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10 Greatest Shortstops in Major League Baseball History

Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter

Shortstop is the most important and demanding position in baseball, and as a result, has featured some of the most athletic players in the game. Those that can’t handle the glove well enough or eventually grow out of the position due to age shift to other positions. Others move out of team necessity.

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One of the most difficult aspects of ranking the 10 greatest shortstops in baseball history is determining how to rate a player’s career at the position in relation to time spent elsewhere on the diamond. For example, should Ernie Banks and Alex Rodriguez be punished because they both spent the majority of their careers at another position on the infield? Also, Robin Yount moved to center field midway through his career.

Should those three offensive stars and MVPs rank in our top 10 ahead of full-time Hall of Fame shortstops Lou Boudreau, Joe Tinker, Joe Cronin, Luke Appling, Luis Aparicio, and Pee Wee Reese, or other shortstop lifers like Alan Trammell and Omar Vizquel?

After making some tough decisions, we finally settled on the 10 best shortstops ever to play the game.

— Rankings by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Allen's work can also be found on SaturdayDownSouth.com, SaturdayBlitz.com and FanSided.com. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.

10. George Davis

Cleveland Spiders, 1890-92; New York Giants, 1893-1901, ’03; Chicago White Sox, 1902, '04-09
1906 World Series champion (White Sox)
Key stats: .295/.362/.405, 2,665 hits, 1,545 runs, 73 home runs, 1,440 RBIs
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 1998

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Davis began his career as an outfielder with the Cleveland Spiders in the late 19th century, and then shifted to third base primarily with the New York Giants before finally landing at shortstop, where he eventually blossomed into the first great shortstop of the American League. After joining the Chicago White Sox in 1902, Davis ranked among the top five players in the AL in WAR in four of his seven seasons, including first in1905 (7.2). A smooth fielder, Davis paced the AL in Defensive WAR twice (1904, '05) and ranked in the top three on three other occasions.

(Photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame Web site, baseballhall.org)

9. Ernie Banks

Chicago Cubs, 1953-71
11-time All-Star
1960 Gold Glove recipient
1958-59 NL MVP
Key stats: .274/.330/.500, 2,583 hits, 1,305 runs, 512 home runs, 1,636 RBIs
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 1977

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Had he not actually played more games at first base (1,259) than shortstop (1,125) during his career, Banks would have easily ranked among the top five shortstops of all-time. Nevertheless, Banks had his greatest seasons at short, including back-to-back NL MVP campaigns in 1958-59, as well as top four finishes in the voting in 1955 and ‘60. Banks hit more than 40 home runs four times and led the league in the category twice and also led the league in RBIs twice — all while playing shortstop on an everyday basis for the Cubs.

8. Robin Yount

Milwaukee Brewers, 1974-93
3-time All-Star; 3-time Silver Slugger
1982 Gold Glove recipient
1982, ’89 AL MVP
Key stats: .285/.342/.430, 3,142 hits, 1,632 runs, 251 home runs, 1,406 RBIs, 271 stolen bases
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 1999

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Similar to Ernie Banks, Yount spent roughly half of his career playing another position. Of course, when Yount made his major league debut in 1974 at the age of 18 – less than a full year after the Milwaukee Brewers drafted him - he was a shortstop. He also is the last big league player to hit a home run as an 18-year-old.

Yount won the first of his two AL MVP Awards at short, during a terrific 1982 season in which he hit .331/.379/.578 with a career-high 29 home runs, 114 RBIs and 129 runs scored, as well as a MLB-best 46 doubles and 210 hits. Yount also led the majors in slugging, OPS (.957) and total bases (367), and capped it all off with a Gold Glove and a trip to the World Series.

(Photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame Web site, baseballhall.org)

7. Ozzie Smith

San Diego Padres, 1978-81; St. Louis Cardinals, 1982-96
15-time All-Star, 1987 Silver Slugger
13-time Gold Glove recipient
1982 World Series Champion (Cardinals)
Key statistics: .262/.337/.328, 2,460 hits, 1,257 runs, 28 home runs, 793 RBIs, 580 stolen bases
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 2002

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Unlike Ernie Banks and Robin Yount, Smith never played another position than shortstop. In 2,511 career games across 19 seasons, Smith never took the field anywhere else. Known primarily for his 13 consecutive Gold Gloves, and spectacular plays, Smith ranks No. 1 all-time in Defensive WAR (43.4).

