“There may be people who have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do – and I believe that.” – Derek Jeter
This is the second of a nine part series, detailing my personal opinion on the best players at each position in the “Modern Era”, or 1960’s – Present. Next, Short Stop.
*** There are fewer places in all of sports more difficult to command than the space between second and third base on a baseball diamond. It takes a degree of focus and athleticism that forces the athlete who mans that position to become a particular type of player. This is different than first base, or left field, where a player can get be offensively minded, while doing the minimum on defense, and still be considered “great”. If you can’t range, throw, dive, and jump, you’re going elsewhere on the diamond, regardless of your batting record. It also takes a degree of leadership that won’t show up in the box score to be a great short stop, so I modified the categories for this position.***
BEST DEFENDER: Ozzie Smith
- 43.4 Defensive WAR leads all players ever.
- 13 Gold Gloves second only to Brooks Robinson
Ah yes, the Wizard of Oz. It seemed there was no ball he couldn’t get to, no throw he couldn’t make when he roamed the left side of the infield for the St. Louis Cardinals. His glove work was so impressive, that he found his way onto 15 All-Star teams and 6 years receiving MVP votes, despite a career OPS of only .666! For a players defensive prowess to overshadow such ineptitude at the plate, you know he’s got to be the best ever.
- Honorable Mention: Omar Vizquel
- Closest Active Comparison: Andrelton Simmons
BEST FIELD LEADER: Cal Ripken Jr.
- Single Handedly revived baseball after ’94 Strike
- All time record for consecutive games played leads by example.
Now this is by far the most subjective of all the selections on this list. To be fair though, it’s what Cal did best. He may be the single most important player of the 90’s. Not the best, or the most impressive, but the most important. It helps that he’s third all time in WAR among Shortstops behind Honus Wagner (not eligible) and Alex Rodriguez (so much nope for this category), and touts an impressive 431 Home Runs (the next closest as of today is Miguel Tejada with 307), but what made Cal, well.. Cal isn’t on a stat sheet. He’s the guy you want next to you in the trenches. He’s the guy that rookie and veteran alike know that when he’s manning that position, he embodies everything a ball player, and most importantly, a leader, should be.
- Honorable Mention: Derek Jeter
- Closest Active Comparison: None… yet.
BEST OVERALL: Derek Jeter
- 3,465 hits most among all Shortstops
- Postseason resume will probably never be matched.
Okay, I know this one might be controversial. The nerds downplay his defensive metrics, and the old schoolers would pick Ripken every time, but if i’m assembling a “greatest ever” lineup, i’m putting number 2 at short every single time. His ability to hit to all fields is what made him dangerous at the plate, and with 260 home runs (good for 6th all time among SS’s), he could drive the ball as well. That’s all well and good, but for me, it’s the instincts. I want this guy in my lineup. He was on the biggest stage in the game more than anyone, and just seemed to deliver every single time. When one factors in the hardware: 14 All-Star games, 5 Gold Gloves, 5 Silver Sluggers, 5 World Series rings, and a World Series MVP to boot… At some point, we have to admit: The man transcended “clutch” and is bordering on “history altering” (and as a side note, owns my favorite play in baseball history).. Now everyone, let’s just breathe and remind ourselves, it’s okay to hate the Yankees (and trust me, I do) while still acknowledging that Jeter was positively the best there has been at his position. ‘Cause he is.
- Honorable Mention: Alex Rodriguez
- Closest Active Comparison: Francisco Lindor