How Mark Belanger, the Gold Glove Shortstop, Lost His Battle with Lung Cancer

Mark Belanger

Mark Belanger was a legendary shortstop who played for the Baltimore Orioles and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Major League Baseball. He was known for his exceptional defensive skills, winning eight Gold Glove Awards and helping his team win two World Series championships. He was also a key figure in the players’ union, serving as a special advisor to the Major League Baseball Players Association. However, his life was cut short by lung cancer, which he was diagnosed with in the late 1990s. This article will explore the career, achievements, and death of Mark Belanger, one of the finest shortstops in baseball history.

Early Life and Career

Mark Belanger was born on June 8, 1944, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He attended Pittsfield High School, where he excelled in both baseball and basketball. He was recruited by the Orioles as an amateur in 1962 and made his debut with the club on August 7, 1965. He took over as the Orioles’ regular shortstop in late 1967 and held the position for more than a decade. He hit his first Major League home run at Yankee Stadium on May 14, 1967, off Yankees’ ace Mel Stottlemyre.

Defensive Excellence

Belanger was nicknamed “The Blade” because of his tall and narrow frame—6’1″ (1.85 m) and 170 pounds (77 kg). Despite his reputation as one of the best fielding shortstops in Major League history, Belanger was known as a poor hitter. In his 18 seasons in the Major Leagues, Belanger hit only 20 home runs and had a lifetime batting average of .228, only topping the .230 mark over a full season three times. His .228 lifetime batting average is the third-lowest of any Major League player with more than 5,000 career at bats, ahead of only George McBride (.218) and Ed Brinkman (.224).

However, Belanger’s glove was his greatest asset. He had extraordinary range to both his left and right, excelled at the double play, was fluid and graceful. He won eight Gold Glove Awards between 1969 and 1978, leading the American League in assists and fielding percentage three times each; he retired with the highest career fielding percentage by an AL shortstop (.977). In defensive Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Belanger is tied with Ozzie Smith and Joe Tinker for most times as league leader with six Belanger set franchise records for career games, assists, and double plays as a shortstop, all of which were later broken by Cal Ripken Jr. He was a vital part of the Orioles’ dynasty that won six American League East division titles, five American League pennants, and two World Series championships between 1966 and 1979.

Players’ Union and Retirement

After his playing career, Belanger became an official with the Major League Baseball Players Association. He was a special advisor to the union’s executive director, Donald Fehr, and was involved in several labor negotiations and disputes. He also served as a liaison between the union and the players, providing guidance and support. He was respected and trusted by his peers for his honesty and integrity.

Belanger finished his career with the Dodgers in 1982, playing in 54 games as a backup infielder. He was inducted into the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame in 1983

Mark Belanger Cause of Death

A long-time cigarette smoker, Belanger was diagnosed with lung cancer in the late 1990s. He underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but his condition worsened. He died in New York City on October 6, 1998, at the age of 54. He was survived by his wife, Robbie, and his four children, Mark Jr., Todd, Stacy, and Richard. His former teammates and colleagues paid tribute to him as a great player, a great friend, and a great person. Jim Palmer, his longtime teammate and Hall of Fame pitcher, said: “It was a real wake-up call that our youth has ended.” 

Mark Belanger was a remarkable shortstop who left a lasting legacy in the game of baseball. He was a master of his craft, a leader of his team, and a champion of his profession. He was also a victim of a deadly disease that claimed his life too soon. He will always be remembered as one of the best to ever play the position of shortstop.

Doms Desk

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