The Top 100 Second Basemen of All-Time
#1. Rogers Hornsby
Years: 1915-1937 Primary Team: St. Louis Cardinals
Bill James is the only baseball historian to rate anyone other than Hornsby #1 among second basemen. He has Joe Morgan and Eddie Collins, in that order, listed ahead of The Rajah. I'm inclined to agree with him, but I can't ignore that the statistical record, and our ratings system, still shows Hornsby with an edge over Collins and Little Joe.
The three (Hornsby, Collins, and Morgan) tower above the rest of the second base field. The gap between Morgan, who I have ranked third, and the fourth spot, is the same as the gap between #4 and #17. You could take the careers of any two players below #24 on this list and add them together and not equal the value of Hornsby, Collins, or Morgan.
Each of the top six second basemen were important to teams that won championships. Hornsby is the only one who was a player/manager for a team that won a World Series. Hornsby played for two pennant-winning teams and averaged 7.4 WAR. Collins averaged 7.5 in six pennant seasons, Morgan 8.3 in four, Jackie Robinson averaged 5.9 WAR in six pennant-winning seasons, Gehringer was very good too, with 6.7 WAR for three Detroit flag winners. But Chase Utley beats them all, with an 8.6 WAR average in the two seasons his Phils won the pennant.
File this under the "What do I have to do to get some respect?" file: a few years back the Oklahoma City Dodgers updated their ballpark by adding large photos of famous ballplayers with an Oklahoma connection. Hornsby played one season for a minor league team in Hugo, OK. But the photo was reversed and showed the Hall of Famer swinging the bat lefthanded.
#3. Eddie Collins
Years: 1906-1930 Primary Team: Chicago White Sox
The position players who got the biggest ratings boost because of their post-season performance: Reggie Jackson, George Brett, Babe Ruth, Home Run Baker, Mickey Mantle, and Eddie Collins. In the 34 most important games of his career, Collins got on base 53 times, scored 20 runs, and stole 14 bases while leading his teams to four titles in six Fall Classics. Had there been a World Series MVP award back then, he would have won it three times. He was a superb leader: his teams won four of the five World Series that they were trying to win (crooked teammates cost him a fifth title with the White Sox in 1919).
#3. Joe Morgan
Years: 1963-1984 Primary Team: Cincinnati Reds
Had Morgan played in the 1930s he would have been a player/manager like Hornsby, Collins, and Frisch. Someone once did a study which showed that second basemen made the best managers. Several of the greatest managers played the position: Sparky Anderson, Tony Larussa, Bucky Harris, and Gene Mauch all rank in the top 12 all-time in wins. Then there's Earl Weaver, Billy Martin, Miller Huggins, and Davey Johnson. Among the great second basemen, there are a number of them who never managed, like Morgan, who would have probably made good managers: Jackie Robinson and Chase Utley for example. Several more may someday join the list of good managers to come from the position, like Ryne Sandberg and Ian Kinsler.
#4. Jackie Robinson
Years: 1947-1956 Primary Team: Brooklyn Dodgers
There are similarities between Jackie Robinson and Ichiro Suzuki. Both played professional baseball for seven years before getting chance to appear in the major leagues. Robinson was 28 when he broke the color barrier, Ichiro was 27 when he became the first Japanese position player. Both led their league in stolen bases in their first season, Robinson scored 125 runs, Ichiro scored 127. Both were impact players immediately, leading their teams to the postseason. Ichiro won the Rookie of the Year Award (named after Robinson), and Jackie was fifth in MVP voting in his rookie year. Ichiro was named MVP as a rookie. Both Robinson and Ichiro played the game with a smooth quality that had never been seen before. Both had their last great season when they were 35. Had Ichiro gotten to the majors sooner, he probably would have set the record for hits, had Robinson gotten to the big leagues sooner, he would have won another MVP or two and challenged Hornsby as the best to ever play the position. Both Robinson and Ichiro deserve to be moved up on our rankings based on what they would have done, and it lifts Robinson to #4 here.
#5. Rod Carew
Years: 1967-1985 Primary Team: Minnesota Twins
Carew played 1,184 games at first base and 1,130 at second base, so it takes some deliberation before ranking him among the greats at any one position. We decided to rate him at second base. Carew was never a very good defender at second: his range was not that great despite being quick; he had a weak throwing arm; and he was not comfortable turning the double play. Carew was one of those athletes who was naturally talented at scoring. If it was baseball he was a great hitter, if it was soccer, he was the goal scorer, if it was basketball he was the star point guard. But sometimes that guy didn't take care of business as well on the defensive side of the ball. That was Carew. He was the best bunter of his generation.
#6. Charlie Gehringer
Years: 1924-1942 Primary Team: Detroit Tigers
Among the second basemen, Rogers Hornsby was the best pure hitter, Joe Morgan was the most complete offensive package, and Gehringer was probably the best all-around player. He hit for high average, ran the bases well, was a very good fielder (better than Hornsby and Morgan), and had a strong arm. The only flaw in Charlie's game was that he didn't hit the long ball. Gehringer was one of the few players who was "discovered" by Ty Cobb. When Cobb was player/manager of the Tigers in the 1920s, he was given a tip about Gehringer, who grew up just west of Detroit. After seeing young Charlie play, Cobb insisted that the Tigers sign him to a minor league deal. Two years later he was in the Detroit lineup with Cobb. Gehringer once told the story of how Cobb urged him to buy stock in General Motors and Coca-Cola. "But none of us had any money," Gehringer said, "so we couldn't follow his advice."
#7. Chase Utley
Years: 2003-2018 Primary Team: Philadelphia Phillies
Why is Chase Utley underrated? Or is it better to ask why he's so underappreciated? Because even people who acknowledge he's been a fine second baseman, aren't aware that he rates among the best second basemen of all-time. That he deserves to rate higher than several Hall of Famers. Utley has had a better career than Frankie Frisch and Ryne Sandberg. Better than Roberto Alomar and Craig Biggio and Billy Herman, all great players. He ranks ahead of the two non-Hall of Fame second basemen who get the most support for induction: Bobby Grich and Lou Whitaker. But how is that possible when he's likely to conclude his career with fewer than 2,000 hits, less than 1,200 runs scored or RBIs? When Utley has a career batting average below .280? The answer lies in the fact that Utley is a near perfect baseball player. He's not the offensive machine that Rogers Hornsby was. He's not the defensive wizard that Alomar was. He's not a stolen base merchant like Eddie Collins. He's not a pure home run hitter like Jeff Kent. He wasn't as durable as Charlie Gehringer or play or draw as many walks as Joe Morgan. But he was excellent at everything --- and we mean everything. Combine that with his two greatest strengths and you have one of the ten greatest second baseman in the history of baseball.
Let's start with his excellence. Utley is one of the best baserunners in baseball history. At his peak he was taking the extra base as much as anyone ever has, close to 70 percent of the time (going from-first-to-third on a single, first-to-home on a double, or second-to-home on a single). His stolen base percentage is the highest in history, and once over a four year stretch he was successful on 61 of 64 attempts. Utley rarely made a mental mistake in the field, he made two throwing errors in one four-year stretch and led the NL in chances per game by second basemen six times. Utley only once topped 200 hits, but he got on base a helluva lot. He averaged 265 times on base per season for his career entering 2018. But he did some of that under the normal radar: walking or getting hit by a pitch 100 times per season. There are still many folks who think a man gets on base via the hit. Utley has been hit by a pitch more than 200 times. Utley is also an excellent bunter and was one of the most aggressive baserunners of his era. Again, you name it, Utley is really, really good at it.
Now for his greatest strengths: first, Utley is one of the best second basemen at converting groundballs into outs and he's excellent at turning the double play. His defensive skill in the middle of the infield was a great assistance to the pitchers on his teams. Second, Utley was one of the five best power hitters to ever play second. In four consecutive seasons he had at least 70 extra-base hits, and his career slugging percentage, the rate stat that is perhaps the most indicative of a great hitter, is topped by only Hornsby, Kent, Robinson Cano, Gehringer, and Jackie Robinson.
Utley's 5-year peak, according to WAR, ranks sixth all-time for second basemen, and his top three seasons also rank sixth. His top seven seasons rank ninth. But he also played more than 1,800 games and topped more than 65 WAR for his career (and was still adding to that total at the age of 39 in 2018). The peak separates him from Whitaker, Frisch, Sandberg, and Grich, players who all racked up more value for their careers. Utley's career total pushes him past Joe Gordon, who had a shorter career, and even when we adjust Gordon's numbers for the time he missed during WWII, Utley remains slightly ahead of Flash.
The top twenty second basemen are packed into four groups: there are the elite (Hornsby, Collins, and Morgan); then comes a small second group of Robinson, Carew, and Gehringer; followed by a large group of nine players that includes Gordon, Cano, Grich, Frisch, Sandberg, Lajoie, Alomar, and Whitaker. Utley is atop that list, which are tightly grouped together by value. Then there's a group of five (Biggio, Randolph, Herman, Kinsler, and Pedroia) that fills out the top twenty. Everyone in that final group has something, a flaw or possibly two, in their game.
#8. Joe Gordon
Years: 1938-1950 Primary Team: New York Yankees
Joe Gordon was the greatest defensive second baseman in the history of the game, according to the most sophisticated statistical tools we have at our disposal. In addition, witnesses who saw him play were equally impressed.
It's amazing that Gordon wasn't inducted into the Hall of Fame until 2009, 58 years after his last game and 31 years after his death. He received MVP votes in eight of his 11 seasons, was an All-Star nine times, retired as the all-time homer leader at his position, and during his career he was universally acclaimed as the best defender at second. He missed two prime seasons due to service in World War II. When he was finally honored in Cooperstown in 2009, his daughter said, "He insisted against having a funeral, and as such, we consider Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame as his final resting place to be honored forever."
#9. Bobby Grich
Years: 1970-1986 Primary Team: California Angels
Bobby Doerr wasn't elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame until he was an old man. Joe Gordon was long dead when he was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame. Lou Whitaker will probably never get his honor in Cooperstown even though his double play partner, who was almost exactly as valuable as he was during their careers, was elected. The Veterans Committee should do their homework and award Bobby Grich for a great career by putting his name where it belongs: among the greatest second basemen in history as a Hall of Famer. Do it while he's alive, it'll make for a better speech.
#10. Frankie Frisch
Years: 1919-1937 Primary Team: New York Giants
Frisch is one of the most important people in the history of baseball who is virtually unknown to most modern fans. In college he was one of the most famous athletes in the country, starring in four sports at Fordham University: basketball, track, football, and baseball. When he signed with John McGraw's New York Giants at the age of 20 it was a huge story, sort of like a blue chip quarterback getting drafted today. He immediately made an impact, finishing third in stolen bases as a rookie and sparking the offense for the G-Men. Within a year, McGraw made Frisch team captain, and he essentially served as a manager on the field the remainder of his career. Just about everything he did on the field was flashy and made headlines. When he was traded to the Cardinals it was for Rogers Hornsby, the greatest second baseman of all-time. Frisch received MVP votes in nine of 12 seasons from 1924-1935. He won the award in 1931 for St. Louis.
In 1933 he became player/manager of the Cardinals, whom he guided to a World Championship the following season. He was the second baseman for the National League in the first three All-Star games and he was among the highest paid players in the league for much of his career.
Like Eddie Collins, Frisch was at his best in the postseason. He was a key player in eight World Series. In the 1922 Series against the Yankees he batted .471 with eight hits in five games. The next fall he punished Yankee pitching again to the tune of .400 (10-for-25) in six games.
Following his retirement as a player at the age of 38, Frisch managed for over a decade. He never had the same success as strictly a manager, but he still had a .514 winning percentage for his career. In 1947 he was elected to the Hall of Fame. As a Hall of Famer he was hugely influential in the voting process of the veterans committee for years. Frisch outlived most of his enemies, and as the years passed he slipped several of his former teammates into the Hall of Fame. The list of Frisch inductees includes Dave Bancroft, Chick Hafey, Jesse Haines, George Kelly, Rube Marquard, Ross Youngs, and Jim Bottomley. These inductees are among the very worst in Cooperstown, and Frisch should be blamed for them, but he still deserves to be remembered as a brilliant second baseman, a World Champion player/manager, and an historic figure in the game.
#11. Ryne Sandberg
Years: 1981-1997 Primary Team: Chicago Cubs
Who had the more valuable career, Ryne Sandberg or Lou Whitaker? Each was an All-Star many times while winning Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers, but they never faced each other because they were in opposite leagues. Sandberg did more eye-popping things: he won an MVP Award, he hit 40 homers, he stole as many as 54 bases. He also won nine straight Gold Gloves. Whitaker never had a monster season like Ryno, but he had several seasons (nine to be exact) where he posted an OPS+ of at least 120 and he had an amazing ten seasons of 4 or more WAR (Sandberg had seven). Whitaker led his league in games played, and that's it. He did win the Rookie of the Year Award and he collected 206 hits and batted .320 one season. But mostly, Whitaker plugged along hitting .275 or so with 165 hits, 80 walks, and 15-20 homers per season. Sandberg produced eight more extra-base hits and swiped 16 more bases per season. Whitaker walked 24 more times per year, hence the advantage each shared in slugging percentage and on-base percentage, respectively. When we adjust for ballpark effect, Whitaker comes out ahead: 116 OPS+ to 114 for Sandberg. That's an indication of how much Wrigley Field helped Sandberg's numbers, which they certainly did. In their road games, Whitaker was the better hitter: .762 OPS to Sandberg's .738. There are those stolen bases, though, about 200 more for Ryno than Sweet Lou. But Whitaker accumulated his stats over 700 more plate appearances, so he has that. In the end, the formula rates Sandberg ahead of Whitaker just barely, because of his greater peak value.
#12. Roberto Alomar
Years: 1988-2004 Primary Team: Toronto Blue Jays
Through 2015, only 58 times in baseball history has a second baseman played at least 130 games in a season where he was older than 34. Nearly all of those seasons were mediocre or terrible. Only Tom Daly, Nap Lajoie, Eddie Collins, Rogers Hornsby (one season), Charlie Gehringer, Joe Morgan, Lou Whitaker, Jeff Kent, and Chase Utley (two seasons) defied father time by having good seasons after their 34th birthday. Alomar had a .698 OPS after the age of 34, which is pretty typical for a middle infielder, if they are still in the game at all.
#13. Lou Whitaker
Years: 1977-1995 Primary Team: Detroit Tigers
Of those who only played second base, who never switched to another position to extend their career, Lou Whitaker played the longest. He was 38 when he retired and he was still a fine ballplayer. He had the best final three seasons of any second baseman in history, though of course by that time he was essentially a platoon player. Nevertheless, when he retired he was doing everything he was good at: covering ground at second, drawing walks, hitting for power, and driving in runs.
Whitaker was never that much interested in being a designated hitter, and his personality didn't fit that role (he became distracted quite easily), which is too bad, because he could have been a valuable platoon player for a couple more seasons and padded his career stats a bit. But, he'd made his money and he went home rather than play for someone other than Detroit.
