A sure-fire Hall of Famer for a decade, and an enigma for the last five years of his career. Nomar was Joe DiMaggio-lite for a while, a line-drive machine and an offensive force. But his defense was erratic and his body wore down too quickly to allow him to maintain his trajectory to Cooperstown.
The best “old” shortstops were Honus Wagner, Ozzie Smith, George Davis, Pee Wee Reese, Bobby Wallace, Barry Larkin, and Art Fletcher. That’s based on value from age 31 to 37. Fletcher didn’t get a starting job until he was 27 because he was stuck behind Al Bridwell, another very good defensive player. John McGraw had the prescience to realize that Fletcher was a star and for several years he was the best all-around shortstop in the National League, in the stretch between the Giants two dynasties.
Tinker was one of the most balanced players to ever play shortstop. Only five players in baseball history have accumulated 30 Wins Above Replacement on both offense and defense. There’s the three great Orioles’ infielders: Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken Jr., and Luis Aparicio, then there’s Ozzie Smith. Finally, there’s Joe Tinker, the only one of the five who earned more defensive WAR than offensive WAR.
The man whom the St. Louis fans called “Buster” and his teammates called “Junior”, became the first shortstop to hit 20 homers three times and the first shortstop in the American League to win the home run title. After he was traded to the Red Sox he taught himself to pull the ball over the Green Monster and averaged 33 homers and 147 RBI from 1948-1950. For all the attention he got for hitting baseballs over the fence, Stephens had perhaps the strongest infield throwing arm of his era.