The Greatest Third Basemen of All-Time

hitting
Best with The Lumber
  • 1. Mike Schmidt
  • 2. Eddie Mathews
  • 3. George Brett
  • 4. Wade Boggs
  • 5. Home Run Baker
fielding
Best with The Leather
  • 1. Brooks Robinson
  • 2. Graig Nettles
  • 3. Buddy Bell
  • 4. Mike Schmidt
  • 5. Adrian Beltre
Most Underrated Third Basemen
  • 1. Sal Bando
  • 2. Ron Santo
  • 3. Buddy Bell
  • 4. Ken Boyer
  • 5. Darrell Evans

The Top 100 Third Basemen

Mike Schmidt

1972—1989
HALL OF FAME

1

The redhead was a fixture in the middle of the Phillies’ lineup, wiggling his back side, flashing his quick swing, and smoking home runs over the fence. He won his first home run title when he was 24, his eighth and final one when he was 36. Schmidt hit more home runs than any other third baseman in history, and many of them were lasers. Harmon Killebrew hit them high and deep, but Schmitty’s homers were line drives that got out before the pitcher could say “Oops.”

Wade Boggs

1982—1999
HALL OF FAME

2

Boggs hit .300 in twenty of his twenty-four professional seasons, he was a hitting savant. Like many savants he held a strict adherence to ritual: Boggs ate the same meal before every game, he fielded 150 ground balls before each game, started batting practice at the same time (5:17 PM before night games) and ran wind sprints at the exact same time. When he stepped into the batters box, Boggs would draw the Hebrew symbol for life in the dirt.

Eddie Mathews

1952—1968
HALL OF FAME

3

Mathews was a natural with the bat who was capable against big league pitching at a very early age. While he was playing for the Atlanta Crackers in the minors in the early 1950s, Mathews was observed by Ty Cobb, who fell in love with the big kid. “I’ve only known three or four perfect swings in my time,” said Cobb. “This lad has one of them.”

George Brett

1973—1993
HALL OF FAME

4

People loved George Brett because he was a superstar who acted like the last guy off the bench. People named their kids after him in Kansas City, where he won three batting titles and led the team to five division titles, two pennants, and their first World Series title.

Adrian Beltre

1998—2018

5

Beltre was an entertainer who happened to play baseball. He had a playful sense of humor that was on display throughout his career, and in the three primary cities in which he played, Beltre became a fan favorite. One of the singular unique players in his generation, Beltre was a serious ballplayer but never forgot that everyone on the field was playing a game.

Ron Santo

1960—1974
HALL OF FAME

6

Santo did not live to see his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. A year after his death, the veterans committee elected him for the honor. It’s one of the most glaring examples of stupidity by the baseball writers. Santo was not only worthy, he was the best third baseman in baseball for close to a decade, bridging the gap between Eddie Mathews and Mike Schmidt.

Chipper Jones

1993—2012
HALL OF FAME

7

Jones had a lot in common with Mickey Mantle, one of only two switch-hitters who hit more home runs than Chipper. Both players were born in the south, originally shortstops, and both were influenced heavily by their fathers. Both players had serious knee injuries early in their career. Bobby Cox, who played with Mantle in his final season, saw the similarities. “Chipper didn’t steal many bases after his knee injury,” Cox said, “but he ran like Mickey, had that same gait, the way his shoulders were when he ran, and of course he hit for power both ways like Mick.” Both Chipper and Mick were also famous for off-field shenanigans.

Brooks Robinson

1955—1977
HALL OF FAME

8

According to defensive runs above average, Brooks Robinson is the second best defensive player in history, behind Ozzie Smith. The top five third basemen according to that same statistic:

Brooks Robinson +357
Adrian Beltre +255
Buddy Bell +206
Scott Rolen +196
Graig Nettles +182

Sal Bando

1966—1981

9

Bando was captain of the Oakland A’s when they won five straight division titles and three World Series titles in the 1970s. His temperament was suited for leadership. It was tested by many of his teammates, but “Captain Sal” kept the team on course.

Home Run Baker

1908—1922
HALL OF FAME

10

Most of you know, I presume, that Baker’s fame was born out of a few clutch home runs he hit in the Fall Classic. You don’t get called “Home Run” for hitting in the regular season. But, Frank Baker was a great third baseman and a power hitter when the baseball was as dead as a ship anchor.