Early in his career, Whitaker was one of the fastest players in the league, but he ran funny. As a kid he'd been pigeon-toed, and he still carried that with him onto the diamond: he had a tip-toe gate to his stride that made it seem like he wasn't running as fast as he was. A longtime teammate of Whitaker's told me that he never saw Sweet Lou work much on base stealing, and that he refused to get signs or send signs to teammates on the bases. Whitaker was talented but didn't care much about working on the details of the game. That's the biggest difference between he and his double play partner, Alan Trammell. But in spite of not having much use for honing his skills, Whitaker was a great player. His raw talent was that good.
#14. Nap Lajoie
Years: 1896-1916 Primary Team: Cleveland Naps
Lajoie had a way of gliding toward the ball, like Cal Ripken Jr. did. He was a tall man but graceful, with a strong arm. He had some peculiar habits in the field: he liked to take his glove with him to the dugout between innings, shunning the practice at the time of tossing the glove into short right field between innings; and he liked to use a new glove each summer, breaking it in by coating it with oil and twisting and bending the leather until it was soft and pliable; he also removed the wrist strap so he could keep the glove low on his wrist, giving him more reach. It worked for him: he led his league in fielding several times.
Lajoie's career nearly ended when he was 30 years old in 1905 after a terrible spiking incident. An opposing runner slashed his leg at second base and the resulting wound became severely infected. Doctors discussed the possibility of amputating Lajoie's leg, but the infection cleared up although Nap missed the remainder of the season after June. He led the league in hits and doubles the following season and had 1,700 more hits after the injury.
As far as I can tell, only three players have had teams named after them: Cleveland became the Indians because of Louis Sockalexis, a Penobscot Indian; Brooklyn adopted "Robins" because of manager Wilbert Robinson; and Cleveland was dubbed the "Naps" for their second base star.
#15. Craig Biggio
Years: 1988-2007 Primary Team: Houston Astros
The career of Craig Biggio breaks down like this: four years as a catcher, 14 as a second baseman, and two as an outfielder. He was an All-Star as both a catcher and second baseman. Like most second baseman, Biggio hit the wall at age 34, which is why he was asked to play center field by the Astros. He wasn't a particularly great outfielder, but he played every day and continued to churn out doubles and score runs. How much should postseason success or lack of, affect the ranking? The answer: it depends. In Biggio's case, he played in 40 post-season games, or 1/4 of a full season. His abysmal performance (.618 OPS) had something to do with Houston's failures. When he finally broke out, hitting .400 against Atlanta in the 2004 NLDS, the Astros defeated their playoff nemesis. Overall, the Astros were 15-25 in the postseason during the Biggio/Bagwell era, losing six of nine series. When his obituary is written someday in the future, there will probably be a small mention of his misfortune in the playoffs, but it won't impact his legacy that much.
#16. Willie Randolph
Years: 1975-1992 Primary Team: New York Yankees
Randolph ranks seventh in fielding runs overall at second base, and for players who began their careers after World War II, he trails only Frank White. But unlike White, Willie could do some damage with his bat and his feet, and he did it for a long time: more than 2,200 games. His strengths were his range, accurate throwing arm, nimble play around the bag turning the double play, and his ability to make contact and draw bases on balls. He was also a good base runner. But his minuses carry too much weight: he didn't get enough extra-base hits (only 32 per 162 games, a low rate even for his era), and his crime in the field? He wasn't Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker, or Frank White. Willie rests on the bubble for the Hall of Fame, a player who was very good for a long time, who played on several winning teams and who did important things. But ultimately he's right where he belongs, right there on that bubble, an excellent player who did some good things, but who doesn't have the other things to push him into Cooperstown with the legends.
#17. Billy Herman
Years: 1931-1947 Primary Team: Chicago Cubs
Herman was a very good ballplayer with no glaring weaknesses, though he always seemed to be overshadowed by more famous and colorful teammates. He was a ten-time All-Star second baseman and received MVP votes in seven separate seasons. At his peak he was a better player than Whitaker and Randolph, but those two rate ahead based on their longer peaks. Herman had only five seasons of 4+ WAR, while Sweet Lou had ten, Randolph also had ten, and Bobby Grich had nine. Herman played in three World Series for the Cubs but was on the losing side each time. Later, he helped the Brooklyn Dodgers to the pennant in his first season with them, but again suffered a loss in the Fall Classic.
#18. Ian Kinsler
Years: 2006-2018 Primary Team: Texas Rangers
Entering the 2018 season, Kinsler was at a critical juncture. He was past his 35th birthday, an age when almost every second baseman is on a severe decline. With a new team and in a new ballpark, Kinsler will need to find the ability to have a few more solid seasons if he wants to place himself into a discussion as a Hall of Famer. He ranked 19th in WAR among second basemen through 2017, and while his range in the field and ability to make consistent contact was waning, he still had power at the plate.
In 2004 when Kinsler was still in the Texas minor league system, the Rangers offered him to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for veteran outfielder Larry Walker. But Walker, having trade rights, vetoed the deal.
#19. Robinson Cano
Years: 2005-2018 Primary Team: New York Yankees
In 2018, Cano was caught cheating, having failed a drug test prior to the season and then failing another in May for a substance that is used to mask PEDs. This (unsurprising) revelation will almost certainly keep him out of the Baseball Hall of Fame, as one more superstar who tried to beat the drug policy. It's worse when a player is caught after so many high-profile players were caught and damaged the reputation of the game before them. Cano already had a smudge on his character for being lazy throughout his career. Cano never seemed like he cared so much for the game as he did getting paid. Strangely, Cano was finally caught after having signed a ten-year $200 million-plus contract with Seattle. He already had the money, so why did he continue to feel the need to take banned substances? Maybe that was the only way he could compete at the professional level anymore.
Cano's 80-game suspension for violating MLB's drug policy forced us to treat him like every other player who has been caught cheating. We marked him down about 15 percent, which dropped Cano from #9 to #19 as of the 2017 stats. Pedroia and Zobrist will quickly pass him, relegating Cano to the afterthought section of second basemen who rate outside the greats at the position.
Twice as a prospect in the minor leagues, the Yankees offered Robinson Cano as trade bait to acquire veteran players. Each time the other team rejected Cano and picked another player from the Yankee organization. Cano, who was named for Jackie Robinson, emerged as one of the best second basemen in baseball after being called to the majors in the middle of the 2005 season. He impressed immediately, finishing second in American League Rookie of the Year voting. He has a sweet left-handed swing that some have compared to the swing of Hall of Famer Rod Carew.
#20. Dustin Pedroia
Years: 2006-2018 Primary Team: Boston Red Sox
After two poor seasons and two mediocre seasons in his 30s, Dustin Pedroia doesn't seem to have much future value left entering the 2018 season. His body is also starting to wear down, as he's spent time on the disabled list four times since he turned 30. The trouble with this former MVP is that his peak wasn't high enough for him to move himself up this list. It's probable that he will stay in a group with Jeff Kent, Ian Kinsler, and Willie Randolph, the second baseman who were really good but not great enough to make it to Cooperstown. Like the other great Red Sox' second baseman, Bobby Doerr, Pedroia seems to have stalled at the age of 33.
#21. Jeff Kent
Years: 1992-2008 Primary Team: San Francisco Giants
Only 26 percent of Kent's career WAR came before he turned 30 years old, that's the lowest total among the top 50 second basemen. Three teams, the Blue Jays, Mets, and Indians, all gave up on Kent, who failed to impress anyone with his habit of swinging at any pitch near the plate. Kent was never good at turning the double play, he was stiff and slow in the field and his arm was below average. But when he arrived in San Francisco the Giants ignored that delinquency and welcomed his many doubles and home runs. In six seasons with the G-Men, Kent averaged 41 doubles and 29 home runs while driving in Barry Bonds a hell of a lot. The two teammates never liked each other: Bonds was an entitled prima donna who wanted to be the alpha male. Kent was a stubborn, opinionated conservative who didn't kiss Bonds' ass. The problems between the two stars began almost immediately when Kent refused to vacate Bonds' special seat in the bus. While Kent and Bonds each benefited from the other being in the lineup, neither of the egomaniacs would admit it. Probably no other prominent teammates hated each other as much since Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford.
#22. Bobby Doerr
Years: 1937-1951 Primary Team: Boston Red Sox
Doerr was a rarity: a second baseman who hit in the middle of the lineup. He usually hit fifth, behind his best friend Ted Williams (who batted third) and Jimmie Foxx (and later Vern Stephens) in the cleanup spot. A right-handed hitter, Doerr has some of the most striking platoon splits of any player in history: he had a career OPS of .716 on the road and .928 in Fenway Park. He averaged 4.2 homers per 100 at-bats in Fenway and 1.9 in road games. He was still a productive player but back problems forced him to retire at the age of 33.
#23. Ben Zobrist
Years: 2006-2018 Primary Team: Tampa Bay Rays
Sort of the Tony Phillips of his era, Zobrist has played every position except pitcher and catcher. He's been most comfortable at second base and in right field, where he had his best seasons for Tampa Bay. From the age of 28-31, Zobrist averaged 89 runs, 35 doubles, 6 triples, 19 homers, 83 RBIs, 18 stolen bases, and 89 walks per season. At the age of 35 he signed a 4-year, $56 million free agent contract with the Cubs. It was a homecoming for Zobrist, who grew up in Eureka. He paid quick dividends: hitting 18 homers in the regular season and winning the MVP award in the Fall Classic when he had ten hits for the Cubbies as they won their first championship on more than 100 years.
#24. Nellie Fox
Years: 1947-1965 Primary Team: Go Go Sox
Fox's mother wrote a letter to Connie Mack when her son was 16 asking for a tryout for young Nelson. A few weeks later he traveled the 60 miles by train from little St. Thomas Township to Frederick, Maryland, the site of the A's spring camp. Fox had on a pair of borrowed cleats and he wore the jersey of the St. Thomas team that he and his father both played for. At that point he was a runt, weighing no more than 145 pounds. He looked like he should have been the bat boy. But Mack liked the way Fox hustled and he was impressed at how the teenager made contact on almost every pitch he swung at. He signed Fox to a contract but Nellie's career took a detour when he was drafted into the Army. Finally, in 1947 the little second baseman debuted for the A's and he eventually played nearly 2,300 games at second base in the majors. the way he saw it, he never had another option. "I had to be a ballplayer," Fox said. "I wasn't very good at school and I didn't have any outside hobbies. I played ball. That's what I did."
#25. Tony Lazzeri
Years: 1926-1939 Primary Team: Murderers' Row
Probably should have been in the Yankees' lineup when he was 20 years old in 1924. That season he hit 44 home runs between two different leagues in the minors. The Yankees employed Aaron Ward at second and Everett Scott at short, and neither of them ever came within a mile of being the hitter Lazzeri was at that moment. Early on it wasn't clear whether Tony would settle at shortstop or second base. His first minor league manager, the old Boston outfielder Duffy Lewis, switched Lazzeri to second apparently because he didn't think the youngster was able to go deep into the hole. By 1926 after he'd walloped 60 home runs and set a professional record with 222 RBIs at Salt Lake City, the Yankees had to get him into the lineup. He started on opening day and kept the job for twelve years. Originally he hit sixth, behind Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Long Bob Meusel. Those guys cleaned the bases pretty well, but they also left themselves on base a lot and Tony drove in 117 as a rookie. He plated 102 the next season and topped 100 RBIs seven times in his dozen seasons in the sun as a Yankee. Similar to Jeff Kent, in that they both enjoyed the benefits of playing in star-studded lineups. But Lazzeri was a better fielder than Kent and a better teammate. He was best pals with fellow Italian (and Bay area native) Joe DiMaggio.
#26. Tony Phillips
Years: 1982-1999 Primary Team: Detroit Tigers
One of only two players in baseball history with at least 50 Wins Above Replacement who didn't really have a position on the diamond. Phillips spent 18 years in the league and he played more than 700 games in the outfield, more than 700 at second base, more than 400 at third, and nearly 300 at shortstop. And he usually played 3-4 of those positions every season for stretches of time. He also appeared in more than 100 games as a designated hitter. Other players had careers split between two positions (like Stan Musial, Tony Perez and Joe Mauer). And a very few played three positions regularly (Craig Biggio), but there was only one other player that I could find who accumulated 50+ WAR and regularly played as many as four positions: Pete Rose (who played five: right and left, third, second, and first).
Phillips played nine years with the A's but he actually nearly had as many plate appearances in his five seasons for Detroit. His best seasons came as a Tiger, he averaged 100 runs, 154 hits, 26 doubles, 12 homers, 62 RBIs, 14 stolen bases, and 104 walks per season in Detroit. His on-base percentage as a Tiger was nearly .400.
Phillips was good for 2-3 really outlandish ejections every season. He had a small strike zone and he thought his eyesight was impeccable. As a result he never liked it when a home plate umpire called a pitch he took a strike. He'd slant his head one way, scrunch his face, and look at the man in blue like he was crazy. He showed the umpire up, and he'd get run in dramatic style with bat flips and dirt kicks and the like.
#27. Gil McDougald
Years: 1951-1960 Primary Team: Bronx Bombers
He used one of the strangest batting stances of his era: his feet both open so he was facing the pitcher, with the bat held tight and close to his waist. Many years later several batters would open their stances, usually in an effort to see pitches better, but McDougald was unusual with his approach on the 1950s.
Unlike other young players who were trapped in the Yankee farm system, McDougald shot through the minors and got into the lineup as soon as he finished a military obligation. In 1951 he was the American League's Rookie of the Year, narrowly edging Minnie Minoso for the honor. Both had fine rookie seasons, and Minnie's was a smidge better, but it's quibbling: McDougald was deserving.
His natural position was second base, but Casey Stengel liked McDougald so much he also used him at third and short for spells. His arm was strong enough. The Yankees made him Phil Rizzuto's replacement in 1956. "I'm not exactly in love with shortstop," McDougald said during his career. "But I will play anywhere as long as I get to play. Personally, I'd prefer to play second base. That's where I really feel at home. But I think that I can get to like playing shortstop, if I play there long enough."
The arrival of Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek, and Clete Boyer hastened the end of McDougald's career, and shortly after Bill Mazeroski's homer ended the 1960 World Series in crushing fashion for the Yankees, Gil announced his retirement after only ten years. He figured the Yanks were going to trade him and he didn't have any desire to move his young family away from the city.
#28. Jim Gilliam
Years: 1953-1966 Primary Team: The Boys of Summer
Born five months after Gil McDougald, Gilliam debuted for the rival Dodgers two years after McDougald debuted for the Yankees. Like McDougald, Gilliam was named Rookie of the Year, and like the Yankee, Gilliam played other infield positions during his career too, as needed by his team. Both players were in the middle of the scrums between the Yanks and Dodgers in the 1950s and 1960s. Gilliam played in four World Series against the Yankees, hitting two homers in the Fall Classic as a rookie.
Gilliam learned to be a ballplayer during his three seasons in the negro leagues, which is where he earned the nickname "Junior" as well. A veteran teammate suggested he try switch-hitting, and he honed his skills as a bunter and basestealer. By the time the Dodgers inserted him at second base (pushing Jackie Robinson to the outfield) in '53, Gilliam was a good player, especially in the field where he had excellent range. His arm was never considered strong for a second baseman, and Walter Alston was frequently frustrated at Junior's base running gaffes, but Gilliam proved to be an important part of the Dodgers teams that won seven pennants between 1953 and 1966. His final three years, Gilliam served as a player/coach, and he remained on the Dodger payroll as a coach until his death late in the 1978 season. The Dodgers placed black armbands on their uniforms to honor Gilliam, ironically squaring off against the Yankees in the World Series.
