Congratulations are in order for Michael Bourn. Yesterday, he became the first Astros outfielder since Cesar Cedeno in 1976 to win the Gold Glove. And anybody who has seen Bourn roam the vast Minute Maid Park centerfield knows that the award is well deserved.
It's kind of amazing when you think about it, though. Minute Maid is a park built for a player with speed, range, and a good arm. But for the team's first eight seasons there, the Astros absolutely refused to play an actual centerfielder in centerfield.
Roger Cedeno and Richard Hidalgo were right fielders stuck there because nobody else could do it.
Lance Berkman was slow for a right fielder, yet he was a huge improvement in centerfield over Craig Biggio who no longer had the speed and didn't have an adequate arm for the outfield. Chris Burke was a second baseman forced to play centerfield because of the Craig Biggio 3,000-hits experiment. Hunter Pence was good, but he was a right fielder forced to play center because of poor planning by the front office.
But now there's Michael Bourn. And he's the guy who was born to play centerfield for the Astros.
He's got the range to make up for the absolute inability of Carlos Lee to make any type of effort in left field. It's not too far of a stretch to call Bourn the best outfielder the Astros have had since Steve Finley was roaming the Astrodome outfield -- and it has always been puzzling that Finley never won a Gold Glove while with the Astros, because he could fly and he made acrobatic catch after acrobatic catch.
The Gold Glove award can, at times, be a bit of a joke. Remember 1999 when Rafael Palmeiro won the Gold Glove for defensive excellence at first base despite playing only 28 games at first? Or the fact that Derek Jeter is somehow able to win one -- did none of the voters see Elvin Andrus play this season? Jeff Bagwell was one of the best defensive players I've ever seen at first base, yet he was only able to win one Gold Glove.
But the voters got it right for once when it comes to Michael Bourn. I give Ed Wade a lot of grief, but he got it right with Michael Bourn.
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It's kind of amazing to think about, but Brad Lidge's trade value was almost nil thanks to inaction from Tim Purpura, Tal Smith, and Drayton McLane. Yet Wade was able to get the Phillies to swap Bourn for Lidge. Lidge had a fantastic 2008 for the Phillies, yet returned to form for the Phillies this past season while Bourn is only getting better.
Bourn will be starting his third season as a full-time starter and centerfielder. There's no reason to think he won't continue winning the Gold Gloves. And if he continues the improvement with the bat -- his batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging all skyrocketed last season -- then Bourn should have a long, all-star laden career ahead of him.
Better, with the Bourn and Hunter Pence tandem set in center and right field, the Astros can actually offer the fans something to look forward to.
Unfortunately, Pence and Bourn can't play every position, so the rest of the team will probably keep on sucking.