There’s nothing like waking up on a summer morning, going outside, and playing little league baseball with your friends. One of the toughest positions to play in baseball is undoubtedly shortstop. Shortstop sees a lot of action as a result of playing directly in the ‘gap’ between second and third base. The best MLB shortstops of all time make it look easy, but shortstops need to be agile, quick, and need to have the mental awareness to know when to cover second base in certain situations throughout a baseball game. Throughout the history of MLB, shortstop is a revered and critical position that helps make the game more exciting and fun for spectators.
Speaking of making MLB ballparks fun for spectators, a recent survey of MLB fans finds that approximately one in three fans won’t be able to afford tickets during the 2023 MLB season. A poll of 1,000 MLB fans finds that money issues in 2023 are making it difficult for fans to afford tickets to see their favorite teams. Furthermore, the survey sought to find which team’s fans need to work the most hours to afford tickets to their team. Researchers looked at the average MLB ticket prices compared to the average hourly wage of the city in which the team is located. Overall, fans of the 2022 World Series Champion Houston Astros need to work the most hours to afford tickets to see their team play in person.
Although fans in certain cities won’t be able to afford tickets to see their favorite MLB team play in 2023, another recent study finds that fans are more than willing to travel and pay to see their favorite sports teams play in person. A survey of 2,000 self-identified sports fanatics examined the lengths fans are willing to go to in order to see their favorite team play in person. Overall, the survey found that the average fan is willing to travel a staggering five hours and 48 minutes plus pay over $750 for tickets to a game. That is fandom at its finest, to say the least.
So, who are the greats who have graced the shortstop position? StudyFinds did some digging, consulting 10 sports and baseball-oriented websites in an effort to bring you the best MLB shortstops to ever play the game. Our list comprises the five most frequently listed MLB shortstops from across these sites. As always, feel free to share your thoughts on the best MLB shortstops of all time with us in the comments section below!
The List: Best MLB Shortstops of All Time, According to Sports Experts
1. Honus Wagner
Honus Wagner was one of the best MLB players of his generation, and he’s also widely regarded as one of the greatest ever. Nicknamed “The Flying Dutchman,” Wagner helped define the shortstop position. “There’s an argument for Wagner as the greatest player of all time. He was big, strong and fast, and while he didn’t hit many home runs because he played in the dead ball era, if you transported him to 2016 he would undoubtedly hit for a lot of power. He was also one of the best old players ever, winning six of his eight batting titles after turning 30. In the first Hall of Fame induction, he received the same number of votes as Babe Ruth,” explains ESPN.
The dead ball era refers to a time when MLB managers emphasized pitching and defense. In 1911, well into Wagner’s baseball career, baseballs were redesigned to be ‘livelier’ and help increase offense and scoring in the sport. Still, Wagner hit over 100 home runs and amassed a staggering number of hits to go with his remarkable batting average.
“The Flying Dutchman had everything you could ask for in a shortstop. He could run, he could hit, and he could field his position. He won eight batting titles during his career while also leading the National League in RBIs five times. Since he played from 1897 to 1917, home runs weren’t a huge part of the game during Wagner’s era and he finished with just 101 career homers. But he also had 3,430 career hits and a .329 average. He was also one of the best base stealers in MLB history, leading the NL in stolen bases five times and amassing 722 stolen bases in his career, showcasing elite ability in all areas of the game,” writes Franchise Sports.
Unlike some of the other positions across the infield, such as third base and first base, shortstops tend to be smaller, quicker, and better base stealers. But, Wagner differentiated himself by hitting for average, and coming through in clutch moments, leading his Pirates to the World Series on two occasions.
“He won eight batting titles, four on base percentage titles and six slugging percentage titles. He wasn’t selected to an All Star team as the All-Star did not exist in his time. He was also a good leader and big winner as he led the Pirates to two World Series appearances, winning one of them in the 1909 season. Finally, he finished in the top six in MVP voting three times and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1936,” adds Bleacher Report.
2. Cal Ripken Jr.
Next up on the best MLB shortstops of all time is the living legend himself, Cal Ripken Jr. Ripken is perhaps best known for owning the MLB record for most consecutive starts without missing a game – a true testament to his durability and consistency. But don’t get it twisted, Cal Ripken Jr. was an excellent baseball player.
