Updated: May 5, 2020
No position in baseball requires greater athleticism or instincts than shortstop. To excel at the position, a player must possess the range to cover a significant amount of ground, the dexterity to both snare a line drive and field an awkward hop, and the arm strength and accuracy to make the throw for an out. For most of baseball history, a player’s ability to meet these defensive requirements would guarantee a long and lucrative career. But to be considered an all-time great, a shortstop needs to excel at the plate, too. This is true now more than ever. The following list features the ten players who have mastered baseball’s toughest position better than any others in Major League history, both in the field and at the plate.
1) Honus Wagner, 1897-1917
Many modern fans know Wagner because of his famous T-206 baseball card, the most expensive ever sold at over $3.1 million. What they may not know is that Wagner was one of the greatest all-around players in baseball history.
The Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Famer was an outstanding hitter to all fields, an excellent baserunner, and one of the game’s most versatile defensive players. In addition to his 1,887 games at shortstop, Wagner played 515 combined games at first, second and third base, and 374 in the outfield.
At the plate, “The Flying Dutchman” won a National League record eight batting titles, and led the NL in numerous offensive categories throughout his career, including OPS eight times, total bases six times and stolen bases five times. Defensively, he led NL shortstops in fielding percentage and double plays four times each. A .328 career hitter, Wagner ranks eighth all-time in hits (3,420), third in triples (252), and tenth in both doubles (643) and stolen bases (723).
2) Derek Jeter, 1995-2014
Very few players in Major League history have had as much success on baseball’s biggest stage as Jeter. A member of five New York Yankee championship teams, the 14-time All-Star and future Hall of Famer hit .308 with 200 hits, 111 runs, 20 homers and 18 stolen bases in 158 career postseason games. While the numbers are great, it was Jeter’s leadership that was his most important contribution to the latest Yankees dynasty.
A first round pick out of the University of Michigan, Jeter possessed a well-rounded skill set. He was an excellent all-around hitter, a superb baserunner and a 5-time Gold Glove winner in the field. The Yankee captain was incredibly consistent in his 20-year big league career, posting 12 seasons with a .300+ average, eight with 200+ hits and 13 with 100+ runs.
Jeter’s career numbers stand up with the best players at any position. His 3,465 hits rank sixth all-time, his 1,923 runs rank 11th and his 4,717 times on base rank 12th. The Yankee great also had 260 home runs, 1,311 RBIs and 358 steals in his illustrious career.
3) Cal Ripken Jr., 1981-2001
From 1982-98, Ripken became baseball’s ultimate iron man by playing in 2,632 consecutive games, a record that will likely never be broken. While playing in every game for over 16 years requires durability, it also requires productivity. Few players were more productive than the Baltimore Orioles great.
The 6’4” Ripken didn’t fit the mold of your typical shortstop when he came into the league, but the Hall of Famer was anything but typical. At the plate, he could hit for both average and power, and in the field, he used strategic positioning to become one of the game’s best defensive shortstops.
In his first two seasons as a starter, Ripken won Rookie of the Year, MVP and a World Series, a great career for most players. Overall, Ripken was a 2-time MVP, a 19-time All-Star, an 8-time Silver Slugger and a 2-time Gold Glove winner. His career numbers include 3,184 hits, 1,647 runs, 1,695 RBIs, 603 doubles and 431 home runs. 345 of Ripken’s home runs came while playing shortstop, the all-time record for the position.
4) Alex Rodriguez, 1994-2013, 15-16
At 6’3” and 230 pounds, Rodriguez is one of the most impressive physical specimens the position has ever seen. The number one overall pick of the Seattle Mariners in 1993, Rodriguez could hit for both average and power, run, field and throw, making him a true five-tool player.
“A-Rod” started at shortstop for eight seasons from 1996-2003, five with the Mariners and three with the Texas Rangers. In those eight years, he won a batting title (.358 in 1996), became the first and only 40-40 shortstop (42 home runs and 46 stolen bases in 1998), led the league in home runs three times (52 in 2001, 57 in 02 and 47 in 03), and posted an OPS of .980. For his efforts, he was honored with an MVP, seven Silver Sluggers, two Gold Gloves and seven All-Star selections.
The strong-armed Rodriguez switched to third base after being traded to the New York Yankees in 2004. He would go on to win two more MVPs, two more home run titles, and post career numbers of 696 home runs (fourth all-time), 2,086 RBIs (third), 2,021 runs (eighth), 5,813 total bases (sixth) and 3,115 hits (22nd).
5) Ernie Banks, 1953-71
In the first 122 years of professional baseball, there was no better power-hitting shortstop than Banks. The Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer had the top five single season home run totals at the position until 1998. He also became the first shortstop to reach 500 home runs, with more than half of his 512 career homers coming at the position.
