BALTIMORE — Mark Belanger, one of the best fielding shortstops of his generation and a key figure in the baseball players' union, died of lung cancer Tuesday at 54.
A heavy smoker, he was found to have the disease a year ago.
Belanger won eight gold gloves with the Baltimore Orioles, his team from 1965-81, and six of them were consecutive, 1973-78.
Belanger, who ended his career in 1982 with the Dodgers, had a lifetime batting average of only .228, but his weak hitting was more than offset by his glove. Nicknamed Blade, he had a lifetime .977 fielding percentage, eighth among shortstops.
Belanger played on Baltimore's 1970 World Series championship team and on four pennant winners and six division champions.
He was a union representative as a player and after he retired he became a key figure in the Major League Baseball Players' Assn. as the longtime assistant to union head Donald Fehr.
"He paved the way for all the contracts and all the rights players have today," said pitcher David Cone, the New York Yankees' player representative. "He was tough, no nonsense, stepped on some toes along the way and also made friends along the way. He will be dearly missed."
Belanger is survived by his wife, Virginia; sons Robert and Richard; his parents; a brother; and two sisters.