The runner-up for NL Rookie of the Year honors with the San Diego Padres in 1978, Smith helped the St. Louis Cardinals win the 1982 World Series and make two other appearances in the Fall Classic. In 1987, “The Wizard of Oz” finished second in the voting for the NL MVP. That season, Smith hit .303/.392/.383 with 104 runs scored, 75 RBIs, 40 doubles and 43 stolen bases, and made his third appearance in the World Series.

(Photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame Web site, baseballhall.org)

6. Barry Larkin

Cincinnati Reds, 1986-2004
12-time All-Star; 9-time Silver Slugger
3-time Gold Glove recipient
1990 World Series champion (Reds)
1995 NL MVP
Key statistics: .295/.371/.444, 2,340 hits, 1,329 hits, 198 home runs, 960 RBIs, 379 stolen bases
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 2012

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One of the best all-around shortstops of his generation, Larkin was a solid hitter, fielder and runner for 19 years with the Cincinnati Reds. Larkin won the 1995 NL MVP after hitting .319/.394/.492 with 15 home runs, 66 RBIs, 98 runs scored and 51 stolen bases.

However, the ’96 campaign was even more impressive. Larkin hit .298/.410/.567 with a career-high 33 home runs, 89 RBIs and 117 runs scored, in addition to 32 doubles, 36 stolen bases and just 52 strikeouts. Though he never won a batting title, Larkin hit over .300 nine times. He ranks No. 66 all-time among position players with 70.2 WAR.

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(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

5. Arky Vaughan

Pittsburgh Pirates, 1932-41; Brooklyn Dodgers, 1942-43, ‘47-48
9-time All-Star
Key statistics: .318/.406/.453, 2,103 hits, 1,173 runs, 96 home runs, 926 RBIs
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 1985

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Vaughan didn’t have the longevity of an Ozzie Smith or Barry Larkin, or the MVP Awards of Ernie Banks or Robin Yount. But Vaughan’s prime compares favorably to all of them. He emerged as the everyday shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1932 at the age of 20, and he immediately proved to be one of the best in the National League at the position, ranking in the top 25 in NL MVP voting and 10th in WAR (3.9). Vaughan ranked second in Offensive WAR in 1933 and ‘34 (7.0 in both seasons) and led the league in 1935 (9.5) and ’36 (7.7). The 1935 season was arguably Vaughan’s greatest, as he won the batting title and led the AL in every slash category by hitting .385/.491/.607 with a career-high 19 home runs and 99 RBIs while striking out just 18 times. Vaughan hit .300 or better in 12 of his 14 seasons and led the league in runs scored, triples and walks three times each.

(Photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame Web site, baseballhall.org)

4. Derek Jeter

New York Yankees, 1995-2014
14-time All-Star; 5-time Silver Slugger
5-time Gold Glove recipient
1996, ’98, ’99, 2000, ’09 World Series champion
1996 AL Rookie of the Year
2000 World Series MVP
Key stats: .310/.377/.440, 3,464 hits, 1,923 runs, 260 home runs, 1,311 RBIs, 358 stolen bases

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A star among stars, Jeter quickly became one of the most beloved players in New York Yankees history and was the face of the franchise for the majority of his 20-year career in pinstripes. The 1996 American League Rookie of the Year, Jeter also helped the Yankees snap a 14-year World Series drought and an 18-year world championship drought in his first season. The Yankees would win four titles in Jeter’s first five seasons (and five total during his tenure), and Jeter won MVP honors after hitting .409/.480/.864 with two home runs in the 2000 Fall Classic.

Jeter never won an AL MVP Award or a batting title, but he was one of the best all-around shortstops of his era. Jeter hit .300 or better 12 times, collected 200 or more hits in eight years (twice leading the league) and scored more than 100 runs in 13 separate seasons. He led the AL in offensive WAR twice (1999, 2006) and retired with 71.8 career WAR, which ranks No. 58 all-time among position players. Jeter ranks sixth on the all-time hits list (3,465) and is No. 11 in runs scored (1,923).