#29. Eddie Stanky
Years: 1943-1953 Primary Team: New York Giants
The three most aggressive baserunners of the 1940s and 1950s might have been Enos Slaughter, Jackie Robinson, and Eddie Stanky. Of those three, Stanky was the most vicious, he thought nothing of ripping his spikes into an opposing infielder. He barely weighed 165 pounds was only about 5-foot-7, but Stanky carried the confidence of a large man inside. He wasn't a dirty player, but he gave no ground. As a result, he made his way to a fine career in the big leagues and he was a popular teammate.
Because of his small stature, Stanky had to claw and fight his way to the majors. He played eight seasons in the minor leagues, figuring out ways to be as important as he could to his team. He worked on sticking his glove in the dirt as he ran to his left to get groundballs, to remind himself to keep the glove down. He stood dangerously close to the plate, daring pitchers to throw inside and getting hit by pitches dozens of times a year. He took extra batting practice to perfect his batting eye, trying to make himself a valuable leadoff hitter. He studied the slopes of every infield on every diamond in every league he played in, looking for an edge. Nothing escaped his attention.
Finally in 1943, the Cubs purchased Stanky's contract and gave him the second base job. He was seen as a war-time fill-in player. He walked 92 times as a rookie and was adequate in the field. NBut the Cubs' regular second baseman returned in 1944 and Stanky rusted on the bench. He demanded a trade and the Cubs obliged, dealing him to Brooklyn, who were still missing their regular second baseman due to World War II. Stanky was ineligible for military service because of a hearing problem he suffered after being beaned by a pitch in the minor leagues.
Stanky emerged as a valuable player for the Dodgers. In 1945, his first full season in a Brooklyn uniform, he set a league record with 148 walks. It was the first of three times he led the NL in free passes. He teamed with shortstop Pee Wee Reese to form a great duo in the middle of the infield and in 1947 the Dodgers won the pennant, losing to the Yankees in the Series.
The 1947 season was tumultuous for the Dodgers. They welcomed a new, controversial teammate in Jackie Robinson, who was integrating baseball. For Stanky it was a bit unsettling because Robinson's natural position was second base. However, manager Burt Shotton played Jackie at first base that year, keeping Stanky at second. But by spring training in '48, something needed to be done, and the Dodgers traded Stanky to the Boston Braves, clearing the way for Robinson to play second. The deal shocked Dodger fans who loved Stanky, whom they dubbed "Our Little Brat" and "Muggsy." Some historians have claimed that Stanky was unwelcoming to Robinson because of his race. Others have outright called Stanky a racist. There's no evidence to support those claims. But it's very likely Stanky was threatened by Robinson, worried that he would lose his job. That may have influenced Stanky's interactions with Robinson, though Jackie claimed that Eddie was always kind to him. At any rate, Stanky was right to feel threatened: he lost his job in Brooklyn to Robinson.
Stanky may have had sore feelings about being traded to the Braves, but he had more soreness in the middle of the season when he broke his ankle on a slide play against his former team. He missed most of the remainder of the regular season and had to watch his new team battle for and win the pennant without him. He was reactivated for the 1948 World Series and reached base 11 times in the six-game loss to the Indians.
Always one of those guys who wore on people in the clubhouse with his constant competitiveness and edginess, Stanky invariably ruffled feathers wherever he went. In Boston he ran up against manager Billy Southworth, who thought Eddie was angling to take his job. A few too many times, Stanky called played while he was on the diamond, and Southworth and a few teammates took offense. After the '49 season it wasn't clear if Southworth would return to the Braves, but when he announced he would at the annual winter meetings, most people figured Eddie would exit Boston. And he did in a fantastic trade that dominated baseball headlines. The Braves traded the head-strong second baseman and his double play partner Al Dark to the Giants in exchange for four players. Dark had been Rookie of the Year in 1948 and he teamed with Stanky to form an excellent (and scrappy) double play tandem. The Giants hoped the pair would help spark their team and move them out of the shadow of the rival Dodgers. The trade set the stage for historic drama in the National League and it also proved to be a turning point in the careers of several key figures.
The manager of the Giants was Leo Durocher, the same man who had managed Stanky in Brooklyn in 1945-46. Back then, Durocher disliked the cocky young infielder and the two constantly bickered. But now, with more years beneath their belts, and with Stanky established as one of the best middle infielders in the circuit, Durocher let his new second baseman loose. Leo informed Eddie that he was in charge on the infield. As a result, the 1950 season proved to be the best of Stanky's career. He led the NL in on-base percentage, walks, hit by pitches, and he scored 115 runs. According to Wins Above Replacement, he was the best player in the league. He finished third in MVP voting. The team improved by 15 wins.
In 1951 the Giants stormed back and won the pennant, catching the Dodgers in a remarkable pennant race and winning a playoff. When Bobby Thomson circled the bases with his pennant-winning homer at the Polo Grounds, Stanky climbed on Durocher's back in the third base coaching box, the two men dancing and celebrating a sweet victory over their former team. It would be the last great moment of Stanky's playing career.
After helping three different teams win pennants in five years, Eddie wanted a chance to lead his own team. The Giants traded him to the Cardinals, where he was named player/manager in 1952. He was 36 years old, had just hit a career-best 14 homers, and posted a .401 on-base percentage, but he turned his attention to managing from the dugout. He only played 70 more games in two seasons with the Cardinals. His first year as skipper, the Cards responded to his fiery demeanor, improving by seven games. The Cardinals were in second place as late as August 25th in Stanky's first foray as a manager. Eventually his iron-fisted ways wore thin, and he was fired shortly into his fourth season, ending his St. Louis tenure with a 260-238 record.
Stanky was a baseball lifer, but unlike most other lifers, he had a tough time sticking in one place or staying in one job. Some teams stayed away from him because of his prickly personality. Like Billy Martin, Stanky was a tough man to play for, and few organizations wanted to place young players under Eddie's thumb. Stanky briefly managed in the minors but he was always looking for an edge to win games and sometimes lost sight of larger organizational goals. He also had difficulty relating to players who didn't possess the same intense burning desire to win. That changed when he took the job as head coach at the University of South Alabama. He led their baseball team for 14 seasons, turning the small school into a national powerhouse and never once having a losing season. A mellowed Stanky even learned to accept that baseball wasn't always about winning.
#30. Johnny Evers
Years: 1902-1929 Primary Team: Chicago Cubs
Who was the strangest-looking player in baseball history? Well, Eddie Gaedel was a shock when he walked out of the dugout in St. Louis wearing a uniform with the number "1/8" and carrying a toy bat. But what about real players? It might have been Johnny Evers. Reportedly, when he played for Troy in the Class B New York State League in the early years of the 20th century, Evers weighed about 95 pounds. He was 5-foot-9, which was average height back then, so he must have looked like a straw in a baseball uniform. He also had a long, narrow face that resembled that of later comedian Stan Laurel. He had a massive jaw not unlike the one that adorns the face of Jay Leno. One newspaper account also says that Evers had a way of leaning his tiny upper body back and forth nervously as he waited on deck or was standing at his position at second base. I can imagine that he looked like a tall skinny bird gently bending his body on tiny legs from side to side. Imagine seeing a 95-pound professional baseball player, most likely wearing a uniform that was a few sizes too big, the belt tightened tremendously around his little waist, the pants blousing out so much that it was impossible to see where the wool ended and the man started. In modern times, David Eckstein was considered a runt, a peculiar sight on the diamond because he was so small compared to his contemporaries. But Eckstein weighed 170 pounds and he had the benefit of weight training. He was little, but he had some muscles. Evers looked like a sailor who had been set adrift on the seas in a lifeboat for a few months with hardly any food or water. It couldn't have seemed possible that this little man with a large jaw and a small upper body could throw a baseball all the way from second base to first. Or that he could swing the heavy bats used in that era.
But Evers was a great athlete and an even smarter ballplayer. He was quick and had an accurate throwing arm, which was strong enough for shortstop, which is where he played his first big league game. Three days later, Frank Selee used 20-year old Evers at second and 21-year old Joe Tinker at short for the first time. They learned to play together as rookies in the major leagues. They eventually knew how to anticipate where the other man would be, how hard he would toss a relay throw, what his footwork was like. The duo played eleven seasons together, though they were famously not friendly with each other off the field. They were catalysts on four pennant-winning Chicago teams, including the 1906 squad that won a remarkable 116 games.
#31. Davey Lopes
Years: 1972-1987 Primary Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
How do you answer the question "Who was the greatest base runner in baseball history?" One way is to add up the total bases a player accumulated because of his legs and his base running instincts. To do that you might sum his stolen bases and his extra bases taken (first-to-third on a single, for example). I suppose you could also look at his rate of triples and doubles hit compared to the context of his games and ballparks. If we do that, Lopes ranks very high, and you could argue he is the best base runner since 1970. Four base runners and Lopes rate in a pack at the front based on this criteria, the other four are: Willie Wilson, Rickey Henderson, Kenny Lofton, and Willie Mays. On extra bases taken, Mays is the best the base runner ever, based on taking extra bases (a record 63 percent of the time). Wilson was a fantastic base stealer and he hit a ton of triples, though his home parks helped him a bit there. Lopes was remarkable at stealing a base, a skill he kept into his 40s. From the age of 38 to 42, Lopes swiped 111 bases and was caught stealing only 17 times. That's an 87 percent success rate, not bad for an "old man."
#32. Red Schoendienst
Years: 1945-1963 Primary Team: St. Louis Cardinals
If anyone bled Cardinal red it was Schoendienst, who wore a St. Louis uniform for 67 years as a player, coach, and manager. In all, he spent 74 years in uniform in the game, which is most likely a record.
Was Schoendienst worthy of a Hall of Fame plaque as a player? For the first 13 years of his career he was an everyday second baseman on good teams and he did some nice things. As a rookie he led the league in stolen bases. One year he led the National League in doubles. He had 200 hits when he was 34 years old, the season when he was traded to the Braves and sparked them to the pennant. He earned MVP votes in six of his 14 full seasons and his teams won three pennants and two World Series titles.
Everything Red did well was on the surface, it was what was obvious. He hit for high average at times, he piled up some hits, smacked some doubles. He was also (according to the best available statistical methods) a better than average second baseman. In contrast, the subtle, hidden parts of the game were not his strength, and since he didn't do those things (like draw walks, steal a lot of bases, get hit by pitches, bunt well), he doesn't rate well by advanced methods. His peak, for what it was, wasn't much. He never had a great season. But Red was well-known, he was part of several great teams, he played role on championship teams. I don't have a problem with a Red Schoendienst being enshrined in Cooperstown.
#33. Placido Polanco
Years: 1998-2013 Primary Team: Philadelphia Phillies
Polanco was a late-bloomer. He didn't play 100 games at second base in a single season until he was 28 years old. He was an everyday utility player of sorts before that, though he had several seasons where he was a true utility player. Polanco didn't play 140 games at second until he was 31, and he won his first Gold Glove Award that year. He won three Gold Gloves in his 30s, the only second baseman to win his only Gold Gloves in his 30s and win more than one.
#34. Buddy Myer
Years: 1925-1941 Primary Team: Nats
Myer and Placido Polanco were about the exact same size, and they were very similar players, though Buddy hit from the left side. Myer was a lifelong Senator, other than about two seasons early in his career he spent with the Red Sox. That came about because Tris Speaker didn't have a high opinion of the young infielder, who was playing shortstop at the time. Speaker was a veteran playing out the last part of his career in 1927 when he encountered Myer and told the Washington brass that they better get a better shortstop. The Nats traded Myer to Boston, where he spent almost two full years. Clark Griffith realized his mistake and got Myer back, reportedly spending as much as $150,000 to return Buddy to a Washington uniform.
#35. Chuck Knoblauch
Years: 1991-2002 Primary Team: Minnesota Twins
In a relatively brief big league career that ended when he was just 33 years old, Chuck Knoblauch accomplished a lot. He won the Rookie of the Year Award, was a four-time All Star, a Gold Glove Winner, and he won four World Series titles while appearing in five Fall Classics. Knoblauch was a pesky, tenacious player in the mold of Pete Rose when he first came up: not particularly the most polished defender at second base, but a gritty offensive player who grinded out every pitch, every at-bat. As a young second baseman for the Minnesota Twins in 1991, Knoblauch played in 151 games, scoring 78 runs, driving in 50, and stealing 25 bases. He hit .326 in the post-season as the Twins defeated the Blue Jays and Braves to win the title.
The Twins dealt Knoblauch to the Yankees prior to the '98 season for four prospects. In New York, Knoblauch became one of many stars on the team, which helped take some of the pressure off him at the plate, but it soon impacted his play in the field. With the Yankees in 1999, Knoblauch started to have difficulty throwing the ball to first base. He committed 26 errors that season, and when he made 11 throwing errors in 2000 in just 82 games at second, the Yankees started using Knoblauch as a DH.
Years after he retired it was revealed that Knoblauch's name had been in the Mitchell Report, which outed players who allegedly took steroids. After denying it at first, Knoblauch later acknowledged that he took HGH (Human Growth Hormone) during his playing career with the Yankees. "I did HGH. It didn't help me out. It didn't make me any better," Knoblauch said, "I had the worst years of my career from a batting average standpoint. And I got hurt. So there was no good that came out of it for me, it was not performance-enhancing for me."
#36. Lonny Frey
Years: 1933-1948 Primary Team: Cincinnati Reds
Like many second baseman, Frey was originally a shortstop. When he came up with Brooklyn in the 1930s, he was stuck in a mix of candidates for the shortstop job with veteran Glenn Wright, who had once been a fine offensive player, and light-hitting Jimmy Jordan. At that time, manager Max Carey also had infielder Tony Cuccinello on his roster, and "Cooch" would go on to a fine career as a second baseman in the National League, a contemporary of Frey.
Frey hit better than Jordan and he was a switch-batter so that helped his cause. He ended up playing five years at short, three of them alongside Cuccinello as a tandem in Brooklyn's middle infield. The pair were very good at turning the double play, but Frey had difficulty with the long throw from shortstop. He made 51 errors one year, many of them of the throwing variety. He made 44 another year. "There's an infielder with only one weakness," author Roger Kahn wrote, "-batted balls." In 1937, tired of the wild throws, the Dodgers traded him to the Cubs for veteran shortstop Woody English.
In Chicago, Frey started the season on the bench for Charley Grimm, who never quite trusted his new infielder. Over the course of his one season in the Windy City, Frey briefly started at second when Billy Herman was hurt, did the same when shortstop Billy Jurges went down with an injury, and even saw action in left field when a hole developed there. Predictably considering his sporadic playtime, Frey was unhappy and let the club know. In the off-season he was traded to his third NL team, the Reds. In Cincinnati, Frey had the best seasons of his career, finally finding himself to the position he was meant to play.
