How good is Derek Jeter? The 11 Best Shortstops of All Time.

July 10, 2011

I’m glad Derek Jeter got his 3,000th hit; and I’m glad for the way he did it.

In case you didn’t know, Jeter got the milestone last night, when he put a 3-2 pitch from the Tampa Bay Rays’ All-Star left-hander David Price into the left-field seats.

It was Jeter’s first home run in Yankee Stadium all year — he’d gone 286 at bats at home without hitting one. And his last one — on July 22, 2010 — had been an inside-the-park job.

The home run was Jeter’s second hit of the game, and he went on to a 5-for-5 performance, which ties his career best.

“Hitting a home run is the last thing I ever thought about,” Jeter, who drove in the winning run in New York’s 5-4 victory over the Rays, said in an interview with the YES Network. “The most important thing is we were able to win and I’m happy to contribute.”

Jeter is only the second player, after Wade Boggs, to hit a home run for his 3,000th hits. And Jeter is, pretty famously, the first player to have 3,000 hits as a Yankee.

(Actually, Jeter becomes the fifth player with 3,000 hits to have played for the Yankees — the others are Boggs, Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson and Paul “Big Poison” Waner who collected only one of his 3,152 hits in pinstripes — but he is the first player to have his 3,000 hit as a Yankee and the only one who has played his entire career with the organization.)

While I generally think Jeter has been somewhat overrated as a player — a consequence of being not only a Yankee, but the Yankee captain — he’s certainly a legitimate Hall of Famer. You could muddy up the situation a little bit by bring up the absolute fact that Jeter, who we have no reason to suspect ever used performance-enhancing drugs, nevertheless benefited from playing in an era when PED use was rampant (if the hitters batting behind Jeter were PED users, its stands to reason that Jeter saw better pitches to hit than he might have otherwise). That’s obviously not his fault, but a condition of the time in which he played.

So where would you rank him among the best shortstops of all time?

Well, for starters, I think it’s clear that he’s not even the best shortstop on the Yankees — Alex Rodriguez (who everybody despises, I know) was/is a better shortstop. But I think Jeter is probably better than Cal Ripken, and possibly better than Barry Larkin. ( Yes, I think Larkin better than Ripken.)

This is simply off the top of my head, but maybe it’ll stir up some comments.

1. Honus Wagner — Everybody’s No. 1, and certainly if you go by statistics, you have to put him here. Yet, I have a real suspicion that he couldn’t play the position today. We’ll never know. If you’re looking at baseball pre-history, you have to take into account George Davis and Bill Dahlen as well.

2. Joe Cronin — I never saw him play either, so I’m going on reputation.

3. Alex Rodriguez — Maybe he should be number one, but he’ll play most of his career at a position other than shorstop. Of course, there are many complicating factors in his career.

4. Lou Boudreau — Except for a relatively short career, he’s a solid candidate for the No. 2 spot on this list.

5. Barry Larkin — Maybe a sentimental pick for me, but he’s underrated by most. No weaknesses.

6. Ozzie Smith — The best fielder I’ve ever seen. Was Rabbit Maranville as good a fielder? Dal Maxvill wasn’t.

7. Luke Appling — Another old-timer. Look him up.

8. Ernie Banks — I remember Ernie as a first baseman, but I love him as a shortstop.

9. Derek Jeter — Maybe should be much higher. Maybe a Top Five guy?

10. Cal Ripken — My feelings about him are ambivalent. Great guy. Great character. But I don’t think the Iron Man thing actually helped his team, and it probably hurt his stats. People forget how good he was defensively.

11. Arky Vaughan — Bill James once ranked him second of all time, behind only Wagner. In 1935, he hit .385. His career numbers are artificially depressed because he lost three seasons to World War II.

Others receiving consideration: Phil Rizzuto (who probably isn’t a legitimate Hall of Famer but who Ty Cobb considered the second greatest shortstop of all time). Pee Wee Reese. Garry Templeton (not really, but when he was traded for Ozzie Smith, I thought the Padres got the better end of the deal). Dave Concepcion.


7 Comments

  • Comment by Philip Martin — Jul 10,2011 at 10:30 am

    Others I considered: Luis Aparicio. Nomar Garciaparra. Rico Petrocelli. Mark Belanger. Don Kessinger.

  • Comment by donmccrmck — Jul 10,2011 at 11:06 am

    I’m partial to Maury Wills.

  • Comment by Philip Martin — Jul 10,2011 at 11:39 am

    Wills is an interesting case. He didn’t reach the majors until the relatively advanced age of 26, and his defense was at best average (that may have been the fault of the famously rocky Dodger infield) but he changed the dynamic of the game. People forget how otherworldly his 104 stolen bases were in 1962 — Lou Brok and Rickey Henderson came along later but Wills was doing it when no one else was.

    That sad — and remember, I spent some of my formative baseball watching years in Southern California — I always thought Jim Fergosi was better than Wills. I don’t know if I think that any longer — I think Wills should be in the Hall of Fame for his unique contributions while Fergosi was just a very good player — its hard for me to put Maury on this list.

    But other than the Bonds, was there a better father-son combination than Maury and Bump? Probably so, probably the Matthewses and the Bells, but no others spring immediately to mind.

  • Comment by Philip Martin — Jul 10,2011 at 11:40 am

    “That said” not ”that sad”

  • Comment by DLindsay — Jul 10,2011 at 6:14 pm

    Going strictly by what I’ve read, Rabbit Maranville might belong on this list. I think Wagner would probably play third today. I remember reading somewhere Wagner fielded a lot of balls with his chest, then made up for the lack of a clean grab with his strong arm (I do realize some of the chest plays might have had something to do with those postage stamp gloves). I’m also a little biased towards Concepcion, who I think was one of the better shortstops of his time. As far as Jeter, I’m a third generation Yankee fan; I think he’s better than average, but I’ve also thought he’s a very savvy fielder who’s become expert at positioning himself. AND…I don’t hate A-Rod. As long as he wears pinstripes.

  • Comment by JOKipper — Jul 11,2011 at 1:09 pm

    Off the top of my own head, I’ll have to mention Omar Vizquel. Next to Ozzie, he is probably the best fielding shortstop I’ve ever seen. He could hit for decent average (he’s close to 3000 hits as well), was an excellent base-stealer, and robbed countless batters of hits with his amazing glove. If he ever retires, he’ll most likely wind-up as a perpetual on-the-bubble HOF’r. All things considered, I think he was one of best SS of all time…but most people will continue to overlook him.

  • Comment by Philip Martin — Jul 11,2011 at 1:15 pm

    Good call on Vizquel. He actually was on the tip on my mind — I should have looked him up. He’s got more than 2,800 hits and he’s still playing at 44 years old. Also Miguel Tejeda, though I don’t really think of him as a “real” shortstop — his offensive numbers from 2000 to 2006 are Wagneresque.

    (Of course, there’s a PED issue there.)

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