Cal Ripken, Jr.
Mention: Arky Vaughan, Luke
Appling, Lou Boudreau, Alex Rodriguez
Defensively: Ozzie Smith, Omar Vizquel, Luis
Aparicio, Mark Belanger
Shortstops live and die by the glove. A great hitter who rings up
extra base hits and drives in runs helps his team in ways that are
measurable; various baseball formulas have been developed based on
historical regression analyses to measure the contribution of the
sluggers to their teams' success. For instance, based on his 1998
season, Mark McGwire created 193 runs - that is, his offensive
contributions were the equivalent of 193 of the runs that the St. Louis
Cardinals scored that season (NL MVP Sammy Sosa created 149).
Now, what if an average player had hit for McGwire? What is
the value-added? By controlling runs created for ballpark
effects and subtracting out a league average replacement player, we can
see that McGwire contributed about 95 "batter runs" to his
Now, what about a top-fielding shortstop? Just how many runs can a
shortstop save if he has great range and commits few errors? One
can determine how many hits a shortstop takes away from opponents by
looking at how many putouts and assists he gets beyond the league
average. Although there is no way to tell for sure just how many
runs a shortstop saves, we can develop an estimate. Take Ozzie
Smith, for instance - in 1980 he led the majors with 288 putouts and 621
assists. That means that he got 16% more outs than the league
typical shortstop - Total Baseball figures that he took 41 runs away
from opponents that year alone, and that's before stepping into the
batter's box! As a point of comparison, the league MVP that year
was Mike Schmidt, with 48 HR, 121 RBI and a huge slugging percentage of
.624; according to Total Baseball, he added 49 runs with his bat above
and beyond a league average replacement player.
No other position is so critical to the defense. The best
shortstops with the glove (Smith, Luis Aparicio, and Mark
Belanger among them) frequently took over 20 runs away from
opponents, helping their pitchers keep their pitch count low and often
giving the team a psychological lift. That said, defense alone
won't get you on this list - sorry, Rey Ordonez. There are too
many good shortstops who could thrill with both offense and brilliant
defense, starting with ...
Titles: 8 (12 top five NL finishes)
Percentage Titles: 6 (10 top five NL finishes)
Average Titles: 4 (11 top five NL finishes)
A shortstop who led the league in hitting 8 times and slugging 6 times?? They just don't make them like Wagner anymore. He
led the National League in RBI 5 times, total bases 5 times, extra base
hits 6 times, stolen bases 5 times, doubles 7 times, hits twice ...
well, you get the idea. The most dominant player in the majors,
next to Ty Cobb, for the first decade of this century, from 1900-1909 he
hit over .330 and finished with 100+ runs scored and 100+ RBIs six times
each. From 1904 to 1908, he rang up five straight seasons in which
he stole 50 bases or more, and his 723 career steals is in the top 10
overall. He led the league in thefts 6 times.
Defensively, he wasn't graceful, and he was known to throw pebbles,
infield dirt and bits of grass to the first baseman along with the
baseball. Still, he was agile and quick, and by 1912 he had developed into a
premier fielder - his fielding percentage was .962 while the league
averages were around the .930 mark. He was generally considered
the top defensive shortstop of his era.
Wagner's athletic prowess was such that most observers thought he could
have been a Hall of Famer at any position, perhaps even pitcher. When he retired in 1917, he led the National League in hits, runs,
singles, doubles, and triples. He has a lifetime batting average of .327.
He was inducted into the National
Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936 as part of the original class and tied
Babe Ruth for second in total votes with 215 (Ty Cobb led with 222 total
here for Hall of Fame biography
Imagine, if you will, a team with a solid shortstop - one good enough to
lead the league in fielding average a few times, maybe even win a Gold
Glove or two. But when that
shortstop went to bat, the team could send in a DH for him - say, a Juan
Gonzalez or Mo Vaughn. That, essentially was Ernie Banks - a
hitter whose career stats from 1953 to 1961 closely match those of
Gonzalez and Vaughn, and whose contributions with the glove at the most
important of defensive positions improved to the point that in 1960 he
won the Gold Glove.
