Former Baltimore Orioles shortstop Mark Belanger, one of the slickest fielders of his era, died of lung cancer Tuesday.
He was 54.
Belanger won eight Gold Gloves and combined with third baseman Brooks Robinson to form one of the top defensive infields in baseball history. Belanger was a member of the Orioles' World Series championship team in 1970 and also played for four American League pennant winners and six division champions.
Nicknamed "Blade," the slender Belanger hit just .228 during an 18-year career. But his .977 fielding percentage ranks eighth on the all-time list for shortstops. He typically batted eighth in a powerful Baltimore lineup that included Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Boog Powell and Davey Johnson.
"I had the privilege of playing the game as a teammate of Mark Belanger and working with him after his playing career was over," Eddie Murray said. "I feel fortunate to have worked with him and to have known him. He was special."
Belanger played for the Orioles from 1965-81 before finishing his career the following year with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He won Gold Glove awards in 1969, 1971 and every year from 1973-78. Last year, he returned to Baltimore for the American League Championship Series, where his son, Robert, sang the national anthem before a game.
"Everyone knows Mark was a great infielder," said former teammate Terry Crowley. "But when I think of Mark I think of a standup person, someone you could always count on. We shared good times and bad times with the Orioles and I could always count on him as a friend."
After he retired following the 1982 season, Belanger worked as a special assistant for the Major League Baseball Players Association.
"Players who shared the field with Mark and those who have come along since owe a debt of gratitude to him," said Donald Fehr, MLBPA executive director. "He stood up for players' rights in the early days of the MLBPA and his clear-sighted, unflinching leadership was instrumental during the 16 years he served the union after his retirement as a player.
"I will personally miss the wisdom and insight he provided on virtually every important decision the MLBPA has made over the past three decades. I will always cherish our friendship."
Belanger is survived by his wife, Virginia; another son, Richard; parents Edward and Marie; a brother and two sisters.
© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved