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 ever. 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 is a logjam of “great” players). I will say if the player is in the Hall of Fame, list any major awards the player won and provide their key stats. All stats and awards were obtained from Baseball Reference. 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 left field and first base); any stats in italics mean they were the leader in that category out of the players in the list and players will be listed for the position they are most known for (for example, Pete Rose played the most games in the outfield as a whole, but he played the most games there in left , so he will be included there, however, Ernie Banks, though he played the most games at first, is recognized as a shortstop because that is where he had his best seasons). At the end, I will then describe any reasoning behind my choices regarding their actual ranking.
- The players have to actually be retired. They cannot be unsigned players who haven’t officially retired yet (i.e. Pedro, Bonds, Clemens etc).
- 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).
We’ve covered the greatest catchers, the greatest first basemen and the greatest second basemen, so this time it’s the shortstops’ turn. Like other positions, the position of shortstop has evolved over time. Once, defense was prized over anything else with a decent on-base percentage. 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. On to the rankings:
- Honus Wagner: HOF, 2 top-5 MVP finishes, 2792 games, .327 batting average, .391 OBP, .466 Slugging %, 101 HRs, 1732 RBIs, 3415 Hits, 1736 Runs, 963 BBs and 327 Ks.
- 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 %, 512 HRs, 1636 RBIs, 2583 Hits, 1305 Runs, 763 BBs, and 1236 Ks.
- 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 %, 28 HRs, 793 RBIs, 2460 Hits, 1257 Runs, 1072 BBs and 589 Ks.
- Arky Vaughn: HOF, 2 top-5 MVP finishes, 9 time All-Star, 1817 games, .318 batting average, .406 OBP, .453 Slugging %, 96 HRs, 926 RBIs, 2103 Hits, 1173 Runs, 937 BBs and 276 Ks.
- Barry Larkin: 1 MVP, 12 time All-Star, 3 Gold Gloves, 9 Silver Sluggers, 2180 games, .295 batting average, .371 OBP, .444 Slugging %, 198 HRs, 960 RBIs, 2340 Hits, 1329 Runs, 939 BBs and 817 Ks.
- 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 %, 431 HRs, 1695 RBIs, 3184 Hits, 1647 Runs, 1129 BBs and 1305 Ks.
- Robin Yount: HOF, 2 MVPs, 3 time All-Star, 1 Gold Glove, 3 Silver Sluggers, 2856 games, .285 batting average, .342 OBP, .430 Slugging %, 251 HRs, 1406 RBIs, 3142 Hits, 1632 Runs, 966 BBs and 1350 Ks.
Honorable Mention: Luis Aparicio, Luke Appling, Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto, Alan Trammel
Will/may be on this list someday: Derek Jeter, Hanley Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins and Alex Rodriguez
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 easily takes second with his power and his overall importance to his team. Ozzie Smith was one of the best defenders the position and baseball has ever seen, so even though offensively he wasn’t on par with the others in this list, his defense justifies placing him third. Arky Vaughn lost roughly three seasons to military service and one only wonders what his final numbers would have looked like if he had those missing seasons back. 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 and better defense. 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 fourth 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.
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