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Greatest Second Baseman

 

by Aman Verjee

 

1. Rogers Hornsby

2. Joe Morgan

3. Eddie Collins

4. Nap LaJoie

5. Bill Mazeroski

 

Honorable Mention: Charlie Gehringer, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Alomar, Ryne Sandberg, Nellie Fox, Bobby Grich

Best Defensively: Maz, Collins, Alomar, Sandberg, Gehringer, Glenn Hubbard, Nellie Fox, Morgan, Grich

 

     They call this position the "keystone" - so much happens here that it's right in the middle of everything.  The second baseman has to have range, a quick pivot to make double plays, and the courage to stand down a baserunner who comes at him spikes up.  When a second baseman can contribute power or batting average to his team, he can become a very valuable complete player - the best ones fit that description, especially:

 

1. Rogers Hornsby

Batting Titles: 7 (12 top five NL finishes)

Slugging Percentage Titles: 9 (14 top five NL finishes)

On-Base Average Titles: 8 (12 top five NL finishes)

 

Click here for Hall of Fame Biography

 

     Quite simply the greatest right-handed hitter of all time, he dominated the National League in the 1920s almost to the degree that Ruth dominated the AL.  Beginning in 1920, he led the National League in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage six straight seasons.  Nobody else has ever led a major league in those three categories six years in a row.  Not Babe Ruth or Ted Williams or Ty Cobb or Willie Mays or Hank Aaron.

     His 2,085 hits in the 1920s is the highest 10-year total this century - only Willie Keller (who mamaged 2,095 hits from 1894 to 1903) has ever topped him.  Hornsby hammered 250 home runs during this period; only one player (Cy Williams, with 202) was even within 100 of his total.  Just as clearly as Babe Ruth was the best player of the 1920s, Hornsby was the second best.  His 250 home runs in the 1920s topped all other National Leaguers (except Cy Williams) by 100 or more - his .382 batting average so eclipsed everyone else in the majors that only two players were even within 25 points (Ty Cobb and Harry Heilmann).

     "The Rajah" took advantage of playing a good hitter's park, but his road stats were nearly as good as his home stats (he had 163 homers at home and 138 on the road).  His defense was a liability - he had a strong arm and could turn a double play, but his range was mediocre and he didn't pedal backwards to track fly balls very well.  That aside, his bat and is on the field leadership make him top dog.

 

 

2. Joe Morgan

 

Click here for Hall of Fame Biography

 

     Try to compile a list of players who were simultaneously the best offensively in their league and the best defensive player at his position - it's not an easy task.  You may start with Honus Wagner, but remember that he played at the same time as Ty Cobb.  Cal Ripken, Jr. comes to mind, though only for a season or two, if that.  What about Willie Mays?  OK, I'll give you that one.  Ken Griffey, Jr.?  Barry Bonds?  OK.  But for difficult defensive positions, my list really only has three names on it - Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and Mike Schmidt.

     Morgan spent nine seasons with the Houston Astros, and his stats were unremarkable - never more than 15 HR, topped 30 stolen bases only once, and he hit around .260.  But somehow his career went from OK to Hall of Fame caliber once he jumped to Cincinnati in 1972.  In 1972, 1974, 1975 and 1976 he led the NL in on-base average; from 1972 to 1974 he finished second in runs created to three different players, and in both 1975 and 1976 he led the league in that category.  He averaged over 60 steals a year and won 5 Gold Gloves, from 1973 to 1977.

     He also became a .300 hitter for those glorious 6 seasons and smacked about 25 HR a season - very impressive for a leadoff man.  In fact, in 1976 he actually led the league in slugging percentage (.576) and became only the fifth second baseman to drive in 100 runs - almost unheard of for a leadoff hitter.  His .455 on-base average over 1975-76 was 50 points better than the nearest competitor, one of the biggest two-season edges of all time.

     Not surprisingly, he won more MVP votes than anyone during this period, actually winning two MVPs (in 1975 and 1976) and finishing fourth in 1972 and in 1973.  As his power numbers picked up in his years at Riverfront, he amassed some remarkable home run totals, and finished his career with 268 - only Rogers Hornsby and Ryne Sandberg have more.

     He had a great batting eye, and although he was a mediocre hitter .271 for average over his entire career, he led the NL three times in walks and posted a solid lifetime OBA of .395 (the same as Rod Carew, who hit 57 points higher for average).

 

 

3. Eddie Collins

 

Click here for Hall of Fame Biography

 

     Edward Trowbridge Collins wasn't the prettiest guy at the ballpark - photos of him from the 1920s show a thin, reedy fellow with a large nose and weak chin.  But he was pretty playing second - he led the AL 9 times in fielding average, putouts 7 times, assists and range factor 4 times each, and double plays 5 times.  He hit for average - lifetime .333.  He got on base - his lifetime .424 OBA is close to the .433 mark of Ty Cobb (who was a contemporary of his).  He ran the bases, leading the American League 4 times in steals, including once at the age of 37, and his lifetime total of 744 ranks 6th all time.