From 1955 to 1960, Banks hit more homers than anyone in the majors,
including Mantle, Mays, and Aaron. Early in his career, his
fielding was erratic - he committed error totals of 34, 22, 25 and a
league-leading 32 between 1955 and 1958 but he worked diligently to
become a steady fielder. In 1959, he cut the number of errors down
to 12 (then a record for shortstops), and led NL shortstops in fielding
in both 1960 (his Gold Glove year) and 1961. He led National
League shortstops in assists twice and in fielding percentage 3 times.
This may be a controversial pick because he didn't play shortstop for
more than half his career. He
actually played more games at first base than he did at short (1,259 to
1,125), because the Cubs moved him to first in 1962 to prolong his
career. Still, "Mr. Cub" played at shortstop from 1953
to 1961, and went to the All-Star game in 7 of his 11 selections from
this position. He finished his career with 512 career HR, a
.500 slugging percentage, and drove in 1,636 runs - unbelievable for this
position even if you cut those totals in half.
Before moving to first base he
routinely added 40 adjusted batting runs for his team. By
comparison, in his 1983 MVP season, Cal Ripken added 37 to his team; in
his 1984 MVP year, Alan Trammell added 27. If you list the top six
offensive single seasons by a shortstop in the post-Wagner era, Banks'
name will come up four times - the others are Ripken in 1991 and Robin
Yount in 1981 (both MVP seasons).
Banks won the league MVP award twice, 1958 and 1959, and should
have won it in 1960 for a third straight time, when he hit 41 HR and
drove in 117 RBI; but he finished fourth, doomed by the writers' urge to
spread the wealth, the Cubs third straight losing season, and the fact
that fellow shortstop Dick Groat won the batting title while playing for
the pennant-winning Pirates.
Erratic was the only way to describe a young Ernie Banks in the
field. But after averaging 28 errors a year over his first four
seasons, Banks' hard work with the glove during the off-season finally
paid off in 1959. Slicing his miscues in the field down to 12, Banks set
an NL record (since broken) for the fewest errors by a shortstop during
a single season. Weak legs forced a move to first before the 1966
campaign; Ernie went on to lead first basemen in assists five times.
Cal Ripken, Jr.
Athletes are often remembered for something specific, because it's easy
to reduce greatness to an image, a single swing of the bat, a single
number. It's almost a shame that Cal Ripken will be remembered for
The Streak - yes, he broke the unbreakable record of Lou Gehrig,
but he was a great player as well.
He has played over 20 seasons with the same team, and his 420+ career
homers and 1,650+ RBI leads all shortstops by a comfortable
margin. (Ernie Banks played just six seasons at short, so I
disqualify him from the career rankings.) Ripken in his younger
days was a perennial Gold Glove contender (he won two of them) and won
two MVP awards - he has amassed 32 first place votes in his career,
topped only by Ernie Banks at
here for Hall of Fame biography
The original slugging shortstop - well, after Honus Wagner - the truest
measure of Cronin's worth is that after the 1934 season, the Boston Red
Sox purchased him from the Washington Senators for the grand sum of
$250,000 - the most money paid for a baseball player up to that
His defensive work deteriorated late in his career, but he was always a
premier hitter and a great strategist and leader. In 1938, he led
the major leagues with 51 doubles, and topped all shortstops with 17
home runs. He topped 100 RBI on 8 separate occasions, and finished
with a career .301 batting average.
He could have padded his career stats after 1941, but as manager he
restricted himself to pinch-hitting duties so younger players would have
"The Wizard of Oz" led National League shortstops in fielding
percentage 9 times, assists 8 times, double plays 5 times, and
range factor (total plays per nine innings) 8 times. No other
shortstop has ever dominated the defensive statistics like Ozzie did.
His defense was so good that he probably lowered the ERA of his pitchers
by a quarter of a run. He was not a great hitter, but he did steal
580 bases over his career and in the middle years of his career (1984 to
1991) his bat probably didn't his team any runs since his adjusted Total
Production was roughly equal to the league average.