3. Alex Rodriguez

Seattle Mariners, 1994-2000; Texas Rangers, 2001-03, New York Yankees, 2004-16
14-time All-Star; 10-time Silver Slugger
2-time Gold Glove recipient
2009 World Series champion (Yankees)
2003, ’05, ’07 AL MVP
Key stats: .295/.380/.550, 3,115 hits, 2,021 runs, 696 home runs, 2,086 RBIs, 329 stolen bases

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Rodriguez may have moved to third base in 2004 after he was traded to the New York Yankees, but his  first decade as a big leaguer was spent as arguably the best shortstop in the American League and his complete body of work is worthy of a spot among the top three players ever to play the position.

Rodriguez won the batting title with a .358 average in 1996, which was his first full season, and also led all of baseball with 54 doubles and paced the AL with 141 runs scored and 379 total bases while hitting 36 home runs and driving in 123 as a 20-year-old. He finished second in the voting for AL MVP. In 1998, Rodriguez joined the 40-40 club when he hit 42 home runs and stole a career-high 46 bases.

A-Rod hit free agency at 25 years old, and signed the most expensive deal (10 years, $252 million) in MLB history (which he later broke after he was traded to the Yankees) with the Texas Rangers. In three years in Texas, Rodriguez hit 156 home runs, which lead the AL each year and the majors twice. He also won two Gold Gloves and three Silver Slugger Awards, which pushed his career to seven as a shortstop, and was named AL MVP in 2003.

(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

2. Cal Ripken Jr.

Baltimore Orioles, 1981-2001
19-time All-Star; 8-time Silver Slugger
2-time Gold Glove recipient
1983 World Series champion
1982 AL Rookie of the Year
1983, ‘91 AL MVP
Key stats: .276/.340/.447, 3,184 hits, 1,647 runs, 431 home runs,  1,695 RBIs
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 2007

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Like Alex Rodriguez, Ripken eventually shifted to third base, but not after he spent 17 years as a shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles. Most known for breaking Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played, “The Iron Man” also was the 1982 American League Rookie of the Year, a two-time AL MVP and helped the Orioles win the World Series.

In 1983, Ripken led all of baseball in several major offensive categories including hits (211), doubles (47), at-bats (663) and plate appearances (726) and also paced the AL with 121 runs scored (a career high). Ripken hit .318/.371/.517 with 27 home runs and 102 RBIs, was named MVP and led the O’s to victory in the World Series at just 22 years old.

Eight years later, Ripken put together an even better offensive performance when he hit .323/.374/.566 with a career-high 34 home runs and 114 RBIs and an MLB-best 368 total bases to win his second MVP.

Ripken led the AL in WAR in both 1983 (8.2) and ‘91 (11.5), as well as ‘84 (10.0). He was No. 1 in Offensive WAR in ’84 (7.6) and ‘91 (9.2) and also led the league in Defensive WAR five times. His 95.5 career WAR ranks No. 25 all-time among position players.

(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

1. Honus Wagner

Louisville Colonels, 1897-99; Pittsburgh Pirates, 1900-17
1909 World Series champion (Pirates)
Key stats: .328/.391/.467, 3,420 hits, 1,739 runs, 101 home runs, 1,732 RBIs, 723 stolen bases
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 1936

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The greatest shortstop of all-time didn’t begin his career playing the position. Primarily an outfielder, first and third baseman during his three years with the Louisville Colonels, and an outfielder and utility man his first two years in Pittsburgh, Wagner finally shifted to shortstop on an everyday basis for the Pirates in 1903. By that time, he had already established himself as one of the best hitters in the National League, having won the batting title in 1900 (.381) while also leading baseball in doubles (45), triples (22), slugging (.573), OPS (1.007) and total bases (302).

During his career, Wagner led the NL in WAR 11 times, won eight NL batting titles, and also led the league in OPS eight times. He paced the NL in doubles seven times, slugging percentage seven times, OPS+ on six occasions, stolen bases five different seasons, RBIs and slugging percentage four times apiece, and triples three times.

One of the first five players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Wagner still ranks highly on the all-time leaderboards in many offensive categories. His 252 triples rank third, his 3,420 career hits place him eighth, and he’s in the top 10 for both doubles (643, 9th) and stolen bases (723, 10th). Using modern statistics, Wagner ranks No. 7 all-time among position players in WAR (131.0), No. 9 in Offensive WAR (123.0) and No. 40 in Defensive WAR (21.3).

(Photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame Web site, baseballhall.org)