This is the fourth in a series of articles dealing with baseball’s greatest players, position by position, culminating in an overall list of the greatest players. This volume covers Shortstops. Who are the greatest in MLB History? Continue reading to find out.
First, a brief description of what this series of articles will be – for the most part, they will be top ten type lists; though they may be shorter (if there aren’t enough “great” players) or longer (if there’s a log jam of “great” players). I will say if the player is in the HOF, list any major awards the player won and provide their key stats. All stats and awards were obtained from Baseball-Reference. This series was originally published on Informative Sports in 2009, however, they have been edited for publication here - some players added, some rankings adjusted etc.
A couple of notes about the stats – they will include their total offensive numbers, not just stats for their main position (for example, Yogi Berra’s stats include his batting stats when he played LF or 1B) and any stats in italics mean they were the leader in that category out of the players in the list. Also, players will be ranked where they were best known at (Ernie Banks at SS for example) or where they played the most games (Pete Rose played the most games at 1B as a single position but he played more total games in the outfield and of those at LF, so that’s where he ended up getting ranked). To see how I evaluate/use stats, click here for a breakdown of hitting stats. At the end, I will then describe any reasoning behind my choices and why I ranked them where I did.
Only three caveats to my lists:
1 – the players have to actually be retired. They cannot be unsigned players who haven’t officially retired yet
2 - sorry, but no Negro League players will be on these lists unless they had long-term MLB service (any records or stats from the Negro Leagues are “questionable” at best due to the record keeping; i.e. Josh Gibson’s HR totals etc)
3- no confirmed or heavily-suspected PED users. This includes anyone who admitted to using steroids knowingly or unknowingly (so guys like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Gary Sheffield are not on these lists) and guys where the evidence is very strong that they used (Roger Clemens for example)
We covered the greatest catchers, greatest first basemen and greatest second basemen, already, so this week we move on to Shortstops. Like other positions, the position of shortstop has evolved over time. Once, defense was prized over anything else with a decent on-base percentage (or tremendous defense and anything offensively was just gravy). In today’s game, the shortstop is expected to be an offensive machine; producing not only in batting average and on-base percentage, but home runs and slugging percentage as well. In the 90s you saw the emergence of such players as Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Tejada and Nomar Garciaparra who would hit over .300 with 20+ home runs while also having Gold Glove quality defense (but all of whom now have PED suspicions or confirmations). On to the rankings:
1 – Honus Wagner: HOF, 2 top-5 MVP finishes, 2792 games, .327 batting average, .391 OBP, .466 Slugging %, .858 OPS, 150 OPS+, 101 HRs, 1732 RBIs, 3415 Hits, 1736 Runs, 963 BBs and 327 Ks.
2 – Ernie Banks: HOF, 2 MVPs (and 2 other top-5 finishes), 11 time All-Star, 1 Gold Glove, 2528 games, .274 batting average, .330 OBP, .500 Slugging %, .830 OPS, 122 OPS+, 512 HRs, 1636 RBIs, 2583 Hits, 1305 Runs, 763 BBs, and 1236 Ks.
3 – Ozzie Smith: HOF, 1 top-5 MVP finish, 15 time All-Star, 13 Gold Gloves, 1 Silver Slugger, 2573 games, .262 batting average, .337 OBP, .328 Slugging %, .666 OPS, 87 OPS+, 28 HRs, 793 RBIs, 2460 Hits, 1257 Runs, 1072 BBs and 589 Ks.
4 – Arky Vaughan: HOF, 2 top-5 MVP finishes, 9 time All-Star, 1817 games, .318 batting average, .406 OBP, .453 Slugging %, .859 OPS, 136 OPS+, 96 HRs, 926 RBIs, 2103 Hits, 1173 Runs, 937 BBs and 276 Ks.
5 – Barry Larkin: 1 MVP, 12 time All-Star, 3 Gold Gloves, 9 Silver Sluggers, 2180 games, .295 batting average, .371 OBP, .444 Slugging %, .815 OPS, 116 OPS+, 198 HRs, 960 RBIs, 2340 Hits, 1329 Runs, 939 BBs and 817 Ks.
6 – Cal Ripken Jr.: HOF, 2 MVPs (and 1 other top-5 finish), 1 ROY, 19 time All-Star, 2 Gold Gloves, 8 Silver Sluggers, 3001 games, .276 batting average, .340 OBP, .447 Slugging %, .788 OPS, 112 OPS+, 431 HRs, 1695 RBIs, 3184 Hits, 1647 Runs, 1129 BBs and 1305 Ks.
7 – Robin Yount: HOF, 2 MVPs, 3 time All-Star, 1 Gold Glove, 3 Silver Sluggers, 2856 games, .285 batting average, .342 OBP, .430 Slugging %, .772 OPS, 115 OPS+, 251 HRs, 1406 RBIs, 3142 Hits, 1632 Runs, 966 BBs and 1350 Ks.
Honorable Mention: Luis Aparicio, Luke Appling, Joe Cronin, Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto and Alan Trammel
Will/may be on this list someday: Derek Jeter (who will be top 5 if his career finishes where it should – 4K hits etc, but his defense will hold him back from being top 3), Hanley Ramirez (has all the tools to make this list) and Jimmy Rollins (who’s stats so far aren’t as good as you’d think, but he’s still pretty impressive)
Honus Wagner was one of the first five tool players; he could hit for average and power, had great speed, was a great fielder and had a great arm. He was easily the best choice for number one among shortstops.
Ernie “Mr. Cub” Banks is a conundrum – as a shortstop he was one of the best of his time, however, he ended up playing more games at first base, but did most of his damage as a shortstop so deciding where to rank him in this list was tough; I decided his play as a shortstop was stellar enough to have him second, even though most of his stats came while playing first.
Ozzie Smith was one of the best defenders the position and baseball has ever seen, so even though offensively he wasn’t even close to the others in this list (really bad OPS and OPS+), his defense justifies him placing third.
Arky Vaughn sat out three seasons after a fight in the clubhouse with his manager Leo Durocherand one only wonders what his final numbers would have looked like if he had those missing seasons back and he could have easily been as high as second on this list.
Larkin and Ripken were the two best shortstops of the late 80s and early 90s. I placed Larkin over Ripken due to his consistency at the plate, overall better offense and better defense (though Ripken was great at ensuring he was in the right place before a pitch was thrown). Yes, Ripken had The Streak and Larkin was injured a lot, but when Larkin was able to play, he was better than Ripken overall.
Robin Yount rounds out this list because of his overall production.
As was the case with my second base rankings, an argument could be made for players second through seventh to be in any order depending on your own personal preference.
So, what do you think? Do you have a problem with the order? Did I leave someone off? If so, let me know. Don’t just say “you left off so-and-so” — give me a good explanation of why they belong and where in the order they belong. If you present a good enough case, I just might add them to the list. Remember to come back next week, where we move on to the Hot Corner – Third Base.