“Ripken was nicknamed the ‘Iron Man’ because he played 2,632 [straight] games. He had a .276 average, 431 home runs, 1695 RBI’s, 1647 runs scored, 3184 base hits and 603 doubles. He won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1982 and was selected to the All Star team an amazing 19 times, starting at shortstop in 13 of them,” explains Bleacher Report.
Every MLB fan could count on Cal Ripken Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles starting at shortstop in the All-Star Game. Still, Ripken helped redefine the shortstop position, taking it from a small, quick player’s position, into one that could regularly feature a power-hitter in the lineup.
His unstoppable style led him to become “the face of the franchise and ushering in a new era of bigger, power-hitting players at the position. Ripken slugged 431 home runs during his 21-year career, and he made 19 straight All-Star teams. Ripken was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007 with one of the highest vote totals in history,” explains How They Play.
It was easy to lose sight of just how great Cal Ripken Jr. was during the peak of his career. The ‘streak’ overshadowed some of Ripken’s greatness on the field because he never missed a game and his backup never had to play.
“Of course, Cal Ripken Jr. wasn’t just a guy who showed up and played every day. He was also one of the best shortstops of all time. Despite winning just two Gold Gloves, Ripken was a steady defensive player. He also began his career by winning Rookie of the Year honors and won his first of two MVP awards in his second full season. In fact, his rookie season was the only year that Ripken wasn’t an all-star, earning a selection to the Midsummer Classic in 19 straight seasons. With eight Silver Slugger awards on his mantle, there is no doubt that Ripken is one of the elite shortstops in baseball history,” adds Franchise Sports.
3. Alex Rodriguez
Up third on the list of the best MLB shortstops of all time is Alex Rodriguez, also known as ‘A-Rod’ by fans and the media. Some of you might be asking, wasn’t Alex Rodriguez a third baseman? Yes and no. Alex Rodriguez started his career as a shortstop and it wasn’t until he moved to the New York Yankees that he made the switch to third base – you’ll learn why a little later.
“In terms of raw numbers, Rodriguez is probably the greatest shortstop of all time. He leads all shortstops in HRs, RBI, SLG%, and OPS (+1,500 plate appearances). Of course, he also has been linked to steroid use. In 2009 he admitted to taking them while in Texas after allegations were put upon him… That said, we still have ARod ranked number two all-time as that is what the statistics dictate…. Rodriguez began his career in 1994 as an 18-year-old phenom in Seattle. In his third season, he led the AL with a .358 BA, won his first of ten Silver Sluggers, and attended his first of 14 All-Star games. He also finished second in the MVP voting. At the tender age of 20, he was already a star,” writes Pitcher List.
Although Rodriguez’s career was without controversy, no one can deny his talent and impact at the shortstop position. Cal Ripken opened the door for bigger, power-hitting shortstops to dominate MLB, and Rodriguez was one of those players.
“Rodriguez at age 20, when he hit .358 with 36 home runs and 54 doubles, was as gifted a player as I’ve ever seen. He has won three MVP Awards and was the runner-up twice, including in 1996, when Juan Gonzalez won over him, which was a travesty. He also is closing in on 700 home runs, is eighth all time in runs, third in RBIs and 16th in Baseball-Reference WAR,” adds ESPN.
Rodriguez won a whopping three MVP trophies but he should have won four and could have won five, amazing when you consider the other MLB players of his era. Even though Rodriguez faced his fair share of controversy, which creates a reputation that can be hard to shake, the all-time MLB great deserves to be talked about as one of the best to ever play shortstop.
“Before he went to the Yankees and was forced to move to third base, Alex Rodriguez spent a decade playing shortstop and did enough during that time to be considered among the best shortstops in MLB history. Keep in mind that he only started doing PEDs toward the end of his time as a shortstop. He did win MVP in 2003 and was a six-time all-star before his trade to the Yankees. A-Rod was also a two-time Gold Glove winner at shortstop and won six of his 10 Silver Slugger awards, including a run of five in a row, while playing shortstop,” adds Franchise Sports.
4. Derek Jeter
‘The Captain,’ Derek Jeter is not only one of the best Yankees players of all time, he’s one of the best shortstops in MLB history. For pretty much all of his career, Jeter personified New York sports and the position of shortstop for the New York Yankees.