The Reds were a dreadful team in the 1930s, finishing in the basement of the league five times. All that changed when Bill McKechnie arrived to manage the team, and an influx of new players, including Frey, assisted in the transformation. McKechnie handed the second base job to Frey, teaming him with Billy Myers at short. At second, Frey's arm steadied and his range was excellent. Frey and Myers were both scrappy and quick, complimenting each other. The most important part of the infield was third baseman Billy Werber, who ended up being the biggest influence on Frey's career. Werber worked with Frey and Myers on their fielding and challenged the infield to improve and be a catalyst for team success. He created the "Jungle Cat Infield," dubbing himself "Tiger," and naming Myers "Jaguar" and Frey "Leopard." Thanks in large part to their airtight defense, the Reds won pennants in 1939 and 1940, taking the World Series in the latter season. "They were all good, fast, and smart," pitcher Bucky Walters said of the Jungle Cats.
Frey spent two full years in the Army in World War II and when he returned to the Reds he was nearly 36 years old. He had one more decent season but his skills were rusty and he retired after 14 seasons in 1948.
#37. Larry Doyle
Years: 1907-1920 Primary Team: New York Giants
Among second baseman since 1900 who played at least 1,300 games, Doyle's 125+ OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging adjusted to era and ballparks) ranks ninth. It rates ahead of Hall of Famers Charlie Gehringer, Tony Lazzeri, and Joe Gordon. It ranks ahead of Chase Utley, Jeff Kent, and Lou Whitaker. It's well ahead of Ryne Sandberg and Craig Biggio. Clearly, Doyle was a valuable offensive player. But how good was he?
From 1907 to 1917, a span of 11 seasons, Doyle and Johnny Evers were both second basemen in the National League, playing for rivals. Evers was five years older, admittedly, but for that stretch, Doyle had more Defensive Win Shares (49 to 45) than Evers. Now, Doyle did play 200 more games, so there's that, but even if we adjust for it, the two were (at least by Win Share analysis) comparable in the field. At the plate, as contemporaries, Doyle outhit Evers, (193 to 153 in Offensive Win Shares). Yet, Evers is in the Hall of Fame and Doyle remains out.
At the height of his career, John McGraw said of Doyle, "I would not trade him for any man playing baseball." He won a batting title, he stole more than 30 bases in five straight seasons, he retired as the all-time leader for second basemen in hits, runs, extra-base hits, total bases, and RBIs. Also in double plays and total chances. Doyle was important to several great teams, starring for the Giants when they won three consecutive pennants from 1911 to 1913, though they pulled a Buffalo Bills move and lost the World Series each year. In 1912, Doyle was named Most Valuable Player of the National League. Evers won it two years later. There's no evidence that shows Evers was a much better player than Doyle. You can measure with Win Shares like I did, or use Wins Above Replacement, or take more traditional stats, and the two are very close. Doyle had more career hits, runs, extra-base hits, and far more RBIs than Evers. He washed up sooner, retiring at the age of 33, while Evers was still playing regularly at the age of 35. That longevity helps Evers inch ahead of Doyle in our rankings, but the margin between the two is paper thin.
Ultimately, a poem by Franklin Pierce Adams is probably the difference between Evers having a plaque in Cooperstown and Doyle being largely forgotten. But "Laughing Larry", the guy who spent years as Christy Mathewson's roommate, was an excellent player. He had a sad stretch after his playing career, spending than a decade in a sanitarium while suffering from tuberculosis. Doyle ended up being the last patient released after a treatment was found, and the press covered his final day in the institution. He lived another 21 years.
#38. Dick McAuliffe
Years: 1960-1975 Primary Team: Detroit Tigers
Baseball's second deadball era was in the 1960s. From 1961 to 1972, the American League saw offense plummet by 22 percent. They lost one run scored per game. It might be difficult to understand how much the drop in offense impacted the game, but it was tremendous. Dick McAuliffe had the meat of his career during that span, and all these years later his raw numbers look unimpressive because of it. The evolution of pitching had accelerated at a pace that outpaced offensive production. New methods and stronger, more athletic pitchers were putting the defense in control, and hurlers stood atop baseball on a mound that was taller by five inches than it is now. From 1966 to 1969, his peak four-year stretch, McAuliffe had 20 WAR. He was the arguably the best middle infielder in baseball. In his best four-year stretch, Jeff Kent had 23 WAR. But when Kent did it, he put up 100 RBIs and 30+ homers a year and so on. McAuliffe hit 23 and 22 and 18 here and there. He put up a slugging percentage one season of .458, but that figure was more impressive than Kent's .565 in 2002 when he was sixth in MVP voting.
Lowering the mound didn't bring the runs back, it took a radical new rule change called the designated hitter and artificial turf to do that. It also helped that the strike zone slowly got smaller. By 1977 the AL was coming back to the run levels it had seen in the late 1950s. Had McAuliffe played from 1975 to 1990 instead of 1960 to 1975, he would have scored more runs, driven in more runs, and hit more home runs. He would have opened more eyes and drawn more attention that what he got, which was mostly due to his odd batting stance.
#39. Del Pratt
Years: 1912-1924 Primary Team: St. Louis Browns
Pratt was what owners would call an instigator. Some teammates would have called him opinionated, and other teammates found him hard-working and strong-willed. Whichever camp you were in, Pratt was a pretty damn good baseball player, although he was often embroiled in clubhouse politics. First the ballplayer: Pratt was a poor man's Larry Doyle at the plate, he hit for some power and he drove in runs. He was a bad ball hitter and he gained notoriety for swinging at pitches in the dirt and over his chest, he was sort of a Vlad Guerrero of his time in that manner. In the field the record indicates he was pretty average and he had to work on handling the ball on the double play transfer early in his career to get it down well. He ended up playing nearly 1,700 games at second base, but his 381 errors rate among the most for any player at the position.
Pratt was a southerner with a quick temper and a habit of sharing his opinion even when it wasn't requested. Throughout his career he got himself into the middle of several disputes among teammates, managers, and the front office. In the most famous, Pratt and a teammate sued the owner of the Browns when he insinuated that Del and others on the team were not playing to win. Pratt recruited players from around the league to testify to his honor, and Ty Cobb gave a deposition to that effect. The lawsuit was a sensation and brought criticism to Pratt, but eventually the two sides settled, Del reportedly getting more than $5,000.
#40. Jose Altuve
Years: 2011-2017 Primary Team: Houston Astros
Altuve has the chance to become the greatest "little" ballplayer in history. He's a full inch shorter than Joe Morgan, the current holder of that title. Morgan won two MVP awards, and Altuve has one already through the age of 27. The little Astro has a great chance to reach 3,000 hits and he could eclipse Morgan's total of home runs plus stolen bases. Morgan was a better defender and he was a really good player late into his 30s, so it'll be tough for "Tuve" to eclipse "Little Joe," but not impossible. It's likely that Altuve will eventually end up in the top fifteen on these rankings.
#41. Max Bishop
Years: 1924-1935 Primary Team: Philadelphia A's
The greatest developer of talent in baseball history might have been Jack Dunn, who essentially ran baseball in Baltimore for more than two decades starting in 1907 when he bought the Orioles. The Orioles were a minor league team in those days, but often in name only. Dunn earned a reputation as an expert scout and an astute developer of ballplayers. He was the team's owner and manager. He signed Babe Ruth and developed him into a great pitcher, he signed Lefty Grove and built the best minor league team in history in the 1920s when he won seven straight championships in the International League. That Orioles team was most likely good enough to beat a third of the teams in the big leagues of that era. He ended up being a pipeline for Connie Mack's Philadelphia A's selling off players like Max Bishop and his double play partner Joe Boley, as well as several others.
Bishop was a Baltimore kid, having went to school there. Mack hit him leadoff and watched as his little second baseman averaged 130 walks a season and scored oodles of runs ahead of Mickey Cochrane, Al Simmons, and Jimmie Foxx. After he retired, Bishop coached the Naval Academy baseball team for a quarter of a century. The field at the Naval Academy is named for him.
#42. Bill Mazeroski
Years: 1956-1972 Primary Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
The best fielding second basemen in history, according to career runs saved, are in order:
1. Bill Mazeroski
2. Frank White
3. Willie Randolph
4. Nellie Fox
5. Dustin Pedroia
6. Mark Ellis
7. Lou Whitaker
8. Ian Kinsler
9. Mark Lemke
10. Bobby Grich
According to that stat, Maz saved twice as many runs as the ninth and tenth players on the list. All of these second basemen were very good at picking it, but Mazeroski's reputation was the most impeccable. He was called "No Touch" because he transferred the ball so quickly on the pivot. His range up the middle was amazing, he made plays beyond the bag in shallow center field that most people had never seen before, and his arm was very strong. Bill James wrote "Bill Mazeroski's defensive statistics are probably the most impressive of any player at any position". Still, when Mazeroski was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the veterans committee, Hank Aaron criticized the selection. Which shows that you can be smart, be a great player, and watch a lot of baseball and still underestimate the importance of defense.
#43. Bill Doran
Years: 1982-1993 Primary Team: Houston Astros
The Astros traded Johnny Ray (#68 on this list) to the Pirates so they could make room for Doran. At the time, Ray was the top-ranked prospect in the Houston organization and general manager Al Rosen drew quite a bit of criticism for the deal. Through age 29, Doran proved the Astros made a good decision, as he put up solid numbers in the Astrodome with a multi-faceted game that included fine defense, good power, and great baserunning. One year he stole 42 bases, another year he hit 16 home runs despite playing in the Astrodome. He didn't commit a lot of errors for two reasons: he was very sure-handed, and secondly he had mediocre range, meaning he missed a lot of chances that contemporaries like Ryne Sandberg and Glenn Hubbard got to.
Doran was intense, which was admired by his teammates and noted throughout the league. The Sporting News once wrote of Doran: "He leads the league in dirty uniforms and broken helmets."
#44. Danny Murphy
Years: 1900-1915 Primary Team: Philadelphia A's
Twice in baseball history a man named Daniel Murphy has started a post-season game on October 20th. The first time came in 1910 in Game Three in Chicago, the second came in 2015 also in Chicago in Game Three and against the same team. Both times, Daniel Murphy hit a home run. In 1910 it was Danny Murphy, belting a three-run homer deep to right field at West Side Grounds against the Cubs in the World Series. His A's won that game. The second time it happened was 105 years later in the 2015 National League Championship Series when Daniel Murphy also hit a home run in a winning cause in the third inning of a Game Three, this time at Wrigley Field, a few blocks from where Danny had hit his post-season homer. The irony doesn't stop there: the latter Murphy gained notoriety in '15 when he blasted home runs in six straight post-season games, a record. In 1910, Danny Murphy gained fame by recording an RBI in all five games of the World Series, for a total of nine. That feat was noteworthy for that era.
In mid-career, Danny Murphy was moved from second base to right field to make room for young college-educated Eddie Collins. Some in the A's clubhouse didn't like the move, but Murphy wasn't bitter. "He willingly cooperated with me," Collins later recalled, "I took to the position naturally and really found myself there, but Murphy played a great part in helping mold me into a good infielder, or rather a good second baseman."
#45. Tony Cuccinello
Years: 1930-1945 Primary Team: Brooklyn Dodgers
In 1939 after nearly a decade in the big leagues, Cuccinello had one of his best seasons at the plate but he suffered a severe injury knee injury that never truly recovered. He limped along in 1940 and retired in 1941 to manage the Giants' top minor league club. But there was eventually a scarcity of ballplayers during World War II and "Cooch" came back. Amazingly, in 1945 when he was 37 years old and playing third base for the White Sox, Cuccinello led the league in hitting most of the season. He tired as the year wore on, and on the final day of the season as Tony and the ChiSox watched a doubleheader get scrubbed out by rain, he lost the batting title by .000087 to Snuffy Stirnweiss of the Yankees. Cuccinello retired after the season, nearly becoming the only man to win the batting crown in his last year.
#46. Ray Durham
Years: 1995-2008 Primary Team: Chicago White Sox
When he debuted with the White Sox in the mid-1990s, there were some who compared Durham's power and speed package to that of Joe Morgan. It was a stretch, but Durham was a nice offensive spark at the top of the lineup for several years. For one five-year stretch he averaged 172 hits, 115 runs, 35 doubles, 8 triples, 17 home runs, 67 RBIs, and 72 walks per season. In the field he played more like Joe Louis than Joe Morgan, but he was a peppery switch-hitter who had a good career. After his legs left him, he was smart enough to make himself into more of a slugger, hitting 26 homers at 34 for the Giants.
#47. Frank White
Years: 1973-1990 Primary Team: Kansas City Royals
In 1970, the Kansas City Royals tried something unheard of. They established a baseball academy for young athletes who went undrafted by Major League Baseball, the NFL, or the NBA. It was the brainchild of Royals' owner Ewing Kauffman and it was revolutionary. The idea was to identify skilled athletes who might blossom into professional ballplayers given the right instruction. At the same time, the young men would get two years of free college tuition and learn life skills such as how to balance a checkbook, how to eat right, and what to do in a job interview. The academy would not only teach the cutoff play, it would teach life skills. They also instituted practices that are common today, such as testing eyesight and the use of video to analyze batting swings. Kauffman loved the idea, he considered it the best decision in all his years in baseball.
The first graduating class from the Royals Baseball Academy included Frank White, a marvelous defensive shortstop who was switched to second base in his second season with Kansas City. His range was still that of a shortstop and his arm was as strong as any in the game. He learned to play second base on the fast astroturf in Kansas City. He developed techniques to quicken his throws and to use the turf to bounce the ball on one hop to first. He won eight Gold Gloves and played his entire 18 year career as a Royal.
Kauffman let his crusty baseball men talk him out of funding the Academy after a few years, and he regretted that for the remainder of his life. It yielded U.L. Washington and a few others, but the crown jewel of the experiment was Frank White, the second best fielding second baseman in baseball history and a key member of the 1985 World Champion Royals.
#48. Mark Ellis
Years: 2002-2014 Primary Team: Oakland A's
The defensive statistics for Mark Ellis are very good, and about half of his overall value comes from the fielding side. He deserved to win a few Gold Gloves, but lost out to Bret Boone and Placido Polanco and Robby Cano over the years. Ellis ended up battling injuries in the last half of his career, or his numbers would be even better. On May 20, 2012, while playing for the Dodgers, Ellis was severely injured when an opposing player slid into his left leg at second base. Initially Ellis thought it was a minor problem, but the next day team physicians became worried when he experienced severe swelling and pain. A hurried surgery saved his leg, otherwise the surgeon claimed, his left leg might have been amputated.
#49. Ron Hunt
Years: 1963-1974 Primary Team: Montreal Expos
Prior to 1887, when a batter was hit by a pitched ball nothing happened. The pitcher was not penalized with a ball, the batter did not go to first base, and the count did not change. It was a literal "do-over." From that point forward the batter was awarded first base if hit by a pitched ball. Quickly, some players realized how getting plunked with a pitch could increase their value and help their team. One of those players was Hughie Jennings, the feisty shortstop for the Orioles. He led his league in being hit by pitches five straight years, topping out at 51, a record that still stands more than 120 years later. The only player to ever challenge that mark for being a pin cushion was Ron Hunt, a pest who knew his limitations and worked to get every ounce of production out of his body. Even if it meant being a human target for pitchers.
How did Hunt get hit so often? He stood practically on top of the plate and refused to be afraid of the baseball. "Sure, I crowd the plate when I bat," Hunt said in 1969. "It's the best hitting style for me. I give pitchers more trouble that way. But being hit is a tough way to get on base." Despite his willingness to stand so near the dish, pitchers rarely gave in, still insisting on throwing inside when necessary. Hunt just kept taking the pitches in his arm, or on his backside, or in the ribs or legs. In 1971 he was hit 50 times.
