The best “old” shortstops were Honus Wagner, Ozzie Smith, George Davis, Pee Wee Reese, Bobby Wallace, Barry Larkin, and Art Fletcher. That’s based on value from age 31 to 37. Fletcher didn’t get a starting job until he was 27 because he was stuck behind Al Bridwell, another very good defensive shortstop. John McGraw had the prescience to realize that Fletcher was a star and for several years he was the best all-around shortstop in the National League, in the stretch between the Giants two dynasties. Originally, McGraw harped on Fletcher because he refused to field grounders “on the run,” the preferred Giant method. Instead, Fletch insisted on getting his body in front of the ball, even if it took more time.
Fletcher was a chip off the old block for McGraw: fiery and obnoxious. Fletcher got in more fights than anyone in the league. Once, when he got tangled up with Rogers Hornsby in the middle of the diamond, the “Rajah” felled Fletcher with one punch to the jaw. Fletcher spiked more runners than Ty Cobb ever did, and he liked to brag about the exactness of his fists. He was loved by the fans at the Polo Grounds, especially by a woman who wore a large hat and frequently sat in the center field bleachers. When Fletcher took his position for the top of the first inning, the woman would galvanize her lungs and scream “Come on, Artie!” Fletcher would wave to her and the crowd would go wild.
Fletcher’s range factors are nearly off the charts, and he was probably better with the glove than Dave Bancroft, the Hall of Fame shortstop who came along about that same time, and for whom an aging Fletcher was traded during the 1920 season.
Once early in Fletcher’s career, when the Giants were visiting St. Louis, officials in Collinsville (Fletcher’s hometown, which was only 15 miles across the river in Illinois) organized a special day for him. But McGraw had Art on the bench when the game started, even though Fletcher’s parents were in the stands. Teammate Larry Doyle decided to do something about the injustice, getting himself thrown out in the first inning so Fletcher would have to play second base. Before that game, the Fletcher admirers gave the young infielder a diamond pin, which Art made into a ring and presented to his fiancé. She wore it for decades.
Fletcher managed the undermanned Phillies after his playing career and improved them by 18 wins in two seasons. But the roster was woeful and Fletcher quit after four years on the bench. The Yankees hired him as a coach in 1927, and when Miller Huggins died in-season, Artie handled the managerial duties for a few weeks. He spent nearly two decades on the Yankee staff as third base coach, waving in Gehrig, DiMaggio, and the others as the team won nine titles. Yankee players called him “Chisel Chin” because of his big jaw. In all. Fletcher earned more than $55,000 in World Series money as a coach, more than he earned as a player. Fletcher refused managerial jobs from several big league teams, preferring to avoid the anxiety of the job. He died in 1950 from a heart attack, five years after sending his last Yankee homeward bound.