Buddy Bell

1972—1989

11

The most underrated third baseman in history, and possibly the most underrated player who starred in the 1970s. Bell was a remarkable third baseman, with excellent range to both his left and down the line to his right. He was a good baserunner, had power, and hit for average. He had the misfortune of changing his clothes in a clubhouse with mediocre teammates.

Scott Rolen

1996—2012

12

Rolen split his career primarily between three teams: the Phillies, for whom he debuted, the Cardinals, and the Reds to wrap up his career. He won Gold Gloves in all three uniforms, the only third baseman to do so. But that fractured narrative, his split allegiances to those three National League teams, makes his Hall of Fame case tricky.

Ken Boyer

1955—1969

13

Beginning at the age of 25, Boyer received MVP votes in eight of nine seasons, culminating in winning the award in 1964 when he helped the Cardinals to their first pennant in 18 seasons. He was the total package, a power hitter who also hit for a high average until the second deadball era started. He was a much better hitter than Brooks Robinson, and about 85 percent of the fielder.

Paul Molitor

1978—1998
HALL OF FAME

14

Molitor was one of the best “old” hitters the game has ever seen. He wasn’t too bad when he was a young hitter either: in 1987 “Molly” set aim at Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak when he hit in 39 straight games, coming closer to DiMaggio’s record than anyone other than Pete Rose.

Edgar Martinez

1987—2004
HALL OF FAME

15

Graig Nettles

1967—1988

16

Evan Longoria

2008—

17

The Robin Ventura of the Devil Rays.

Ron Cey

1971—1987

18

One of the better players in baseball from his first year as a regular through the early 1980s, but two factors worked against Cey. First, his greatest value was misunderstood at the time because it stemmed from (1) his defensive acumen and (2) ability to get on base via the walk. In that pre-sabermetric era, few observers realized how great a player he was. Secondly, he was overshadowed by two of the greatest third basemen of all-time: Mike Schmidt and George Brett.

Darrell Evans

1969—1989

19

Evans idolized Eddie Mathews as a kid, and when he showed up in Atlanta as a rookie in 1969, Mathews was his first hitting coach. Evans tells the story that when he first arrived as a young player in his first spring camp with the Braves, Mathews put his arm around him and said “You come with me.” Mathews taught Evans the philosophy of “shrinking the strike zone.” Evans took that advice well, and when he retired from the game 21 years later he ranked eighth all-time in walks and 20th in home runs.

Robin Ventura

1989—2004

20

A tall, strong third baseman with a good glove and power bat. Others in the Ventura Class are David Wright, Evan Longoria, Scott Rolen, Tim Wallach, to a lesser extent Ken McMullen, and you could argue for Ken Boyer. The Ventura Class third basemen exist in the space between very good and great.

Josh Donaldson

2010—

21

Donaldson got a late start, but he’s doing a lot of things that could move him way up on this list if he can stay healthy. He’ll apparently play the next four years (as of 2020) in Minnesota, where baseballs fly like pigeons out of a cannon.

David Wright

2004—2018

22

The Robin Ventura of the Mets.

Al Rosen

1947—1956

23

Al Rosen missed a minimum of three years due to a four-year enlistment in the U.S. Navy and being stuck in the minor league backlog after the war ended. When the Indians handed Rosen the third base job in 1950 he led the league in home runs. He averaged 30 homers, 89 runs, 108 RBIs, and 87 walks his first six seasons.

Toby Harrah

1969—1986

24

Harrah’s first big league manager was Ted Williams, who instructed the young hitter to look for a good pitch to hit. Harrah took note and became one of the most discerning hitters in the game, averaging 87 walks per season. He was originally a shortstop, and a heralded one. As a 22-year old rookie, Harrah was the starting shortstop in Washington, and the team really pinned their hopes on his development. Tony appeared in more than 800 games at that position to go along with more than 1,000 at the hot corner.

Stan Hack

1932—1947

25

Hack was so respected that someone once said, “Stan Hack has as many friends in baseball as Leo Durocher has enemies.” He was in such a great mood all the time that they called him “Smiling Stan,” and it was said that once on a rare occasion when Hack was tossed from a game, the umpire apologized to him.

Bob Elliott

1939—1953

26

He was the first third baseman to win a league Most Valuable Player Award, in 1947 with the Boston Braves. The following season he was just as good, helping the team to the pennant. He slugged two home runs in the World Series, both of them off Bob Feller.