Every manager that Hunt played for loved him. "I just can't say enough about the way Ron has been playing, he never lets up," Clyde King said. And Gene Mauch was one of his biggest fans: "I have never enjoyed watching a player as much as I like watching Ron play hard every day," Mauch glowed. Others were as complimentary. It was his toughness, likability, and hustle that endeared him. Once while he was with the Giants, a batter hit a ball into the outfield that eluded Ken Henderson in right field and rolled to the warning track and into foul territory. Henderson fell down, but Hunt quickly sprinted all the way to the corner and retrieved the ball. He proceeded to fire a throw to the infield that held the runner at third, preventing what should have been an easy inside-the-park homer.
#50. Snuffy Stirnweiss
Years: 1943-1952 Primary Team: New York Yankees
With most of the best players out of the league during World War II, Stirnweiss was ineligible for the draft because of a severe stomach ailment. Instead, the stocky second baseman with a baby face had two fantastic seasons, narrowly defeating Lonny Frey for the batting title in 1945 whe he also paced the league in runs, hits, triples, stolen bases, slugging, and total bases. When Joe Gordon returned he got his old job back and Snuffy was shifted to third base. The Yankees then made a impetuous decision, trading Gordon to the Indians to allow Stirnweiss to return to second base. There were three possible reasons the Yankees did this:
1. Late in the 1946 season, Yankee president Larry MacPhail accused Gordon of not giving his all on the field. Reportedly, Flash had to be stopped from punching his boss.
2. The Yankees thought Gordon, who struggled to regain his form after two years away in the war, was washed up.
3. The Yanks needed pitching and felt Gordon would fetch a necessary arm in return. The Indians surrendered Allie Reynolds for the future Hall of Fame second baseman.
Gordon rebounded, hitting 100 home runs in four seasons with the Indians. In 1948 he helped lead them to the World Series title. Meanwhile, Stirnweiss played two more full seasons for the Yanks, but was never close to the player he was in 1944-45. The Yankees didn't complain too loudly though: they won the World Series in 1947 and 1949, and Reynolds was a stalwart pitcher in their rotation for nearly a decade.
#51. Pete Runnels
Years: 1951-1964 Primary Team: Washington Senators
Context is very important, no less so in sports. In baseball the outfield dimensions are not mandated, neither is the foul territory or the height of the outfield walls, nor the length of the grass. Unlike a basketball court or a football field, a baseball diamond can have many nuances. The result can be a drastically different environment that may favor the pitcher or the batter. The career of Pete Runnels is a prime example of this ballpark effect.
For the first seven seasons of his big league career, Runnels played for the Washington Senators in Griffith Stadium, an historic ballpark with an odd configuration. The left field and center field walls were much deeper than most parks, and the angle to right field was sharp and actually angled away from the traditional orientation, making it east/southeast rather than east/northeast of home plate. The field played poorly for left-handed batters who hit the ball down the right field line, but it was pretty decent for singles hitters who hit to left field. The left-handed hitting Runnels batted .281 in exactly 500 career games at Griffith Stadium, but he hit higher on the road when he was a Senator. It took a family deal to get him into the ballpark that would change his career.
Just prior to spring training in 1958, Boston general manager Joe Cronin convinced his brother-in-law, Washington GM Calvin Griffith, to trade Runnels to the Red Sox for young outfield prospect Albie Pearson and veteran first baseman Norm Zauchin. The 30-year old Runnels stepped into a void at second base for the Sox.
Two things happened in Boston that helped Runnels immensely: first he had access to one of the greatest batting masters of all-time, Ted Williams. The legendary Boston outfielder was generous with his hitting advice and frequently helped Runnels improve his approach at the plate. But most importantly, Runnels was able to hit in Fenway Park. Boston's home field was made for Runnels style of hitting: a very short right field line that enticed him to pull the ball, practically no foul territory, a large target in left with the fence dubbed "The Green Monster," and a hitting backdrop that was unmatched in baseball. Pulling the ball more steadily, Runnels challenged for the batting title in his first season in a Boston uniform, ultimately finishing second in the race to Williams.
In his second season with the Red Sox, Runnels finished third in the batting race, and the next year he won the batting title. Two years later, in 1962 he won his second batting crown. He hit between .314 and .326 in each of his five seasons with Boston, batting .339 at Fenway Park.
Runnels was really a professional hitter more than a second baseman, shortstop, or first baseman, the three positions he played most frequently. He ended up playing 644 games at first and 642 at second base, and 463 at shortstop, mostly with the Senators. He made a mistake when he asked for a trade to go to his native Texas when the Colt .45s entered the National League. The Red Sox obliged, but Pete didn't fare as well in Colt Stadium and retired after two seasons.
#52. Bobby Avila
Years: 1949-1959 Primary Team: Cleveland Indians
Mexico's population is more than double that of Venezuela, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico combined. Yet those four other Latin American countries have sent far more players to the major leagues in the United States. Why? The answer is cultural and political.
Historians figure that baseball was introduced to Mexico somewhere around 1840, most likely from visiting Cubans. But Mexico didn't latch on to America's National Pastime as eagerly as other nations. First, Mexico shares a border with the U.S. and has had a complicated relationship withe their northern neighbor. That complex dance continues today, of course. As a result of the suspicions that Mexico had of the U.S., and of political and military clashes with America, Mexico wasn't as happy to swallow an American game. Baseball grew slowly in the country.
By the 1920s the Mexican League was formed and organized professional baseball started to take hold in the country. Ironically, some of the impetus came from the U.S. when African-Americans who were not allowed to play with white players in America went south to earn more money and play year round. Most of the great black ballplayers joined teams in Mexico from the 1920s into the 1950s. This influx of talent helped squash the development of Mexican players. But another sport also accomplished the same thing.
European football (soccer) has been played in Mexico since the early 19th century, and club teams cropped up 30-40 years before a professional baseball league was formed in the country. With its emphasis on running and cohesive team play, Mexico has always loved soccer. Their national team has been among the best in the western hemisphere for nearly a century. Children in Mexico idolize the top soccer players in their country. If you're a good athlete in Mexicon, you usually play soccer. As a result, the best athletes in the country gravitate to the game.
In the 1940s, a flashy oil magnate millionaire named Jorge Pasquel decided it was time for the Mexican League to compete with Major League Baseball. He flew to the U.S. and convinced several big league stars to sign contracts to play south of the border. He signed pitcher Max Lanier of the Cardinals, and catcher Mickey Owen. His biggest catch was ace pitcher Sal Maglie from the Giants. But MLB wasn't going to let Pasquel siphon the best talent to his country. The major leagues announced that anyone who played in the Mexican League would be banned from playing in the United States. Most of the players tore up their contracts, and even after a lawsuit settled some of the financials in favor of Pasquel, the battle was won. The Mexican League was branded as interlopers. Pirates raiding the big league to the north. A stigma hung to Mexican baseball.
A few Mexican players came to the U.S. and had success. Bobby Avila was one of them. He played 11 seasons in the majors and won a batting title in 1954 when he also finished third in American League MVP voting. He retired and went back home where he was an owner of a team and later entered politics. His country produced some other longtime players in the majors, like Jorge Orta and Aurelio Rodriguez. The biggest star came when Fernando Valenzuela captivated baseball in the early 1980s with the Dodgers. Vinny Castilla later had a very successful career.
But this country of more than 120 million is still sending their best athletes to the soccer fields and many very good ballplayers are staying in the Mexican League, where they can play year-round in warm weather. Avila remains the most popular and best position player to ever come out of the nation to have a career in the U.S.
#53. Howie Kendrick
Years: 2006-2017 Primary Team: The Halos
A result of the increased emphasis on bullpens that took hold in the late 1990s was the lack of roster spots for bench position players. There was a time when major league teams carried ten (or sometimes even as few as nine) pitchers on their active 25-man roster. That left 15-16 spots for position players. Eight or nine of those were starters, leaving 7-8 players on the bench. There would be a catcher, and a corner infielder, and probably at least one middle infielder, sometimes two. Some teams chose to carry three catchers (yes, really). And every team usually had 2-3 spare outfielders. Maybe one of those fly chasers could also play a corner infield spot. The point, in far fewer words: teams had skilled bench players. Not so since the early 2000s.
Players like Howie Kendrick have been the beneficiaries of the larger bullpens and shorter benches. In 21st century baseball, every team needs to have a player or two who can use a lot of gloves. Kendrick plays second as his natural position, but he can also play left field and center, as well as third or first base. Since he's a good major league hitter, he's guaranteed a job until his bat cools or his legs give out.
Kendrick got injured in 2018, a leg injury. It was the second straight season he was shelved for considerable time. He'll be 35 in 2019 and it's doubtful he'll move in the upward direction on this list.
#54. Brandon Phillips
Years: 2002-2017 Primary Team: Cincinnati Reds
A four-time Gold Glove winner, Brandon Phillips made amazing plays and made them look easy, like the time he fielded a slow rolling grounder and flipped it between his legs to first base on a no-look pass to record the out. Or the many times he maneuvered his body to soar above enemy runners as they barreled into second. Phillips could hit and run too, joining the 30/30 club in his second full year with the Reds to join his idol Barry Larkin as one of three Cincinnati players to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases in the same year.
#55. Davey Johnson
Years: 1965-1978 Primary Team: Baltimore Orioles
The best manager among the top 100 second basemen is either Miller Huggins or Davey Johnson. Our money is on Johnson, who improved every team that hired him and took four different franchises to the post-season. Johnson was bred to be a winner as a young player who matriculated through the Baltimore system. There was something about 90 wins: he was a player on eight teams that won 90+ games (in a 13-year career) and he managed seven teams to 90+ wins in 12 full seasons as a skipper. He usually floated near the top of the standings.
Johnson the player was a very good fielding second baseman. He was masterful at turning the double play. He won three Gold Gloves and for a few seasons he was part of what might be the greatest defensive infield in baseball history: Boog Powell at first, Johnson at second, Mark Belanger at short, and Brooks Robinson at third.
In the middle of his career, when he was still a legitimate major leaguer, Johnson signed a contract to play in Japan. He did it because Clyde King, the manager of the Braves, announced that he was going to platoon Davey at first base. Johnson played two difficult seasons in Japan, and he never adjusted to the culture shock. "First thing they did," Johnson said, "was take mthe beer out of my cooler. Then they took the Cokes. They put green tea in there instead." Johnson felt stifled under the constant training that Japanese teams force on their players. He got sick his first season, losing twenty pounds. He played terrible. In his second year in Japan, in 1976, he hit 21 homers and had 80 RBIs in the 100-game season. But the next season he returned to the United States and finished up his career with two more seasons as a part-time player.
Mets general manager Frank Cashen summed up his admiration for Johnson when he said, "His main asset was that he was a winner. And he was independent. He doesn`t march in the same parade."
#56. Luis Castillo
Years: 1996-2010 Primary Team: Marlins
The youngest double play duos in baseball history were Johnny Evers/Joe Tinker in 1902 with the Cubs; Paul Molitor and Robin Yount for the Brewers in 1978; Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell with Detroit in the same season; and Luis Castillo and Edgar Renteria with the Marlins in 1997. All eight of those nascent players went on to long, successful careers. Perhaps there's something about young middle infielders learning together?
Castillo was one of those players who was designed well for long hitting streaks. What's the profile? The batter should hit high in the order (Castillo was a leadoff man). He should put the ball in play (Castillo never struck out more than 90 times in a season). That batter should not walk a lot (Castillo walked a little more than average), and he should be fast and hit the ball on the ground a lot. Think Pete Rose, think Dom DiMaggio, think Ichiro Suzuki.
In 2002, Castillo had a 35-game hitting streak, the longest (at that time) ever by a second baseman, and the sixth longest in the entire history of the National League, which went back to nearly the U.S. Civil War. He had several other streaks over 20 games and was often banging on the door of 20 games. He wasn't a streaky hitter, he usually slapped the ball pretty well consistently. He was a solid defensive second baseman, but his range was average and he didn't deserve his three Gold Gloves. His greatest value was in his legs and his ability to put the ball in play.
#57. Phil Garner
Years: 1973-1988 Primary Team: Pirates
In the 1920s, an Austrian psychotherapist named Alfred Adler developed a technique with his patients that he called "acting as if." He encouraged them to act out desired behavior so as to train themselves to achieve those results. That technique is similar in theory to "dress for success," or what today we'd call "fake it till you make it." It requires a subject to act the part, with the idea that by acting successful, that success will come to fruition.
Phil Garner was a supreme "fake it till you make it" type of ballplayer. Anyone who ever played with him, especially when he was a young prospect, commented on Garner's immense confidence (or cockiness). Garner expected to be a star. He thought of himself as the best second baseman in the league. He fancied himself as the man his team needed in tight situations to win a game. That confidence wasn't arrogance, it was Adler's "act as if." Garner was willing himself to be a major league ballplayer. Once, when he had barely been a regular in the league for two years, he was passed up for the All-Star team. When AL All-Star manager Darrell Johnson picked Willie Randolph as his reserve second baseman, Garner criticized the decision. After Randolph was hurt and couldn't play in the game, Johnson asked third baseman Sal Bando to be on the roster, but Bando declined. Finally, the Boston manager invited the young Garner onto the AL squad. Garner bristled and said "I won't go unless he tells me the reasons he didn't pick me in the first place." Eventually, Garner relented and accepted the All-Star selection. Later, "Scrap Iron" was a key member for the 1979 World Champion Pirates. He hit .472 for the Bucs that postseason.
#58. Jimmy Williams
Years: 1899-1909 Primary Team: New York Highlanders
In the 1980s a rival football league emerged called the USFL (which stood for the unimaginative United States Football League). Some of the better college players ended up signing with the upstart league and a war developed between the USFL and the NFL. But young leagues lack stability, and every year a team would fold or move to another city, or merge with another team.
That's what happened often in the late 19th century and early 20th century in baseball. The National League was still finding its stride and exploring new markets. The American League came along to challenge the NL in 1901, but it took several years to firm up. Jimmy Williams was caught in that shifting sand a few times in his career. In 1898 he played for a team in the Western League, a circuit that later matured into the American League. In the Western League things were always a bit uncertain. A team might not show up for a series, or shorten a series because of finances. Some teams shut down or moved mid-season, and players would jump teams.
In 1899, Williams was purchased by the Pirates of the National League. He had an excellent rookie season in the "major leagues," he was a hard-hitter and smacked 27 triples. When he reported for his second season the Pirates had changed drastically because of league politics. The owner of the Louisville club had essentially accomplished a hostile takeover of the Pittsburgh team, and he brought his best players from Louisville with him in an effort to make a "super team." Williams had played his natural position third base as a rookie, but was ordered to shift to second. He remained at second base for the rest of his career. After one season with the hybrid Pittsburgh/Louisville team, Williams jumped his contract and signed with the Baltimore Orioles of the fledgling American League. Two years later, the Orioles moved to New York and became the Highlanders (because their ballpark was on high ground), the precursors to the Yankees. Williams was able to unpack his bags and spent five seasons with New York.
Originally a third baseman, Williams had a very strong throwing arm, the best of any second baseman in the American League in the early 1900s. He played five years with shortstop Kid Elberfeld with New York and later teamed with Bobby Wallace in two seasons for the Browns.
