Annual Leaders
All-Time Greats
Ballparks
All-Star Game
Awards
Hall of Fame


Team Websites
Negro Leagues
Contact Us
About Us

   


Greatest Third Baseman

 

by Aman Verjee

 

1. Mike Schmidt

2. George Brett

3. Eddie Matthews

4. Brooks Robinson

5. Home Run Baker

 

Honorable Mention: Wade Boggs, Pie Traynor, Ken Boyer, Graig Nettles

Best Defensively: Robinson, Clete Boyer, Traynor, Schmidt, Ken Boyer, Ron Santo, Buddy Bell, Robin Ventura

 

     It is somewhat appropriate that the third baseman's name in the famous Abbott and Costello routine Who's On First? is named "I Don't Know."  The Hot Corner is often an anonymous position - such are it's requirements and it's thanklessness that there are fewer third basemen (nine) in the Hall of Fame than any other position.

     Third base has long been a mystery for teams, going unfilled years at a stretch.  It is a hard position to fill because it is a complete-player position, one requiring production, great reflexes, good hands, a strong throwing arm and the courage to face down a Harmon Killebrew or a Jose Canseco from just 90 feet.  Doug Rader, a former Gold Glove third baseman, once said that playing the position "is like recovering a fumble."  Indeed.  Unlike shortstop, there is no time for a third baseman to position himself because the ball gets to you so quickly.  Ron Santo, another former Gold Glove third baseman, was once knocked unconscious when hit in the stomach by a one-hopper by Frank Howard in spring training.  Santo woke up in the hospital.

   No position has had greater extremes than Brooks Robinson and Dave Kingman playing at the same time.  It is a position of quickness, not speed, and it's hard to scout quickness.  Not just anyone can play third, though God knows that teams try.  It takes a special kind of player to play third, yet teams have moved first basemen, catchers or outfielders there to get another bat in the lineup.  In 1978, near the end of spring training, Orioles manager Earl Weaver wanted Lee May in the lineup every day, so he moved Eddie Murray to third and Doug DeCinces to second.  That lasted three games.

   

 

1. Mike Schmidt

Slugging Percentage Titles: 5 (12 top five NL finishes)

On-Base Average Titles: 3 (6 top five NL finishes)

 

Click here for Hall of Fame biography

 

     Three-time MVP Schmidt brought everything to the table - raw power, a gold Glove defensive capability, and a keen and discerning eye (he led the NL in walks three times).  As a two-way player, few could match him - he was one of a number of players in the 1970s who emerged as the best offensive players in the National League and defensively at their position (Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench were the others).

     While everyone knows that Schmidt's 48 homers in 1980 and 536 in his career are tops among third basemen, few will remark that his 404 assists in 1974 are also the highest all-time.  Three years later, he had 396 assists - the second highest total of all time.  As baseball's most dominant home run threat from 1974 to 1986, he popped nearly 100 more dingers than anyone else in the majors over this period; but he was also a 10-time Gold Glover.

    His unremarkable lifetime batting average of .267 vastly understated his ability to reach base - he led the NL in walks four times and retired with a .380 lifetime OBA, and led the NL in that category three straight times - from 1981 to 1983 - while placing in the top 10 in the NL 11 times.  His 8 NL home run titles are a record - only Babe Ruth, who led the AL 12 times, has done better.  Schmidt led NL third basemen in assists 7 times and in double plays 6 times.

     Schmidt starred in the 1980 World Series, hitting .381 in those 6 games, hitting two home runs and driving in 7 to lead his team to a six-game win.  Unfortunately, his 1-20 performance in the 1983 Series was unimpressive; still, he overcame postseason struggles in 1976, 1977 and 1978 to give his team the long-sought championship they desired.

 

 

2. George Brett

 

Click here for Hall of Fame biography

 

Batting Titles: 3 (4 top five AL finishes)

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

On-Base Average Titles: 1 (4 top five AL finishes)

 

     I remember growing in Toronto, Canada, and as a young boy watching the Blue Jays in their first post-season ever.  They had one of the all-time best pitching staffs: league ERA champ Dave Stieb, Jimmy Key, veterans Doyle Alexander and Jim Acker, and a terrific closer named Tom Henke.  And I distinctly remember this guy called George Brett drawing an intentional walk from Stieb with the bases empty.

     So much did Brett terrorize pitchers in the post-season that they would rather simply put him on base and take the bat away from him.  Of course, the strategy didn't work - the Royals won a thrilling seven-game series.  After falling behind 2-0, the Royals were resurrected in Game 3: Brett homered twice, doubled off the top of the wall, singled, and turned in a brilliant defensive play to lead the Royals past the Blue Jays.  The Jays' Dave Stieb held Brett hitless in Game 4, walking him twice, and the Jays led 3-1.  But in Game 5 Brett drove in one of the two runs the Royals got in a 2-0 win.  In Game 6, Brett hit another homer, reached base three times and scored twice in a 5-3 win.  And in Game 7, the Royals beat up on Stieb without Brett's help.

Brett finished 8-23 (.348) in the LCS with a .826 SLG, and reached base 15 times in 30 plate appearances.

     At least we in Toronto weren't alone.  In the 1985 World Series, the Royals overcame a 3-1 deficit again, this time against the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Game 7 hero was, of course, George Brett - he went 4-5, and hit .370 for the series.  Indeed, Brett always seemed to save his best for October.  In 43 postseason games, he batted .337 with 10 home runs.  His 9 career home runs and .728 slugging average are LCS records.  In 1978, Brett hit only 9 home runs in the regular season ... but exploded for three homers (in a losing effort) against Catfish Hunter in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.  In 1980, his upper-deck home run off Goose Gossage in Game 3 of the ALCS sent the Royals to their first World Series - which the Royals dropped in   6 but in which Brett hit .375.

