already? And why will this year be different?
First of all, Bradley needed to have his breakthrough in the voting, and he finally earned his first Gold Glove last season after years of being on the cusp. And the way it works with that award, once you win it, a string of them tend to follow.
Secondly, Benintendi put himself on the map with his superb defense while the world was watching in October. He ended Game 4 of the American League Championship Series with a spectacular snag that robbed Alex Bregman of extra bases.
Thirdly, Betts is in the very prime of his greatness and has won Gold Glove Awards the last three years, the only American League player at any position who can say that. It’s hard to imagine he won’t keep that streak going. Most people consider Fenway Park’s right field the toughest to cover in baseball, with quirky dimensions and endless ground to cover.
Benny is X factor
The key to make this historic quest a reality will be for Benintendi to put himself on the radar enough to win his first Gold Glove.
“I know it’s in the back of Benny’s mind,” said Red Sox outfield instructor Tom Goodwin. “I know Benny wants to get one. He’s the guy who gets missed, overlooked, but he’s just as important out there as the other guys. It would be fun to have something like that under your belt. They don’t play for that, but would it be nice to have? Of course.”
Considering Benintendi came through college and the farm system as a center fielder, perhaps he doesn’t get the credit he deserves for mastering left.
Benintendi lost out to Alex Gordon in last year’s vote. The most challenging thing for Benintendi in the voting is that he plays in front of Fenway Park’s Green Monster, which is a mere 310 feet from home plate. That doesn’t give him much room to wow you with range factor. But there is an art to playing the Monster, and all of those unpredictable caroms.
“Benny knows where that ball is going to bounce and you can always stop someone from either getting to second or throwing a guy out at second. It’s definitely a benefit,” said Goodwin.
For a while, Benintendi was the little brother trying to keep up with the exploits of Bradley and Betts. Now he is just one of them, albeit without the hardware.
“Absolutely,” Bradley said. “The guy is a stud. You saw those plays he was making in big-time moments. He was a Gold Glove finalist last year. He’s right up there and I’m really hoping he pulls it out this year.”
Switch in system creates real chance
The Rawlings Gold Glove Award started in 1957. But a key switch happened in 2011, one that now makes the quest of Benintendi, Bradley and Betts more attainable. Before '11, three outfielders were awarded Gold Gloves each season but not distinguished by position. Now, there is one left fielder, one center fielder and one right fielder.
If you think designating the outfielders by position makes it easier for Benintendi, Bradley and Betts to pull off what no outfield has ever done before, a former Red Sox outfield legend thinks this is how it should have been done all along.
“I was the one who really brought that up [years ago],” said Dwight Evans, who won eight Gold Gloves for the Red Sox, most in club history. “I said left field, center field and right field are as different as third base, shortstop and second base. It should be the way it is. I’m glad it is now. These guys are so talented.”
Whether they collect their hat trick of Gold Gloves or not, the Red Sox are pretty sure they have the best outfield in baseball, and they should again win a lot of games this season because of it.
They’re ‘the total package’
“I do feel that outfield is an advantage for us, because if you hit it in the air, it better go out of the ballpark,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “If it hangs just a little bit, they’re going to make plays.”
For a pitcher like Rick Porcello, the advantage of having three freakish athletes behind him is never taken for granted.
“It’s a blessing for our ballclub because of how quickly they can close the gap and save runs and not just catch some of those balls that are going out there, but they make the right throws,” Porcello said. “And when they need to hose a guy, Jackie, Benny, Mookie, they all get after it. But when it’s time to throw behind a runner and keep a situation where it’s at, they know when to make that throw too. Not only are they physically talented, but they’re intelligent and they’re smart. They’re the total package, all three of them.”
Dewey: ‘They are the best in baseball’
The consensus around the Red Sox is that it is a matter of when and not if their outfield trio will eventually pull off the Gold Glove hat trick.
“They’re all tremendous. Yeah, I’m looking forward to that,” Porcello said. “I think it could definitely happen this year.”
And Evans, who knows a great outfield when he sees one, thinks it should happen this year.
“I think so. They are so good and so knowledgeable,” Evans said. “I love them. They’re too young to be my kids and too old to be my grandchildren. But I love them and love what they do. They are the best in baseball."
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.