Nolan Arenado

2013—

27

He’s one of only five players, including Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt, Buddy Bell, and Eric Chavez to have won as many as six straight Gold Glove awards at third base. He’s one of only six third basemen, joining Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Alex Rodriguez, Vinny Castilla, and Troy Glaus, to have as many as three seasons with 35 or more home runs. Obviously only he and Schmidt are on both lists, which says a lot. Arenado is the only third baseman in history with three 130+ RBI seasons.

Jimmy Collins

1895—1908
HALL OF FAME

28

Heinie Groh

1912—1927

29

One of the most unusual players in the history of the game. Groh took his stance at the very front of the batters’ box and he liked to stand with an open posture. He used a famous “bottle bat” that looked like a table leg. The barrel was three times the size of the handle and dramatically flared. It was one of the heaviest bats in use. Groh’s offensive strategy was to pound the ball into the ground in an effort to get a high hop or push the ball past an infielder.

Matt Williams

1987—2003

30

Manny Machado

2012—

31

“There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time. I owe him my best.” — Joe DiMaggio

“Obviously I’m not going to change, I’m not the type of player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle,’ and run down the line and slide to first base. That’s just not my personality, that’s not my cup of tea, that’s not who I am.” — Manny Machado

Doug DeCinces

1973—1987

32

The O’s traded DeCinces to the Angels after the 1981 season, in part because of the long shadow of Brooks Robinson. Always a sunny-faced California guy, DeCinces flourished with the Halos, hitting 20 or more homers four times and finishing third in MVP voting his first year with the club. Like Al Rosen, DeCinces dealt with back woes and he retired at the age of 36 after a few injury-riddled seasons.

Harlond Clift

1934—1945

33

Clift’s family moved from dusty Oklahoma to green Washington when he was a kid, his grandfather purchased an orchard. Working in the orchard, tossing away the bad apples, helped Harlond develop a strong throwing arm. When he was 21, Clift was invited to spring training by the Browns and earned a spot on the team as the starting third baseman. He spent the next decade with the lowly Browns, hitting as many as 34 homers and topping 100 bases on balls six times.

Eric Chavez

1998—2014

34

Chavez was a dirt dog, one of those players who got on the ground, got his uniform dirty every day. He was an excellent defender, basically every year that he played regularly at third he won a Gold Glove award. You could make a case for him as the best defensive third baseman at his peak since Mike Schmidt or maybe Terry Pendleton. He could really pick it and had a tremendous arm until back injuries slowed him. Chavez hit 227 homers before the age of 30, but only 33 after.

Ryan Zimmerman

2005—

35

Bill Bradley

1899—1915

36

Bradley was tall and strong, and arguably the best third baseman in baseball in the first decade of the twentieth century. His challengers were Jimmy Collins and Art Devlin, but Bradley was a better hitter than Devlin and better with the glove than Collins. He used a large bat he named “Big Bennie”, and he was also an aggressive baserunner, sort of the Hal McRae of his time, known for stretching singles into doubles.

Larry Gardner

1908—1924

37

No other third baseman was as important to as many world championship teams as Gardner, who won three World Series with the Red Sox and one with the Indians. Gardner was a steady defensive player and a solid hitter who often saved his best for the big stage. In more than 1,900 career games, Gardner hit only 27 home runs, but in the World Series he hit three in 25 games. In Game Four of the 1916 Series at Ebbets Field against Brooklyn, Gardner hit a three-run inside-the-park homer off Rube Marquard that proved to be the winning margin.

Carney Lansford

1978—1992

38

Lansford settled in for a decade-long run with the A’s, helping them to three consecutive pennants. It might have been the fact that Lansford was comfortable in his environs, since he was born and raised in San Jose. Eventually he was named captain of the A’s and had several big postseason moments for the club.

Bill Madlock

1973—1987

39

He had a short swing and a shorter temper. “Mad Dog” won four batting titles, and he was instrumental in helping three teams to the postseason.

Tim Wallach

1980—1996

40

The Robin Ventura of the Expos.

Jeff Cirillo

1994—2007

41

Cirillo was an enthusiastic fan-favorite in Milwaukee who was sort of Wade Boggs Lite: he hit tons of doubles, batted over .300 several times, and walked some. He still holds the record for highest career batting average for the Brewers. The fans identified with him because he showed his emotion. “I just wore it on my sleeve. I was very emotional as far as playing,” Cirillo said.