     He was the jewel in hitting coach Charlie Lau's crown - hitting off his front foot with the distinctive one-handed follow-through, he won three batting titles and amassed more RBIs and runs scored than any other third baseman.  In home runs and slugging percentage, only Eddie Matthews and Mike Schmidt lead him.  He had good speed, especially for a third baseman, stealing 201 bases in his career and frequently leading the league in triples.

 

 

3. Eddie Matthews

 

Click here for Hall of Fame biography

 

Slugging Percentage Titles: 0 (4 top five NL finishes)

On-Base Average Titles: 1 (7 top five NL finishes)

 

     The slugging third baseman played as a contemporary of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and teammate Hank Aaron, so he only led the league in OBA once and in runs created per 9 innings once.  Still, before Mike Schmidt came along, Matthews was probably the best hitting third baseman of all time.

     Despite playing most of his career at the spacious Milwaukee County Stadium, Mathews became the seventh player in major league history to hit 500 home runs, finishing his career with 512.  He walloped 30 or more round-trippers nine years in a row, reaching the 40-mark on four occasions.  In 1953, his 47 homers for the Milwaukee Braves established a single-season record for third basemen (since broken by Mike Schmidt) as he won the National League home run title.  He led the league again with 46 circuit clouts in 1959.

     He and Aaron hit three and four in the Braves order and together they hit 692 home runs between 1954 and 1963 - only Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig hit more home runs as teammates (771, between 1925 and 1934).  Matthews is second all-time in home runs, lifetime on-base average, and slugging percentage among third basemen (Schmidt leads all of those categories); he is third in RBI, behind Scmidt and George Brett.

 

 

4. Brooks Robinson

 

Click here for Hall of Fame biography

 

     The Oriole dynasty that developed in the 1960s was built on pitching and defense, but Brooks was head and shoulders above all his smooth-fielding teammates.  In 23 big league seasons, he won the Gold Glove 16 times and was an All-Star starter in 15 of those years.  He holds almost every lifetime record for third baseman by a wide margin: most games (2,870), best fielding percentage (.971), most putouts (2,697), most assists (6,205), most chances (9,165), and most double plays (618).

     His presence on D was palpable.  In the 1966 World Series, the heavily favored Dodgers were discouraged from employing their bunting game, and the Orioles won four straight close games.  In the 1970 World Series, he starred again, hitting .429 and making terrific plays with such regularity that the Reds nicknamed him "Hoover," expanding upon the "human vacuum cleaner" tag he had been known by.  After Robinson almost singlehandedly won the 1970 World Series for the Orioles, Reds manager Sparky Anderson quipped: "I'm beginning to see Brooks in my sleep.  If I dropped this paper plate, he'd pick it up on one hop and throw me out at first."

     But unlike other glove wizards, like Bill Mazeroski or Ozzie Smith, he was actually a pretty good hitter.  Wearing his trademark short-billed batting helmet, he posted a decent .267 lifetime batting average, and he did it in a pitcher's park (Memorial Stadium seems ot have suppressed batting averages by about 4% during his years there) and in a pitcher's era(his batting average was 8% higher than the league average).  Also, in his last three seasons, his career average dropped about five points, from .272 to .267, as the Orioles played their aging star for his defense.  He hit 268 home runs (then a record for AL third basemen), had a .322 lifetime OBA, with a .401 lifetime SLG.  He also had a reputation as clutch hitter, and a statistical regression of his measured statistics shows that his career total of 1,270 RBI is between 125 and 175 above what we would have expected - this suggests that he hit best when it counted most.

     In short, he didn't cost his team any runs with the bat, since he usually produced at a level equal to or above the league average replacement player.  In fact, he had a few very good seasons - in his 1964 MVP season, for instance, when he had his only .300 season (.317), with 28 HR and 118 RBI.

     A classy legend in his own time, Robinson's Hall of Fame induction in 1983 drew one of the largest Cooperstown crowds ever.

 

 

5. Home Run Baker

 

Click here for Hall of Fame biography

 

     Playing in the dead ball era, Baker's career-high of 12 home runs was actually a pretty good performance - he led the league in round-trippers for four years running.  But his output before Babe Ruth popularized the circuit clout is beside the point - more importantly, he was consistently a solid hitter and led the league in RBI 3 times.

     Relative to his era, Baker was reasonably good hitter and a good defensive player as well.  He was a part of the "$100,000 Infield" of the Philadelphia Athletics, along with Eddie Collins, Stuffy McInnis and Jack Barry.  But where he really shined was in the World Series - in fact, his two home runs in the '11 World Series that resulted in him being forever after known simply as "Home Run."  He had starred in the 1910 Series, hitting .409 (trailing only teammate Eddie Collins) in the five-game rout of the Chicago Cubs.  Baker first led the American League in home runs in 1911, with 11, and in Game 2, Baker slugged a two-run homer in the sixth inning that provided the winning margin in the Philadelphia Athletics' 3-1 victory over the New York Giants.  The very next day, Baker's ninth-inning round-tripper off Christy Mathewson tied Game 3 at one run apiece, and the A's would eventually beat the Giants 3-2 in 11 innings.  His .375 average in the Series led the team.  In 1913, he and Collins hit .450 and .421 to give the A's their third Series win in four years, again over the New York Giants.

     Baker later helped lead Ruth's Yankees to two pennants in the 1920s.

 

 


Copyright 2001 The Quick and the Dead.com.
Baseball-statistics.com is a trademark of QATD, Inc.