     What he didn't do was hit for power.  And his stolen base percentage of 65% means that his baserunning may not have netted his teams much in the way of additional runs.  But perhaps most impressive is his leadership and his winning qualities.  Collins took over as regular second baseman for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1908, and beginning in 1910 the A's ran off four American League pennants and three World Championships in five years.  He was a part of that "$100,000 infield" that included Stuffy McInnis at first, "Home Run" Baker at third and Jack Barry at short, but his leadership and talent raised the level of play of those around him - witness what happened to Barry and McInnis when he left.

     He joined the Chicago White Sox in 1915, and that club ranked as the AL's best in 1917 and 1919, with the Sox winning the World Series in the former year.  The Sox had been 70-84 in 1914, jumped to 93-61 in 1915, won 100 games in 1917 and went 88-52 in war-shortened 1919.  Collins was the acknowledged star and leader of the 1919 White Sox, a team that may have been the best ever and which included Joe Jackson, Hap Felsch, and a trio of Hall-of-Fame caliber pitchers in Eddie Cicotte, Lefty Williams, and Red Faber (Cicotte and Williams didn't make the Hall because of the Black Sox World Series scandal).

    And finally, he returned to the Athletics in the late '20s to help tutor the youngsters who would soon bring Philadelphia three straight AL titles.

 

 

4. Nap Lajoie

 

Batting Titles: 3 (7 top five AL finishes)

Slugging Percentage Titles: 5 (5 top five AL finishes, 3 top five NL finishes)

On-Base Average Titles: 2 (7 top five AL finishes)

 

Click here for Hall of Fame Biography

 

     An unparalleled combination of hitting, defense, leadership and speed, the captain of the Cleveland Naps (so named in his honor) was handsome, graceful, talented, and popular with both fans and teammates; he was an important figure in the launching of the AL and the survival of the Cleveland franchise.

     His skill at bat was impressive for a second baseman: he had the highest Total Player Rating 9 times (only Ruth, with 13, and Willie Mays, also with 9, did as well in this category).  Playing in the dead-ball era, he was not a home run hitter.  He was, however, a powerful, right-handed pull hitter and his smashes down the left-field foul line were legendary.  His 648 doubles rank tenth all-time and he hit ten or more triples in seven seasons.  He finished his career with 3,251 hits.  The three-time batting champ retired with a .338 lifetime batting average, 21st all-time, and his 380 stolen bases is proof of how dangerous he was on the basepaths.

     But it was his defense that set him apart - at 6'1" and 195 pounds, he was (like Honus Wagner) about 20 pounds heavier than the typical middle infielder of his day.  Still, he was quick and graceful, and he led the AL in fielding average 5 times.  He led the AL in range factor 4 times and in double plays 5 times; according to Total Baseball, he has more career Fielding Runs (runs saved above and beyond a league average fielder) than any other player in major league history - Bill Mazeroski and Ozzie Smith included.

     When he jumped from the National League Phillies to the cross-town Athletics of the American League, he gave the junior circuit instant credibility.  Although the young AL was not yet on a par with the established NL, Lajoie's batting marks were nevertheless exceptional.  He led in hits (229), doubles (48), home runs (14), runs scored (145), and RBI (125).  His .422 batting average still stands as a league record.  When the Phillies obtained an injunction forbidding Lajoie from playing in Pennsylvania, AL president Ban Johnson transferred his contract to the Cleveland Bronchos, which changed its name to the Cleveland Naps for their new captain.  When he departed near the end of his career to go to the Athletics, the Naps changed their name to the Cleveland Indians.

     In 1937, he became the sixth player elected to the Hall of Fame, following Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson and Honus Wagner.  

 

 

5. Bill Mazeroski

 

Click here for Hall of Fame Biography

 

     Aside from Nap Lajoie, no one saved more runs with his glove than did Bill Mazeroski.  Year after year, he patrolled the Pittsburgh infield, hoovering up ground balls and making incredible throws.  He led the league an astonishing 8 times in range factor, in assists 9 times (the major league record), in putouts 5 times, and in double plays an unbelievable 8 times in succession (also the major league record).

     Only one other middle infielder - Ozzie Smith - has so dominated the defensive statistics at his position for so many years.  Anyone who saw Maz play will tell you that he was the greatest defensive second baseman they ever saw; so quick on the double play was he that he earned the nickname "No Hands."  In 1966, he turned 161 of them, 72 more than any other National League second baseman.

     Whatever he did with the bat or on the bases is a bonus - or in this case, a liability.  He managed a lifetime on-base average of just .299, and a lifetime slugging percentage of just .367.  His 27 career steals weigh against his 23 career caught stealings.  Even though he was an atrocious hitter who cost his team runs at the plate, he saved even more of them with his glove - according to Total Baseball, he led the National League six times in Fielding Runs (runs saved above and beyond what an average fielder at his position would have done).

     And he didn't just lead the league - he did it by massive margins.  For instance, in 1962, his total of 41 Fielding Runs was followed by Philadelphia's Johnny Callison, with 22.  In 1963, Maz saved 57 runs with his glove, and Callison's total of 23 was second in the NL.  Maz led again by double-digit margins in 1964 and 1966,   

 

 

 


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