Kyle Seager

2011—

42

Art Devlin

1904—1913

43

Devlin was considered by many to be the best gloveman at third in the National League in the first decade of the twentieth century. He was quick to field bunts, had an accurate arm, and his feet kept him in good position. Once, Devlin fielded three straight bunts and recorded outs at first against Cincinnati, prompting Reds’ manager Ned Hanlon to holler, “That Devlin is the only man you need out there, Mac!”

Gary Gaetti

1981—2000

44

Buddy Bell Lite.

Ken McMullen

1962—1977

45

When he was able to stay in the lineup, McMullen was a good hitter and a decent third baseman. His defensive play improved steadily as he matured, to the point that he led the league in assists and double plays several times when he was with Washington.

Troy Glaus

1998—2010

46

Glaus had several noteworthy power-hitting seasons, helped the Angels to their first World Series title (and was named MVP of the Fall Classic), then he suffered a series of injuries and his body wore out until he had to quit at the age of 33. He hit 35+ homers for three teams, something only four players have ever done. He was a poor defensive third baseman, but his teams didn’t mind the trade off for his booming bat.

Don Money

1968—1983

47

“I remember in Boston I hit a home run in the first inning because I hit leadoff. I hit a home run again in the third inning. In the fifth inning, I was asked to bunt with a man on first base. So you bunt. No questions asked. You don’t put on the long face. If the manager puts the bunt sign on, you bunt.” — Don Money

Anthony Rendon

2013—

48

Seems on his way to a Larry Parrish or Tim Wallach type career. If he signs a free agent deal to play in a small ballpark he could have a better fate, but nothing wrong with being the modern Tim Wallach.

Buddy Lewis

1935—1949

49

A shaky third baseman who drove his managers crazy with his clumsy defense, even after he was moved to right field. But Lewis was a natural with a bat in his hands and became one of the favorite players of Clark Griffith, the owner of the Washington Senators, who often dangled money at Lewis in efforts to lure him back to the diamond.

George Kell

1943—1957
HALL OF FAME

50

Kell was a southern gentleman, he lived in his native Arkansas his entire life, only a few miles from his childhood home. He was understated, he was kind, he worked hard. He was one of the best defensive third basemen to ever play the game, he helped young Brooks Robinson acclimate to the position. Kell split his career with five teams, but not because he wasn’t a good ballplayer, but because he was wanted. After he retired with a batting average over .300 and a batting title to his credit, Kell was a broadcaster for nearly four decades.

Travis Fryman

1990—2002

51

Sparky Anderson gave Fryman what he called the best advice of his career, when he waved the young rookie into his office. “He pointed to Alan Trammell and said, ‘You see that guy over there?’ Watch him, do what he does, and you’ll be just fine.’ ”

Edgardo Alfonzo

1995—2006

52

For a few years, “Fonzie” was a real threat at the plate. Alfonzo’s career declined quickly: his last good season was when he was 28 and his last season as a regular came when he was 31.

THE REST OF THE 100

  • 53. Eddie Yost
  • 54. Aramis Ramirez
  • 55. Ken Keltner
  • 56. Bobby Bonilla
  • 57. Justin Turner
  • 58. Red Smith
  • 59. Matt Carpenter
  • 60. Heinie Zimmerman
  • 61. Hank Thompson
  • 62. Jose Ramirez
  • 63. Ken Caminiti
  • 64. Melvin Mora
  • 65. Jim Ray Hart
  • 66. Pie Traynor (HOF)
  • 67. Red Rolfe
  • 68. Edwin Encarnacion
  • 69. Kris Bryant
  • 70. Willie Kamm
  • 71. Richie Hebner
  • 72. Martin Prado
  • 73. Fred Lindstrom (HOF)
  • 74. Alex Bregman
  • 75. Harry Steinfeldt
  • 76. Ray Boone
  • 77. Terry Pendleton
  • 78. Whitey Kurowski
  • 79. Kevin Seitzer
  • 80. Ed Charles
  • 81. Chase Headley
  • 82. Bob Bailey
  • 83. Corey Koskie
  • 84. Howard Johnson
  • 85. Todd Frazier
  • 86. Clete Boyer
  • 87. Ken Oberkfell
  • 88. Chone Figgins
  • 89. Matt Chapman
  • 90. Jimmie Dykes
  • 91. Mike Lowell
  • 92. Casey Blake
  • 93. Billy Werber
  • 94. Don Hoak
  • 95. Bob Horner
  • 96. Pablo Sandoval
  • 97. Eric Soderholm
  • 98. Willie Jones
  • 99. Pete Ward
  • 100. Pinky Higgins