#59. George Grantham
Years: 1922-1934 Primary Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
Shares some traits with Pete Runnels, both were good left-handed hitters and both never had a defensive position they could play very well.
Currently in the major leagues, as of 2018, there is an overemphasis on hitting home runs. There's all the talk about launch angles and bat speed, etc. There are a lot of players in the majors who can hit between 18 and 25 home runs. But because they are trying to hit 20 home runs, many of those players are hurting their team because the act of trying to do it is costing them in other areas. Players are making far less contact, for example, and batting averages are plummeting. That's similar to what happened with the stolen base in the 1920s.
Stealing bases had been an important offensive weapon for decades, it was integral during the first deadball era, from 1900 to about 1919. In that era, baseball was essentially a station-to-station sport, runners advancing one base at a time. The large majority of hits were singles. In the 1920s team started to hit more home runs (and doubles) and it made sense to attempt fewer stolen bases. It was unwise to have a player caught stealing if the next batter was going to drive the ball into the gap or over the fence. But the transition away from the stolen base hadn't taken full hold yet, and several players were still sure they could swipe bags. But they hurt their team because they didn't see how the game had changed.
George Grantham is a good example of that. We only have four years of caught stealing data for him, but in those four season (1922-25), he stole 80 bases and was caught trying to steal 53 times. That's a 60 percent success rate. Sounds ok, right? But a player has to be safe 67 percent of the time to make it worthwhile for his team. And Grantham surely got worse at it as he aged. There were others who were still trying to steal bases even though it was a bad idea. Lou Gehrig was a terrible base stealer, he was thrown out 100 times and was safe just 102 times. Babe Ruth was miserable at it, and he had Gehrig batting behind him, so his baserunning decisions were a poor decision. Others were in the 50-55% range.
In the 1920s, baseball hadn't fully understood the risk of attempting to steal bases nor the detriment of being thrown out. In 2018, baseball doesn't understand the negative impact swinging for the fences all the time is having on their offense.
#60. Miller Huggins
Years: 1904-1916 Primary Team: St. Louis Cardinals
Huggins was a law student and captain of the baseball team at the University of Cincinnati when his professor, future president William Howard Taft, told him: "You can become a pleader or a player, not both. Try baseball. You seem to like it better."
The quintessential leadoff man, Huggins might have been a good pleader after all: he led the National League in walks four times. He also covered so much ground at second base that he was called "Little Everywhere".
Two weeks before the end of the 1929 season, his 12th as manager of the Yankees, Huggins fell ill and left the team. He was suffering from alternating chills and a 105 degree fever. His little body fought hard, but he contracted pneumonia and his lungs had to be drained of fluids. He became delirious. On September 29th, only nine days after showing symptoms, the 51-year old Huggins died at a hospital in Manhattan. His death shocked the baseball world. The American League cancelled all of their games for one day, and at the World Series a week later they held a ceremony in his honor.
#61. Marty McManus
Years: 1920-1934 Primary Team: St. Louis Browns
The history of Panama is an illustration of rampant colonial ambition. The geographical area now known as Panama was once controlled by the Spanish and later subjugated to the auspices of Colombia. That brings us to the 20th century when the United States started to salivate over the prospects of cutting it in two. Which they did, of course, in due time. The force behind that action was American President Theodore Roosevelt, who said, without a hint of embarrassment: "I took the Canal Zone and let Congress debate; and while the debate goes on, the canal does also."
The U.S. started carving the canal through Panama in 1904 and it took ten years. Tens of thousands of workers moved more than 30 million yards of Earth and those Americans made the canal zone their home. They brought with them American culture: language, music, and many other things, including baseball. By 1914, there were more than a dozen baseball teams in the canal zone. During World War I the U.S. sent thousands of troops to the canal zone to beef up security for the ships traversing from the Atlantic to the Pacific and vice versa. That's where Marty McManus first honed his baseball skills.
McManus was a private in the U.S. Army in the 133rd Infantry, which was assigned to the canal zone in 1918 and 1919. Prior to the Army, he'd worked as an accountant in a department store in Chicago. He had never considered a career as a soldier and he'd certainly never imagined that he could be a professional ballplayer. In Panama he was the standout star on the 133rd Infantry team, playing third base where he showed off a great arm. An officer in the 133rd from Oklahoma knew the owner of the Tulsa club in the low-level Western League. He encouraged McManus to write a letter asking for a position on the team after his military duty concluded. McManus was 20 years old when he played the 1920 season for Tulsa, his first as a pro. The team already had a third baseman, so the manager played Marty at first base. He proved to be one of the best hitters on the team and caught the eye of Pat Monahan, a scout working for the Browns. Monahan loved McManus and in a letter to St. Louis explained that the kid "already has the look of a big leaguer." He recommended the Browns convert McManus to third or short to take advantage of his strong arm.
McManus made his big league debut on September 25 for the Browns as a third baseman, hitting fifth behind George Sisler and Baby Doll Jacobson. He smacked a triple for his first major league hit. The following spring, with only 144 professional games under his belt, McManus earned a starting position for the Browns. Initially he was at the hot corner, but the club thought his arm was better suited for the shorter throws from second and he switched in late May. Thus started a career as one of the better infielders in the American League in the 1920s and early 1930s. Clearly, considering his meteoric rise to the top level of baseball, McManus was a natural athlete who took to the game quickly. He played 15 years, and was a player/manager for a few seasons at the end of his career.
#62. Claude Ritchey
Years: 1899-1909 Primary Team: Boston Braves
Ritchey was a few years older than Jimmy Williams (#58 on this list) and a switch-hitter. He was also a better fielder than Williams, which is why when the Pirates had them both they chose to keep Ritchey at second base, and why Williams jumped the team for the American League. Ritchey ended up having the more valuable career, but Williams had a better peak.
Ritchey practiced a peculiar training method that Ozzie Smith also used many years later as a young ballplayer. In the off-season on his farm in Pennsylvania, Ritchey would throw a baseball over the roof of his barn and scamper around to try to catch it before it came down on the other side. Growing up in Los Angeles, Ozzie would do the same thing over his house.
#63. Robby Thompson
Years: 1986-1996 Primary Team: San Francisco Giants
Was runner-up for National League Rookie of the Year in 1986 to reliever Todd Worrell of the Cardinals. Worrell pitched in more than 70 games and 100 innings and was deserving of the award for his contribution. Thompson's teammate Will Clark was also a rookie that season but he received only five voting points, compared to 46 for Thompson. Clark had the better rookie season, but even as late as 1986, voters still gave more credit to a middle infielder for the intangibles.
Thompson and Clark played beside each other in the Giants' infield for eight seasons, a very long stretch of stability. For six of those years they also had Jose Uribe at shortstop. The only other right side of the infield that played together longer for the Giants was first baseman Fred Merkle and second baseman Larry Doyle, who were teammates for parts of ten seasons, though they were starters at the same time for only seven.
#64. Aaron Hill
Years: 2005-2017 Primary Team: Toronto Blue Jays
At this point in the rankings you'll find players who might have had two or three All-Star caliber seasons, and that's enough to get them into this part of the list. Hill is an example of a quick player who didn't steal bases (except for one season when he got a burr in his butt to do so) because the trend in his era was to swing for the fences. He averaged 12 home runs in his first two full seasons and then hit 36 in his third full season. That was Toronto for you in those days: a lineup of big swingers who didn't care how low their on-base percentage was, they just wanted to drop the bat and jog around the bases. That's part of the reason they've won two playoff series in the last quarter century.
#65. Orlando Hudson
Years: 2002-2012 Primary Team: Blue Jays and Diamondbacks
Was replaced by Aaron Hill (#64 on this list) on the Blue Jays, the team trading him to Arizona for Troy Glaus. The deal was nice short-term, Glaus smacked a bunch of big flies in the dome, but long-term it was a mistake. Hudson was a better defender than Hill, more consistent, and a more valuable team player. He ranks below his replacement because Hill had a couple outlier seasons, while Hudson was consistent. The "O-Dog" also won four Gold Gloves.
#66. Steve Sax
Years: 1981-1994 Primary Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
They call it "the yips", and it can ruin an athlete's career. It usually happens suddenly, and it's not always clear what triggers it. But when it happens, it's like a train wreck and it can careen out of control. For Steve Sax his yips were attached to his throwing arm, and it caused him to consider quitting baseball in just his third season.
Sax was a lightning bolt of energy when he arrived to Los Angeles in 1981 a few weeks after the strike was resolved. He played out that season filling in for injured Davey Lopes, the Dodgers won the special first round playoff series and defeated the Expos in the LCS to advance to the World Series. The Dodgers kept young Sax on the post-season roster even though Lopes returned. He had speed, he could bunt, he was a fun kid in the clubhouse. The Dodgers won the Fall Classic and Sax had champagne poured on his head by Lopes and Steve Garvey and Bill Russell, all the veteran Dodgers. This Sacramento kid was playing baseball with his heroes.
It got better in 1982. Sax was officially a rookie and he had an excellent season, stealing 49 bases. He was the starting second baseman, the Dodgers having dealt Lopes away to make room for the exciting kid. Sax played in 150 games, hit .282 and scored 88 runs. He was named Rookie of the Year. He was an All-Star. He was the darling of southern California.
But on April 8, 1983, in the third game of the season in the first inning, Montreal's Al Oliver hit a sharp grounder to Sax at second, who snared the ball but sent his throw wide of first base, allowing a run to score. Later in the game Sax took a relay throw from right field and threw the ball into the ground 10-15 feet in front of home plate, the runner scoring easily. Two plays, two throwing errors. That's when it started. from then on, every throw to first base was an adventure. He might toss it to the first baseman at the letters. Sax might throw it five feet wide of the bag or ten feet over and into the stands.
By the All-Star break in '83, Sax had 24 errors and had committed more than one error in four different games. His bat was steady enough that he was named to the NL All-Star team, but his head was not right. Sax wasn't sleeping well, he was racked with anxiety, he was a victim of the yips. It got so bad that Sax didn't take infield practice with his teammates. Fans behind first base starting holding up sheets with targets on them. Sax was embarrassed. He considered quitting.
In the second half of the season, Sax straightened out (and his throws did too). He made just six errors, only four of them on throws. The following season the yips were gone. He was making routine plays to first base without a problem. Sax never had the problem with throws again. He played 14 seasons and was an All-Star five times. At one time he seemed poised to make a run at 2,500 or maybe even 3,000 hits. He had nearly 1,800 through the age of 31. But Father Time catches up with ballplayers, especially middle infielders, and Sax did not play regularly after the age of 32.
#67. Dave Cash
Years: 1969-1980 Primary Team: The Bucs
The Pirates found themselves with two promising young second basemen in the early 1970s, both were incredibly fast and both could range every which way in the field. Both young players looked like they'd hit for a high average in the big leagues, especially helped by the quick artificial turf in Three Rivers Stadium. One was Rennie Stennett, a Panamanian, the other was Dave Cash. Unfortunately for the two prospects, the Pirates employed Bill Mazeroski, the greatest fielding second baseman in history. Yes, Maz was on the downside of his career, but in 1970 the eight-time Gold Glove winner was still just 33 years old. Cash was 21 and Stennett was a baby at 19.
As will happen in sports, the Pittsburgh front office was still enamored with a player who was over the hill, and didn't see that the youngsters were better options. Finally near mid-season in 1971 the Bucs had the tough conversation with Mazeroski and handed the full-time second base job to Cash. The Pirates won the pennant and the World Series, Cash hit near .300 all season and played brilliantly in the field. He held the job for two more seasons, but Stennett was lurking.
The Pirates loved Rennie Stennett, they loved his speed, they loved his quickness at second base, they loved his bat. They thought he could win a batting title. Cash was good, real good in the field, but Stennett looked better. After the '73 season the Pirates traded Cash to the Phillies for George Brett's older brother.
Spurred by the Pirates rebuffing him, Cash pushed hard in Philadelphia to prove his old team wrong. the results showed: he averaged .296 with 203 hits and 97 runs scored in his three seasons in Philly. He never won a Gold Glove, but he was worthy of one. Joe Morgan won the award five years in a row, but in a few ways, Cash was better in the field.
What happened to Rennie Stennett? He hit pretty well the first season as Cash's replacement in Pittburgh, but then he struggled for a few more seasons. He had a hard time learning to corral his speed, he never did become a good base stealer. Finally in 1977 he put it all together. He started to hit in May and didn't slow down, and by late August he was challenging teammate Dave Parker for the NL batting title. Then on August 21 in the 8th inning of a game against the Giants at Three Rivers, Stennett hit a ball into the hole at shortstop. He hustled down to first, the Pirates were down two runs and runners were on second and third. The throw from short arrived at the same time Stennett made it to the bag. He stretched his stride to hit the bag and that's when his ankle snapped. He fell to the ground, unable to understand or celebrate that he had been called safe. A run scored, but that runner (Dave Parker) detoured after touching home and went out to Stennett, who was writhing in pain on the ground behind first base. His ankle was twisted grotesquely. His season was over, his batting average froze at .336 for the season. Stennett came back the following year but he wasn't the same. The quickness wasn't nearly as quick. The agility wasn't the same. He played four seasons but never hit higher than .244 and retired when he was 30 years old.
#68. Johnny Ray
Years: 1981-1990 Primary Team: The Bucs
For three decades, from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s, the Pirates had four second basemen who ended up in the top 100 all-time. They are chronologically: Bill Mazeroski, Dave Cash, Phil Garner, and Johnny Ray. The only second sacker that started regularly for the Bucs during that time who isn't on this list was Rennie Stennett (see the Dave Cash comment for more on him).
In 1982 the top two vote-getters in NL Rookie of the Year voting were both second basemen: Ray and Steve Sax, who won the honor. Most people would assume Sax had the better career, but the difference between the two in statistical terms is minuscule. It's very difficult to determine, based on the numbers, which player (Sax or Ray) was better. Sax did more noteworthy things, he won the Rookie of the Year Award, he was an All-Star five times. He played for two World Championship teams. But Ray was out there saving a lot more runs with his glove, and he had more power. Sax cost his team runs several seasons with poor percentage base stealing. Ray's career OPS+ was 101, while Sax was below league average at 95. Sax sneaks ahead under our formula because he played about 350 more games and that career value gives him a very slim edge. But had Ray played for the Dodgers, and had Sax been in Pittsburgh black-and-gold in the 1980s, you'd remember them much differently.
#69. Brian Dozier
Years: 2012-2017 Primary Team: Twinkies
Pitchers are taught to throw strikes, particularly early in the count. If a pitcher falls behind 1-0 on a batter, the chances increase quite significantly that the batter will reach base. After 2-0 or 2-1, they increase more than 50 percent. Strikes are critical early in the count.
As a result of this, the first pitch thrown is often the best one to hit. Yet many hitters still lay off the first pitch, preferring to see what the pitcher has. It's a timing thing, an effort to get the feel for a pitcher, like a boxer does early in a fight with his opponent. But what if that first pitch is the best pitch the batter will see?
Brian Dozier has decided he doesn't want to miss his best pitch. He often swings at the first pitch and early in the count. He doesn't give the pitcher a chance to get ahead, he doesn't let the pitcher breathe. The remarkable things is: Dozier developed this approach after coming to the major leagues.