Banks was more than just a great power hitter, though. “Mr. Cub” also hit for average and fielded his position at an elite level. In eight seasons as a starting shortstop from 1954-61, Banks won two National League MVPs, was a 7-time All-Star, and hit 40 or more home runs five times. He also posted a .552 slugging percentage and .908 OPS. Defensively, Banks led the NL in fielding percentage three times, and won a Gold Glove in 1960.
Baseball’s best shortstop would move to first base in 1962, ending one of the greatest statistical stretches at the position. In addition to his 512 home runs, Banks had 2,583 hits, 1,636 RBIs and 1,305 runs in his 19 seasons.
6) Robin Yount, 1974-93
Yount is one of only three players in Major League history with an MVP at multiple positions, winning at shortstop in 1982 and centerfield in 1989. But it was at shortstop that the Hall of Famer became one of baseball’s biggest stars.
The Milwaukee Brewers’ 1973 first round pick became a Major League starter the next season at only 18, and would remain a fixture there until moving to centerfield in 1985. In addition to being an excellent hitter with surprising power, Yount possessed speed, a strong arm and a competitive spirit that few players could match.
The Brewers All-Star was one of the most consistent players in the game during his 20-year career. In the 1980s, no player had more hits (1,731) or doubles (337) than Yount. For his career, he had 3,142 hits, 1,632 runs, 1,406 RBIs, 251 home runs and 271 stolen bases. An outstanding fielder in addition to being a great hitter, Yount led the league in fielding percentage at both shortstop and centerfield.
7) Ozzie Smith, 1978-96
Smith is regarded by many as the greatest defensive shortstop in the history of the game, and deservedly so. Possessing tremendous athleticism and range, “The Wizard of Oz” won 13 straight Gold Gloves from 1980-92, and led National League shortstops in assists and fielding percentage eight times, and range factor seven times during his Hall of Fame career.
While Smith is known primarily for his defensive skills, the St. Louis Cardinals great made an impact on offense as well. He combined an ability to make contact with outstanding speed to post 2,460 hits, 1,257 runs and 580 stolen bases in his 19-year career. The 15-time All-Star also drew 1,072 walks while striking out only 589 times in 10,778 plate appearances.
Smith’s leadership on and off the field was instrumental in making the Cardinals one of baseball’s best teams in the 1980s, as they won three NL pennants and a World Series championship.
8) Luis Aparicio, 1956-73
Aparicio was the greatest defensive shortstop of his era, winning a combined nine Gold Gloves with the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles from 1958-70. He led American League shortstops in fielding percentage eight times and assists seven times.
At 5’9” and 160 pounds, Aparicio’s physical stature didn’t intimidate opponents, but his play surely did. “Little Louie” made spectacular plays so often he made the impossible seem routine. In addition to being the league’s best defensive shortstop, Aparicio was also its biggest threat on the bases, having led the AL in steals his first nine years. He is still the only player to lead the league in steals nine consecutive seasons.
For his career, Aparicio amassed 2,677 hits, 1,335 runs and 506 stolen bases. In 1984, he became the first Venezuelan-born player to be elected to the Hall of Fame.
9) Barry Larkin, 1986-2004
Larkin was one of the most athletically-gifted players to ever play shortstop. A native of Cincinnati, Larkin was a first round pick of the Reds out of the University of Michigan, where he was recruited to play both baseball and football.
The Reds great could hit for average and power, run, field and throw. Larkin used these five tools to become the National League’s best shortstop of the 1990s. In the decade, he was an 8-time All-Star, 7-time Silver Slugger, and a 3-time Gold Glove winner. He led the Reds to a World Series win in 1990, was NL MVP in 1995 (.319 avg, 15 home runs, 51 stolen bases, 98 runs), and recorded a 30-30 season in 1996 (33 HR, 36 steals).
In 19 Major League seasons, Larkin hit .295 with 2,340 hits, 1,329 runs, 379 stolen bases and an .815 OPS. In 17 career postseason games, the Hall of Famer hit .338 with 11 runs and eight stolen bases.
10) Joe Cronin, 1926-45
Cronin had one of the most multifaceted careers in Major League history: player, manager, general manager, American League President and Hall of Fame board member. He experienced success in each role, but none more than playing shortstop for the Washington Senators and Boston Red Sox.
Cronin was one of the greatest run producers the position has ever seen, driving in 100 or more runs eight times from 1930-40. In 20 big league seasons, he hit .301 with 170 home runs, 1,424 RBIs, 1,233 runs, 515 doubles, 118 triples and an .857 OPS. The 7-time All-Star was also an on-base machine during his career, posting a .390 OBP with 1,059 walks and only 700 strikeouts.
While known primarily for his skill at the plate, the Hall of Famer was also very good in the field, leading American League shortstops in putouts and assists three times each, and fielding percentage twice.