1. Honus Wagner 1897-1917 2794G, 101HR, 1733RBIs, .328BA, 151 OPS+
Wagner is, in my opinion, one of two players in baseball history that had absolutely no flaws as a player. Willie Mays is the other. There just wasn’t anything he didn’t do well. As far as I can tell, Wagner didn’t really play organized ball at all until 1895 at the age of 21. I find that amazing.
2. Ernie Banks 1953-1971 2528G, 512HR. 1636 RBIs, .274BA, 122 OPS+
Ernie Banks had something of an odd career. Only a shortstop until 1961, he won two MVPs, finished in the top ten three other times, hit over 40 home runs 5 times, and won a gold glove in 1960. Injuries forced his move to first in 1962, and he became more or less an average player for the next 10 years. But he’s best known as a shortstop and this is where he ranks based off that, despite limited time there.
3. Cal Ripken 1981-2001 3001G, 431HR, 1695 RBIs, .276BA, 112 OPS+
If Ripken had hit 5 less home runs in 1991 he would have broken Al Kaline’s record for most home runs in a career without hitting 30 in a season. It’s little things like that I notice.
4. Derek Jeter 1995-2013 2586G, 255 HR, 1255 RBIs, .313BA, 117 OPS+
He’s not done of course, but I don’t quite see him overtaking Ripken for 3rd, or doing anything to merit a fall in the rankings. He’s this generation’s “Mr. Yankee”
5. Alex Rodriguez 1994-2012 2524G, 647 HR, 1950 RBIs, .300 BA, 143 OPS+
See.. this is the problem with steroids.. where do I even put ARod? I touched on this with the 3rd basemen article. In a way Rodriguez’s career is similar to Ernie Banks, though he moved away from short for different reasons. In terms of peak value, you could argue he’s even higher than Wagner. I just can’t get over the steroid issue though. In any case while he deserved to rank high based on sheer ability, it’s my list and I’ll put him where I want to.
6. Arky Vaughan 1932-1948 1817G, 96HR, 926 RBI, .318BA, 136 OPS+
You could probably make the case that Vaughan belongs higher on the list. But he had a short career and the five men ahead of him were all much better fielders. Had a somewhat strange, premature end to his career. A dispute with Dodgers manager Leo Durocher led to him retiring from baseball at the age of 31 after leading the National League in runs and stolen bases in 1943. When Durocher was suspended for Jackie Robinson’s debut season in 1947 (Shown in the movie “42” in 2013), Vaughan decided to make a comeback. He hit .325 in 1947 playing part time, but only .244 in 1948 when he was released. He played one last year in the PCL hitting .288 in 1949 before retiring for good at 37. In 1952 he was fishing with a friend in a lake and their boat capsized, drowning both men. He was 40.
7. Barry Larkin 1986-2004 2180G, 198HR, 960 RBIs, ..295BA, 116 OPS+
With the current log jam in the hall of fame voting process Larkin is lucky to have squeaked in in 2012. It might be a while before anyone else makes it.
8. Alan Trammell 1977-1996 2293G, 185 HR, 1003 RBIs, .285 BA, 110 OPS+
Trammell really should be in the hall of fame. Unfortunately he finished his career right before the juiced era, so his numbers don’t look all that great. He was kind of a jack of all trades, doing everything well, but nothing spectacular on the field. So he tends to be a little overlooked.
9. Luke Appling 1930-1950 2422G, 45 HR, 1116 RBIs, .310BA, 113 OPS+
I remember as a kid watching Luke Appling hit a home run in the old timers game off Warren Spahn at the age of 75. Feel free to Youtube it. Of course he wasn’t much of a home run hitter in his playing career. Now the really interesting thing to me is that is the ONLY time the two ever faced each other in a game. Since Spahn and Appling played in different leagues, and they never reached the postseason at the same time (Appling never did), the only time they MIGHT have was in the 1947 All Star game. Appling however had just one at bat in the 6th inning, while Spahn pitched the 8th inning for the national league.
10. Ozzie Smith 1978-1996 2573G, 28 HR, 793 RBIs, .262BA, 87 OPS+
People may be surprised to see Smith so low on the list.. but he was an awful hitter. Of course he’s mostly known for his fielding, but that only makes up for so much.
Honorable Mention (and why I didn’t pick them)
Joe Cronin – Honestly the more I look at Cronin the more I think he should be on this list instead of Ozzie Smith. But I’d probably be beaten by Cards fans if I did that. Appling and Cronin are pretty close in value I think, but I just wanted to tell my Appling-Spahn factoid. I don’t think Cronin was quite as good as Trammell. Call him rank 10.5 if you like.
Robin Yount- Maybe another surprise he’s not on the list. But Yount only played half his career at short and unlike Banks and Rodriguez I don’t think his half is quite good enough. If he had played his whole career at SS I suppose I’d rank him 5th. Any excuse to move Alex Rodriguez farther down the list.
Bill Dahlen – Just simply too long ago. The game was so different, I try not to rank 19th century players unless they’re SO amazing I can’t really avoid it.
George Davis – See Bill Dahlen
Omar Vizquel – I think he’s not quite as good a fielder as Ozzie Smith, and not quite as good a hitter either. And I barely have Ozzie ranked as it is. So no.
Pee Wee Reese – Ultimately just not quite enough to justify a ranking.
Lou Boudreau – too short a career.
Luis Aparicio – Much like Vizquel it’s either him or Ozzie Smith, and I’ll go with Smith.
Nomar Garciaparra – Nomar is an interesting guy, and a fun discussion is whether he belongs in the hall of fame or not. It’s a closer call than you might suspect at first. If you give him a huge amount of consideration for what might have been you can discuss where he ranks among the all time great shortstops, but ultimately he barely played 1000 games there.. it’s too little.