In more than 1,600 plate appearances in the minors, Dozier hit 16 home runs. In 2016 he hit 14 before the All-Star break, and 13 in August. He set an American League record for home runs in a season by a second baseman with 42. In 2018 he'll record his fifth straight 20-homer season and he's the only Twin other than Harmon Killebrew to ever hit 40 homers in a season. Think about that: this middle infielder who averaged four homers per year in the minors is in an exclusive 40-homer club with The Killer.
As of August 2018, Dozier has hit 64 of his career 170 home runs on the first pitch or the second pitch. That's 38 percent. But is that an abnormal number? Let's look at a dozen middle infielders for whom we have pitch count data. Most of them are second basemen, but there are a few shortstops in there. I'll rank them in ascending order of percentage of home runs hit on first or second pitch of an at-bat.
Lou Whitaker 19 percent
Ryne Sandberg 24 percent
Chuck Knoblauch 29 percent
Chase Utley 29 percent
Dustin Pedroia 30 percent
Ray Durham 31 percent
Barry Larkin 31 percent
Bret Boone 35 percent
Ben Zobrist 37 percent
Jeff Kent 39 percent
Derek Jeter 40 percent
Craig Biggio 49 percent
Can we find a trend? Well, for the most part the players who started their careers more recently have trended upward. Biggio's mark of 49 percent is very impressive as an early count performance. But Whitaker and Sandberg, the two oldest players on the list, have the lowest figures. Zobrist, Kent, and Dozier, who all played within the last decade or are still active, are at the higher end.
But here's the problem if we're trying to credit Dozier with following a trend. The historic figure of "early count home runs" has been steady. In 1991, the earliest year we have all the pitch count data, 41 percent of home runs hit were on the first or second pitch. In 1998, the year of The Great Home Run Chase, it was 39 percent. In 2016, the year Dozier exploded for 42 home runs, it was 40 percent. So far (as of August 25), the rate is 37 percent in 2018. The rate of early count homers has been around 37-40 percent since the early 1990s.
So why did Brian Dozier start hitting home runs in the major leagues? It might have something to do with HOW HARD he is swinging. It's no secret that big leaguers are swinging harder than they ever have, and swinging harder more often. Some players seem to swing from the heels on every pitch. Dozier's teammates and batting coach noticed that he adopted this approach after being promoted to the Twins. Dozier swings hard at everything. He plays in an era where strikeouts are not a big deal. The Twins aren't going to bench him if he strikes out four times in a game or 140 times a year. Dozier also plays in an era where "launch angle" is a thing. Batters are being taught, through the use of video technology, to adjust their swings to elevate the ball. Dozier swings hard AND he swings up. He hits tons of fly balls. He happens to hit his share out of the ballpark. It's math. It's physics.
#70. Tom Herr
Years: 1979-1991 Primary Team: The Redbirds
For a decade from 1981 to 1990, the St. Louis Cardinals had three switch-hitters in their infield, at second, short, and third. Herr was the second baseman in those groups for seven years. The Cardinals won three pennants during that stretch, and in 1981 they had the best record in their division but failed to make the playoffs because of the quirky split-season format.
The Cardinals embraced switch-hitters as part of a strategy by Whitey Herzog, who served dual roles as general manager and manager during that period. His success formed the foundation of his Hall of Fame credentials. He was a maverick and a visionary, he enjoyed flipping the script and challenging teams in unconventional ways. If you were going to hit home runs, he would steal bases. If you were going to utilize a bullpen strategy to get a platoon advantage, he would employ switch-hitters. If you were going to try to win with runs, he would field a dazzling defense that would keep the score low. If your team was designed to play well on grass, he would design a team to excel on artificial turf. His strategies resulted in an exciting style that was called "Whitey Ball".
Tom Herr manifested the strategy of Whitey Ball in near perfect terms. He was a switch-hitter who hit the ball on the ground or on a line a lot. That worked brilliantly on the fast turf of Busch Stadium as well as on enemy turf in Philadelphia, Montreal, and Pittsburgh. He was a contact hitter, walking more than he struck out, and he hit almost equally well from the right side as he did the left. He was nearly slump-proof. Herzog usually had 3-4 players like that in his lineup. They could all run.
Herr was a good bunter, and before 1985 he was just as likely to bunt a runner over as he was to be asked to drive him in. Whitey liked to peck away, scoring one run at a time, squeezing the opponent with constant pressure and stifling defense. But Herzog also recognized that Herr would thrive in run-scoring situations. In '85 he moved his switch-hitting second baseman to the third spot in his lineup. It seemed crazy. Herr averaged only 33 extra-base hits per 162 games through 1984. He was a singles hitter. But given the chance to bat with loads of runners on base, he excelled, driving in 110 (only eight homers). The Redbirds won the pennant and Herr finished fifth in NL MVP voting.
#71. Buck Herzog
Years: 1908-1920 Primary Team: New York Giants
In 1917 the Giants and Tigers agreed to a series of games during spring training. Detroit's star outfielder Ty Cobb arrived late to the first game when his golf game went long. When they spied Cobb pulling on his wool Detroit uniform a few innings into the exhibition, the opposing Giants took pleasure in razzing the strong-headed outfielder. Cobb promised to show the Giants something that day. Later in the game he smacked a single and when Bobby Veach singled, Ty barreled around second and motored to third, throwing his body into the bag. Waiting there was Giants' third baseman Buck Herzog, who took a vicious body blow from Cobb and reportedly took Cobb's spikes into his legs. The two tussled a bit, but umpires and teammates pulled them apart. Herzog wasn't shy though, and he challenged the venerable Cobb to a fight after the game.
That night back at the hotel where both teams were staying, a fight ensued that gained legendary stature. The two men met in Cobb's room, where the furniture had been moved to the side, creating a large space for a brawl. In those days a man would bring a second to a fight, to ensure that some sense of fairness was in place. Herzog brought teammate Eddie Ainsmith, but Cobb, who had few friends on his team, was alone and stripped to the waist. Herzog charged the much larger Cobb and they fought viciously for nearly 30 minutes. When Buck emerged into the hallway, his manager and a few teammates were there. "I got [the] hell kicked out of me, but I knocked the bum down, and you know that swell head, he'll never get over the fact that a little guy like me had him on the floor."
Herzog fought with a lot of people, both physically and verbally. He rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, even his so-called friends. That's why he played for John McGraw three different times: the Giants' skipper loved him and hated him. "I hate his guts," McGraw said of Herzog, "but I love to have him on my team."
#72. Mark Grudzielanek
Years: 1995-2010 Primary Team: LA Dodgers
Was 36 years old when he won a Gold Glove Award for the first time, that's unusual. Otherwise, not much else to say about this glove-first middle infielder who bounced around to six teams in 15 years.
#73. Billy Goodman
Years: 1947-1962 Primary Team: Boston Red Sox
Eddie Collins was the general manager for the Red Sox when Goodman debuted with Boston in 1947. Goodman looked very familiar to him: he reminded Collins of Jimmy Dykes, the versatile infielder who hit well in a 22-year American League career back when Collins was still roaming second base on his way to the Hall of Fame.
Goodman was a better hitter than Dykes, but he was rarely given a set position with the Red Sox. Still he thrived, always finding playing time when a teammate was injured or went into a dry spell with the bat. In 1950, Goodman started the season at first base, then he filled in for an injured Bobby Doerr at second for a few weeks. After a month serving as a utility player and pinch-hitter, he was asked to fill in at left field when Ted Williams went down with an injury. Goodman got red hot, and when Williams returned he was leading the league in hitting. Third baseman Johnny Pesky selflessly offered to sit down so Billy could stay in the lineup. At the end of the season Goodman's .354 average was tops in the AL, even though he'd never had a set position on the diamond.
Goodman hit .306 in 11 seasons in a Boston uniform, a jack of all trades and a professional hitter who loved Fenway Park. The left-handed batter hit .330 in Fenway and once had a 57-game streak where he got on base at least once in Boston.
#74. Randy Velarde
Years: 1987-2002 Primary Team: Angels
Velarde is another one of these guys in this stretch of the rankings who seem somewhat interchangeable. He was decent with the glove, could play second, short, and third, and he wasn't dreadful with the bat. Velarde was a better hitter than most in this range of the rankings, better than Dave Cash and Steve Sax too, and many others above him. He probably should have been a regular more often, but he ended up with only one season where he played as many as 150 games and two where he played 130 games. He had his career year when he was 36 years old.
#75. Delino DeShields
Years: 1990-2002 Primary Team: Montreal Expos
His nickname was "Bop", which means that for about a decade there were second basemen that went by "Bip" and "Bop" in the National League. He slapped the ball around a lot and then relied on his legs once he got on base, stealing 40 or more bases six times. In 2000 in Baltimore he suddenly and surprisingly hit 43 doubles, twice his normal seasonal output. He was 31 years old and that was his last decent season. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 1990, and Montreal had two other notable rookies that season too: Larry Walker and Marquis Grissom.
#76. Brian Roberts
Years: 2001-2014 Primary Team: The Orioles
Players who hit a lot of doubles fall into four categories:
Category I: Fast and/or aggressive baserunners.
Category II: Big sluggers who hit a lot of balls to the gap that go to the warning track or the wall.
Category III: Players who pull the ball down the line frequently.
Category IV: Batters who call Fenway Park their home.
An exemplar of each category would be:
Category I: Pete Rose
Category II: Albert Pujols
Category III: Paul Molitor
Category IV: David Ortiz
Fenway Park increases doubles because of the Green Monster in left field and the odd configuration of the right field foul pole and the wall out there. Three of the top eleven doubles hitters of all-time (as of September 1, 2018) played all or much of their careers in Fenway.
Brian Roberts fits into Category III, a pull-hitter who drilled grounders and line drives down both lines, being a switch-hitter. He was also an aggressive baserunner, a characteristic of Category I. Classic Category I types include Ty Cobb, Paul Waner, Stan Musial, Rose, Hal McRae, George Brett, and Derek Jeter. Those were the guys who were thinking two bases out of the box.
Two more Category III guys from recent times are Mark Grace and Bobby Abreu. Both were also fairly aggressive on the base paths. Doubles breed doubles. Often, when a player hits balls that are conducive to two-baggers, they start to think about doubles more often, pursuing them. Miguel Cabrera has been that way. He hits a lot of hard balls, and if they go into the corner or the gap, he realized he could leg out a second base if he hustled.
Roberts, Tris Speaker, Paul Waner, and Musial are the only four players to amass at least three 50-double seasons in a career. Speaker was a Category I with benefits of playing in Fenway; Waner was Category I who also pulled the ball down the right field line a lot; Musial was Category I in the same way Rose was. The three Hall of Famers rank in the top 14 all-time for doubles, while Roberts failed to reach 400 doubles for his career. 43 percent of his career doubles came in his three 50-double seasons.
Roberts is similar to Baerga, who ranks just behind him. Both were switch-hitting second basemen who had some pop in their bats. Both played most of their careers with one American League team. Baerga had a better defensive reputation, but Roberts was probably better with the glove. Both Baerga and Roberts petered out early, Baerga playing his last full effective season when he was 29, and Roberts when he was 31.
#77. Carlos Baerga
Years: 1990-2005 Primary Team: Cleveland Indians
In the early 1990s, Carlos Baerga was one of the better second basemen in the American League. A decent fielder, Baerga was known more for his offensive production from both sides of the plate as a switch-hitter. He hit over .300 four straight years for Cleveland and batted third in the powerful Indians lineup ahead of Albert Belle. Baerga collected 200 hits and drove in 100 runs in 1992 and 1993, becoming only the third second baseman to do both in consecutive seasons. But he suffered a back injury and then another, and he played his last full season when he was 29.
#78. Jason Kipnis
Years: 2011-2017 Primary Team: Cleveland Indians
This will sound harsh to Cleveland fans, but he could possibly end up being the worst contract the Indians have ever signed. Kipnis was an All-Star in 2013 when he had his best season, but the Indians overreacted and gave him a six-year deal worth more than $50 million. The man they call "Dirtbag" has averaged 12 homers and 12 stolen bases a year since while playing mediocre defense. He's almost sure to fall prey to the over-30 injury bug and/or end up being a corner infielder, where his offense will be a liability. If he plays until he's 35 he will probably fall well down on this list.
#79. Adam Kennedy
Years: 1999-2012 Primary Team: The Angels
Has second base produced the most post-season folk heroes of any position? Kennedy hit three home runs on the night the Angels won their first pennant. In Game Five of the AL Championship Series in 2002, Kennedy launched three homers against the Twins in the clinching game in Anaheim. He was named MVP of the ALCS. In 2015, Daniel Murphy hit home runs in six straight post-season games for the Mets. Chase Utley hit five homers in the 2009 World Series for the Phils. Going back many decades, Billy Martin had three great World Series for the Yankees in the 1950s, and Bobby Richardson was MVP of the 1960 Series in a losing cause. That same series was won a Game Seven walkoff home run by second baseman Bill Mazeroski.
Taking the point further, "Scrap Iron" Garner had a fantastic World Series in 1979 for the Pirates, and Joe Morgan's single won the 1975 World Series. Second sackers Manny Trillo and Frank White both won the LCS MVP Award for their leagues in 1980. Marty Barrett set a record with 24 hits in the LCS and World Series combined in 1986. Roberto Alomar was a fantastic post-season performer, winning one MVP honor in October for his play in the 1992 ALCS. Eddie Collins and Frankie Frisch are two of the greatest performers in World Series history. Craig Counsell is famous for being involved in two thrilling come-from-behind moments in post-season history. And going way back, Danny Murphy hit two clutch home runs in one World Series more than a century ago for the Athletics.
I counted every player by position who won a post-season MVP award and every batter who hit a post-season walkoff home run. I also went back and assigned MVPs in the World Series and LCS for the years before the official awards started. I added those columns together for a score (one point for a WS MVP, one for an LCS MVP, one for a post-season walkoff HR, etc.). Not surprisingly, starting pitchers (by far) ranked fist with 80 points (24 World Series MVPs, 29 retroactive World Series MVPs, and 27 LCS MVPs). The other eight primary positions scored between 16 and 26, with shortstops last with 16. Third basemen totaled 26, and second basemen rated a 19, sort of in the middle of the pack of the rest of the position players. Nothing special. But it seems like they were. Just ask the people in Anaheim.
#80. Bip Roberts
Years: 1986-1998 Primary Team: San Diego Padres
The Rule 5 Draft was implemented in the late 1950s to make players available who were buried in an organization. The goal of the Rule 5 was to prevent teams from stockpiling major league caliber players in their systems when other organizations would be happy to employ them in the major leagues. The caveat was that the drafting team must keep the player they select on their active major league roster for one full season. He cannot go directly to the minor leagues. As a result, many teams are hesitant to place a Rule 5 pick. But there have been some notable players taken in the Rule 5.
The most famous player taken via the Rule 5 Draft is Roberto Clemente, whom the Pirates plucked from the Brooklyn Dodgers. He went on to the Hall of Fame. He's the only future Hall of Famer to be drafted in the Rule 5. About 30 future All-Stars have been taken in the Rule 5 Draft, and Bip Roberts was one. The Pirates had Roberts in their minor league system in the early 1980s, and even though he hit over .300 several times and showed his great speed and good defense, they did not summon him to the big leagues because they had All-Star Johnny Ray at second base. At the winter meetings in 1985, the Padres selected Roberts in the Rule 5 Draft. The Pirates tried to negotiate a trade to get Roberts back (that happens often), but the two teams could not settle. So the 22-year old spent the '86 season with the Padres, splitting time with veteran Tim Flannery at second in San Diego. The following year he was back in the minors to get more experience.