“[Jeter] is also a good defensive shortstop as he won three consecutive Gold Glove awards in the mid 2000’s. He won the 1996 Rookie of the Year Award and an All Star MVP in 2000. Finally, he is one of the greatest winners in baseball as he has led the Yankees to the postseason every year of his career except for one and to the World Series six times, winning four of them,” explains Bleacher Report.
Simply put, Jeter was a winner. Over the course of his illustrious career, Jeter’s Yankees were a staple in the postseason and a perennial favorite to win the World Series. In all, Jeter retired with an astonishing five World Series championships and he’s widely regarded as one of the greatest shortstops and team leaders in MLB history.
“If we could quantify leadership, Derek Jeter would probably rank higher on the list…. Being a World Champion suited Jeter. During his tenure, the Yankees went to the Fall Classic often. By the time Jeter retired after the 2014 season, his teams had only missed the postseason three times, and he was a five-time champ. Jeter would play in 158 playoff games in his career – essentially an entire season’s worth. He acquitted himself nicely in October and November, batting .308 with 20 HRs, 111 runs, 61 RBI, and 18 SBs. In addition, he took home the World Series MVP in 2000,” writes Pitcher List.
Overall, Jeter amassed over 3,400 hits, scored 1,923 runs and knocked in 1,311 RBIs during the course of his career. These numbers are a testament to his longevity, and his ability to lead his Yankees. As great a player as Jeter was during the regular season, he turned his game up a notch in the playoffs and World Series.
“Jeter helped lead the Yankees to five World Series championships in seven chances, often displaying greater prowess during the postseason. Jeter hit .321 throughout 38 World Series games, and he hit a home run every 7.9 postseason games (well above his regular-season average of a home run every 10.6 games). His postseason fielding percentage of .976 was exactly in line with his regular-season mark. Jeter never appeared defensively at any position but shortstop, and he was an easy choice for the Hall of Fame on the 2020 ballot,” adds How They Play.
5. Ozzie Smith
Rounding out the list of the best shortstops of all time is Ozzie Smith. Nicknamed the ‘Wizard of Oz’ for his amazing athleticism and defensive prowess, Ozzie Smith belongs in the conversation as the greatest defensive shortstop of all time. “Ozzie is the greatest defensive shortstop of all time, and it will be impossible, it seems, for anyone to overtake him. He had amazing range, a quick release and acrobatic athleticism. Once a terrible hitter, he even turned himself into a tough out at the plate, hitting for decent averages and drawing walks to go with excellent speed on the bases,” writes ESPN.
Ozzie Smith didn’t wow you with his hitting, as some of the other best MLB shortstops of all time did, but he was well worth the price of admission. Ozzie Smith is responsible for some of the greatest fielding highlights in MLB history, and some have even said he’s the best defensive infielder ever, regardless of position.
“Smith is without a doubt the greatest defensive infielder of all time and possibly at any position. He won 13 consecutive Gold Glove Awards throughout the 80’s and into the early 90’s. He was also selected to the All Star team an amazing 15 times, starting in eleven of them. In a 19-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals, he had a .262 average, 28 home runs, 793 RBI’s, 1257 runs scored, 2460 base hits and 580 stolen bases. He was also a great leader and big winner as he helped lead the Cardinals to the World Series three times, winning one in 1982,” explains Bleacher Report.
One thing Ozzie Smith was not, is a power hitter. With only 28 career home runs to his credit, Ozzie Smith is by far the best MLB shortstop of all time with the lowest amount of home runs. Regardless, as one expert explains, Smith racked up over 580 steals and more than 2,400 base hits, both decent totals by any stretch.
“If defense was all that mattered, Ozzie Smith would be even higher on our list of the best shortstops of all time. True to his name, he was an absolute Wizard with the glove. Even the 13 consecutive Gold Gloves that Smith won don’t do justice to just how amazing he was; one has to watch highlight reels to truly appreciate what he brought to the table defensively. But Smith was more than just a defensive genius. While he didn’t have much power, hitting a mere 28 home runs in his career, he did rack up over 2,400 hits and 580 stolen bases, so he contributed in other ways,” adds Franchise Sports.
You might also be interested in:
- Bleacher Report
- Pitcher List
- Franchise Sports
- How They Play
- Baseball Spotlight
- Rookie Road
- The Sporting Blog
- Wolfgang Sport
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