Shortstops are a dime a gross and even great shortstops are a dime a dozen. Because the position is so important, a team’s best athlete usually can be found manning shortstop so that picking the best of all time is like shooting a harpoon into the ocean with hopes of hitting a whale. The toughest part of this exercise was not including Omar Vizquel, Lou Boudreau, Barry Larkin, Luke Sewell, Alan Trammell and about a dozen others.
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10. Luis Aparicio
The White Sox stole Aparicio away from the Indians, who were set to sign him. But fellow Venezuelan shortstop Chico Carrasquel recommended that the White Sox sign him. They did, for $5,000, and Aparcio took Carrasquel’s job with the White Sox. Aparicio was Rookie of the Year in 1956 and made the All-Star team 13 times. He won nine Gold Gloves and led the league in shortstop fielding percentage eight times. He had 500 or more plate appearances for 17 of his 18 seasons, and finished with 2,677 hits, 83 homers, 791 RBI and 506 stolen bases.
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9. Joe Cronin
Senators scout Joe Engel signed Cronin, who was hitting .221 in the minors, and said, ‘I knew I was watching a great player. I bought Cronin and told Senators owner Clark Griffith and he screamed, ‘You paid $7,500 for that bum? Well, you didn't buy him for me. You bought him for yourself. He's not my ballplayer — he's yours. You keep him and don't either you or Cronin show up at the ballpark.’’ Cronin led the Senators to the 1933 World Series, played in seven All-Star Games, hit .346 with 126 RBI to win the AL Writers’ MVP and AL Sporting News MVP in 1930, hit over .300 eight times and drove in more than 100 runs eight times.
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8. Robin Yount
He began his 20-year career with the Milwaukee Brewers at age 18. When he became embroiled in a contract dispute in 1978 he threatened to quit baseball and become a professional golfer. The Brewers relented. He was MVP twice, in 1982 (unanimously) and, amazingly, in 1989 when he didn’t even make the All-Star team. The 1982 American League East season came down to the final game and the Brewers and Orioles were tied. In the final game against the Orioles, Yount homered in his first two at-bats against Jim Palmer and finished with four hits during a 10-2 victory.
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7. Arky Vaughan
Earned his nickname because he was from Arkansas — first name is Joseph. He engaged in a famous clubhouse fight with his manager of the Dodgers, Leo Durocher. He hit over .300 his first 10 years in the majors, including .385 in 1935 and finished his career with a .318 average and a .406 on-base percentage. Bill James of Baseball Abstract included Vaughan in his list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time and called him the second best shortstop of all time behind Honus Wagner. Vaughan died in a boating accident at age 40.
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6. Luke Appling
A chronic complainer, his White Sox teammates called him ‘Old Aches and Pains.’ He signed out of college with the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern League and made 42 errors in his first 104 games, causing the Cubs to shy away from him and enabling the White Sox to sign him for $20,000 in 1930 and he played 20 years for the White Sox, sitting out 1944 and most of ’45 to serve in World War II. From 1933 he hit over .300 nine straight times and won the batting title in 1936 at .388 with 128 RBI. As a leadoff hitter he had an on-base percentage of over .400 nine times. When ownership once refused him some baseballs to autograph because they were too expensive, he fouled 10 consecutive pitches into the stands on purpose.
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5. Ozzie Smith
The Wizard of Oz is recognized by most as baseball’s best defensive shortstop and emphasized his athleticism by sometimes doing a back flip while running to his position. Smith set the all-time record for shortstop assists with 8,375 and is second in double plays with 1,590. He won 13 straight Gold Gloves. While known as a light-hitter early in his career, he became more of an offensive player later in his career and won the Silver Slugger award in 1987. He hit a game-winning home run in the 1985 playoffs and broadcaster Jack Buck uttered his famous phrase when Smith’s homer cleared the wall, ‘Go crazy, folks.’
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4. Ernie Banks
His favorite saying, ‘Let’s play two,’ meaning he wanted to play a doubleheader every day, follows him everywhere and he is forever known as Mr. Cub. He started with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League in 1950 and signed with the Cubs in 1953. Shortly after that the Cubs signed second baseman Gene Banks, giving the first African-American double play combination in major league baseball. Ernie Banks played his entire 19-years major-league career with the Cubs and won the MVP in 1958 and ‘59 when the Cubs finished toward the bottom of the NL standings. He hit 512 career homers.
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3. Cal Ripken Jr.
His nickname was Iron Man for obvious reasons — a record 2,632 straight games, meaning he never missed a game over a 17-year period. On the night he broke Lou Gehrig’s record of 2,130 straight games he hit a home run. At 6-4, 225 pounds, he erased the mold that a prototype shortstop should be small and fleet of foot. While known for his offensive propensities —345 homers to lead all shortstops (plus 86 more third base for a total of 431) — he is acknowledged as one of the all-time best defensive shortstops and set records at the position for assists, putouts, fielding percentage, double plays and fewest errors in a season while playing all 21 years of his career with the Orioles.
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2. Derek Jeter
When the Yankees acquired one of baseball’s best shortstops, Alex Rodriguez, they moved him to third base and left Jeter at shortstop. In 1992, Houston scout Hal Newhouser wanted the Astros to draft Jeter with that year’s overall first pick. When the Astros drafted Phil Nevin, Newhouser quit. Was Newhouser right. Well, during his 20 years with the Yankees, Jeter is a 13-time All-Star (likely headed to No. 14), a five-time Gold Glove winner, a five-time Silver Slugger winner, is the all-time hits leader for shortstops with 3,279 and still counting, was the 1996 AL Rookie of the Year and in 2003 he was named captain of the Yankees.
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1. Honus Wagner
The fact his baseball card is worth $50,000 says it all. The Flying Dutchman was one of the first five players inducted into the Hall of Fame. During a 21-year career he batted .328 with 1,733 RBI, 1,736 runs and 722 stolen bases (stats from MLB.com; baseball-reference shows 1,739 runs and 723 stolen bases). Wagner’s batting average, RBI and stolen bases are the most by any shortstop – only Derek Jeter leads him in runs. Oh, and Honus could field a little bit, too.