Some of the other fine players who were picked in the Rule 5 Draft are George Bell, Darrell Evans, Johan Santana, Willie Hernandez, Josh Hamilton, and Dan Uggla. In recent years fewer coveted players have been exposed in the draft because teams are more likely to bring a player up for at least a spell to negate their eligibility for the Rule 5.
#81. Tony Taylor
Years: 1958-1976 Primary Team: Philadelphia Phillies
Taylor once explained that had he not become a professional ballplayer he would have been a chemist in a sugar factory in his native Cuba. Taylor was from an upper-middle class family and had the good fortune of being able to play baseball a lot as a young man. He defied his parents by pursuing a career in the game. When he signed his first contract and went to the United States he knew only one English word: "Okay." He played far better than okay, ultimately spending 19 seasons in the major leagues and earning admiration for his skill and good nature as a solid teammate.
Due to the nature of the political upheaval in Cuba, Taylor's family did not get to see him play in the major leagues until he'd been in the United States for more than 15 years. Finally, in 1970 his mother, sisters, and several other relatives watched him play with the Phillies. In his first at-bat during that game at Wrigley Field, Taylor waved to his mother and kissed his bat. Later in the contest he beat out an infield roller for a base hit, came back to the bag smiling and blew a kiss to his mother.
#82. Damion Easley
Years: 1992-2008 Primary Team: Detroit Tigers
The front office for the Detroit Tigers did very few things right in the 1990s, but the acquisition of Easley was a rare good decision. They sent pitcher Greg Gohr, a former first round draft pick, to the Angels for Easley in the middle of the 1996 season, hoping to fill the gap left at second base by the retirement of Lou Whitaker. The quiet Easley went on to have his best years in the Motor City. He hit 20 homers in three successive seasons, hit well enough to be in the middle of the lineup where he plated 100 runs in 1998. He had a knack for having big games: he hit for the cycle once, had a six-hit game for the Tigers, and once went 5-for-5 with an inside the park home run.
#83. Ronnie Belliard
Years: 1998-2010 Primary Team: Milwaukee Brewers
Belliard played for several teams in his career, never staying in one place too long. He was acquired by the Cardinals at the trade deadline in 2006 and inserted as their starting second baseman. In the first round of the playoffs he proved pivotal, hitting .462 against the Padres with six hits in four games. The Cardinals went on to win the World Series, but Belliard packed his bags and signed with Washington. He had played only 67 games in a St. Louis uniform, but Belliard had earned a World Series ring.
#84. Craig Counsell
Years: 1995-2011 Primary Team: Brewers, Diamondbacks
Counsell just wanted a chance to play, but no one would give it to him until he was in his 30s. He was part of the 1997 Marlins who won the World Series, driving in the tying run in Game Seven and later scoring the winning run in extra innings. But two years later he was released by the Dodgers in spring training. It looked like his career might have come to an end. He was 29 years old. But he went on to play 1,375 more games, equal parts with Arizona and Milwaukee. He was in the middle of things again in a famous Game Seven in the World Series when in 2001 he was hit by a pitch from Mariano Rivera, setting the stage for teammate Luis Gonzalez's championship-winning hit. Counsell was MVP of the League Championship Series that year. Few players ever got more out of their talents nor more mileage in the last half of their career.
#85. Neil Walker
Years: 2009-2017 Primary Team: New York Mets
A little like Carlos Baerga and Jose Vidro: a switch-hitting second baseman with decent power, but flaws elsewhere. For Baerga the flaws were his inability to draw walks and lay off bad pitches. For Vidro the flaw was his mediocre defense, and for Walker it's been impatience and fragility. Still active in 2018 with the Yankees, Walker is emerging now as a platoon player, facing mostly right-handed pitching. His splits are startling: he's averaged 46 extra-base hits per 600 plate appearances versus right-handed pitching and only 18 versus southpaws.
#86. Jim Gantner
Years: 1976-1992 Primary Team: Brew Crew
A 1940s style middle infielder playing in the 1980s. Gantner was a field-first, light-hitting little guy who fought hard to forge a 17-year career in the majors, all of them with Milwaukee. How good was he with the leather? The Brewers moved Paul Molitor to third base so they could get Gantner's glove in the lineup, even though he was an impatient, free-swinging hitter with very little power.
#87. Mark Loretta
Years: 1995-2009 Primary Team: Brewers, Padres
The Milwaukee Brewers made a habit out of promoting infielders to the big leagues and trying them out at several positions. They did it with Paul Molitor, Don Money, and Jim Gantner. They liked to have guys who could play second, short, or third. They did it with Ernest Riles, who helped hasten the switch of Robin Yount from shortstop to center field. These weren't utility players in the traditional sense, they were bonafide major leaguers who were coveted by the organization for their versatility.
Loretta was that type of guy who came up with Milwaukee in the mid-1990s. He was a shortstop in the minors initially, then the team tried him at second base. He was an offense-first player, someone who could hit for high average and draw some walks. He played practically every day for three seasons for the Brewers in the late 1990s, hit nearly .300, but didn't have a true position. He was a rent-a-player for the stretch run for the Astros one year (hitting over .400 for a month), then had three great seasons for the Padres. He became a professional hitter coveted by teams in contention, and he kept hitting well into his late 30s even though teams never liked to play him at any defensive position for too long.
#88. Dan Uggla
Years: 2006-2015 Primary Team: Marlins
He was ready for the big leagues at least three years before his rookie season, but he was stuck in the Arizona farm system. Finally when he was 26 he was plucked by the Marlins via the Rule 5 Draft, which was designed precisely for situations where players like Uggla were trapped without hope. He immediately hit as an everyday second baseman for the Fish and was third in Rookie of the Year voting. He hit 31 homers and walked 68 times the next season, then clubbed 32 home runs and walked 77 times. He followed it with three more years over 30 homers, the first second baseman with five such seasons in a row. He led the league in walks in his seventh season, now playing with Atlanta. Sure, his range was pretty bad and he was stiff at second base on the pivot, but he could rake. He hit 231 homers in his first eight seasons and he had a 33-game hitting streak. But eventually it became impossible for a team to play him because he hit so infrequently. He set a record for the lowest batting average by a qualifying hitter (.179) and he missed a lot too. He hit .173 over the last four years of his career and struck out more than once per game. With all his swings and misses, Uggla was still a dangerous hitter for the first half of his short career, and had he been allowed to play at the big league level when he was truly ready he might have hit more than 300 homers at the position.
#89. Jose Vidro
Years: 1997-2008 Primary Team: Expos and Nationals
Vidro was a near carbon copy of Carlos Baerga, who was also a switch-hitting second baseman from Puerto Rico. The two were six years apart in age, and Vidro was more patient at the plate, but Baerga was much better with the glove, which is why he rates ahead. The two were teammates on the 2005 Nats.
#90. Jim Lefebvre
Years: 1965-1972 Primary Team: Dodgers
Lefebvre grew up in Inglewood and served as a bat boy with the Los Angeles Dodgers at the Coliseum as a teenager. Six years after his last gig carrying bats for the team he was the Dodgers starting second baseman. He won the Rookie of the Year Award and had an even better season the next year when the switch-hitter hit 24 home runs. Once, late in his rookie season, Lefebvre, whom everyone called "Frenchy," made an error that cost his team a game. That night he got a phone call from Jackie Robinson encouraging him to forget it and move on.
Lefebvre was handsome and outgoing and he parlayed that into a modest career as a bit actor in popular TV shows. He appeared as a tribal headhunter in Gilligan's Island, as a henchman in Batman, and as a soldier in an episode of M*A*S*H*. After he lost his job to Davey Lopes, the 30-year old signed a contract to play in Japan and became the first professional player to win a World Series and the Japan Series.
#91. Frank Bolling
Years: 1954-1966 Primary Team: Braves
As far as I can figure, the only brothers to play in the major leagues together as a double play combination are:
Bill and Jack Gleason (1882 Browns)
Granny and Garvin Hamner (1945 Phillies)
Johnny and Eddie O'Brien (1955-56 Pirates)
Milt and Frank Bolling (1958 Tigers)
Cal Jr. and Billy Ripken (1987-1992 and 1996 Orioles)
Of these, the Ripkens were the best clearly. The O'Brien's barely played together, and Granny and Garvin Hamner had about six weeks together at the tail end of World War II. They were notable in that one was 18 years old and the other was 21 when they played together briefly. Jack Gleason was a third baseman by trade and he only played two innings at second with his brother. The Bolling's were teammates for about four months, it was Milt's last season in a career spent as a utility infielder. Frank was a two-time All-Star and a pretty good fielding second baseman.
#92. Daniel Murphy
Years: 2008-2017 Primary Team: Washington Nationals
See Danny Murphy, higher on this list, for the uncanny coincidences between the two Murphy's and their post-season heroics more than 100 years apart.
His unexpected power surge in October of 2015 spurred him on to a pair of great seasons and earned him millions of dollars in a free agent contract from the Nationals. But at 33 years old entering the 2018 season it seems unlikely that Murphy will continue to be effective for much longer. He costs his pitching staff with his very limited range and he's not good at turning two either. Best case scenario is a switch to a corner outfield spot and a few more years with some power numbers. I'd be surprised if he moves more than a few spots up on this list, he got too late of a start.
#93. Don Blasingame
Years: 1955-1966 Primary Team: St. Louis Cardinals
Baseball is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. Slip a little bit, and a player is waiting in the wings to take your spot in the lineup. This was especially true in the years when there were only 8-10 teams in each league. Jobs were at a premium. Don Blasingame replaced Red Schoendienst in St. Louis, and when the Reds acquired him before the '61 season he replaced veteran Billy Martin. Eventually it catches up with you and the hunter becomes the hunted. The Reds had three young prospects who played second base in the early 1960s: Tommy Harper, Cookie Rojas, and Pete Rose. Blasingame was the incumbent in '63 when Rose arrived (the Reds made Harper an outfielder and traded Rojas). He wasn't happy about losing his job, and stories have been told for years about how he was unwelcoming to Rose. But that's the way it was back then. The Reds traded the 31-year old to the American League where Blasingame toiled for losing teams for a few years and slowly got worse. At his best, Blasingame was a good defender, but he was always pretty much an empty shirt at the plate.
#94. Glenn Hubbard
Years: 1978-1989 Primary Team: Atlanta Braves
A team can ruin a young player's career if they place too much pressure on him. Baseball history is filled with examples of prospects who never came to fruition because they were thrown into a job too soon. In 1978, the 20-year old (beardless) Hubbard was named a starter by the Braves when he was called up in mid-season. The organization actually said they expected second base to be his job for the next 15 years. Hubbard played very well over the last three months of the season, making some eye-popping plays in the field. His defense was always his strength. But he struggled the following year in his first full season and found himself in the minors twice. Finally, in 1981 during the strike-shortened season, and with a full face of hair, Hubbard put a stranglehold on the starting job. The following year he helped the Braves to a division title and the next year he was an All-Star.
Hubbard's range was extraordinary and he was great at turning the double play, maybe only a bit below Bill Mazeroski in that skill. Hall of Fame skipper Bobby Cox was Hubbard's biggest fan, managing him for the first four years of his career and employing him as a first base coach for a dozen seasons. Hubbard spent a total of 34 years working for the Braves as a player and coach.
#95. Jerry Priddy
Years: 1941-1953 Primary Team: New York Yankees
Bill James wrote a lot about Priddy in his book Politics of Glory, juxtaposing his career with that of Phil Rizzuto. The two infielders were a talented double play combo as very young ballplayers in the Yankee system in the 1930s.
"That huckleberry. He was something else," Rizzuto said of Priddy. "We were close even though we were opposites in a lot of ways. He was cocky, Oh he was sure of himself. Me, on the other hand, I was shy and always worried. He took me under his wing, but he loved playing tricks on me too, like nailing my shoes to the floor, ripping up all my fan letters, all those things."
#96. Mark McLemore
Years: 1986-2004 Primary Team: California Angels
He had an odd career: at the age of 22 he played regularly as a rookie for the Angels but spent the next four years with four different organizations trying to prove he belonged in the big leagues. In Baltimore, Johnny Oates took a shining to him and made McLemore his super-sub. He asked the switch-hitter to learn to play the outfield, played him all over the infield, and even used him at DH. More mature and nearing 30, McLemore blossomed as an Oriole and then spent five years with Texas and four with Seattle as a valuable jack of all trades. He was still a good defensive second baseman in his mid-30s, and at the age of 34 he scored 105 runs for the Rangers starting in the middle of the infield. Every year he worked on another area of his game, and in 2001 when he was 36 he stole 39 bases for the M's when they won 116 games. Despite having only 257 hits through the age of 27, McLemore topped 1,600 for his career, playing until he was almost 40.
#97. Marcus Giles
Years: 2001-2007 Primary Team: Atlanta Braves
Only played seven seasons, but he managed to have a few good years and his glove was pretty decent. In 2003 he had probably the best season ever by a Braves second baseman, scoring 101 runs while pounding out 72 extra-base hits and posting a 917 OPS. He was an All-Star that year and he deserved to be higher than 18th in MVP voting. It was an excellent season. He refused to accept minor league assignments in his final year and the subsequent spring training, precipitating the end of his brief career. He'd earned more than $10 million and left the game behind.
#98. Bret Boone
Years: 1992-2005 Primary Team: Seattle Mariners
An average middle infielder with a decent glove who turned to medicinal methods to transform himself into a mini-Hulk in the second half of his career. As a result he hit 166 homers in his 30s after hitting only 86 in his 20s, and rode the steroid syringe to accolades and lots of money. His behavior besmirched a royal baseball family that traces its' routes to Ray Boone, a venerable All-Star infielder from the 1950s. Hopefully soon someone else will come along and erase him from this Top 100 list and we won't have to think about him again.
#99. Mike Gallego
Years: 1985-1997 Primary Team: Oakland A's
I guess the most interesting things you can say about Mike Gallego are that he was a starting second baseman on three straight pennant winning teams and he was the last Yankee other than Derek Jeter to wear #2. Otherwise, he's an unremarkable player to be on this list.
#100. Eric Young
Years: 1992-2006 Primary Team: Colorado Rockies
Young was one of the first stars on the Colorado Rockies when they entered the National League as an expansion team in 1993. He was popular largely because he was so fun to root for. He had been a football star in addition to being a baseball player in college, playing for Rutgers as a wide receiver despite being undersized at 5'9. Thanks to his small stature, he was overlooked until the 43rd round of the MLB Draft, where the Dodgers picked him. He was with the Rockies a year later when he hit a home run in the first plate appearance for the franchise in Denver. He only hit a few more homers in Colorado during his career, but he batted over .300 a few times and he was an All-Star in 1996 when he led the NL with 53 stolen bases and scored 113 runs, often scampering home on hits by Andres Galarraga, Ellis Burks, or Vinny Castilla. Late in his career he morphed into a handy utility player, seeing action in the outfield as well as second and third base.