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His claim to fame: Brooks Robinson won more than a dozen Gold Gloves (how many?) at third base and is in the Hall of Fame. But he went 1 for 19 as the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles lost the 1969 World Series to the upstart New York Mets in five games. Redemption came only a year later, as Robinson won Series MVP honors by batting .429 with two home runs and providing spectacular defense in a five-game victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
Harold Traynor earned his nickname when as a youth he hung around a store, constantly asked for pie and the storekeeper began calling him Pie Face, which was shortened to Pie by baseball teammates. He played all 17 years of his career with the Pirates and was regarded as the best fielding third baseman of his era in the 1920s. He finished with a career .320 batting average and six times finished in the Top Ten in voting for MVP. A Braves scout asked him to work out with the team at Braves Field, but failed to tell manager George Stallings who told Traynor, “Leave this stadium and don’t come back.” He left, but came back often with the Pirates to help beat the Braves.
9. Scott Rolen
Despite a career often interrupted by a plethora of injuries, Rolen has been an offensive force and a defensive pillar during his career with the Phillies, Cardinals, Blue Jays and Reds. He is a clubhouse leader, by example. His eight Gold Gloves are third only to Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt for third basemen. He has appeared in seven All-Star games and was the top vote-getter for the team in 2004 when he hit .314 with 34 homers and 124 RBI for the Cardinals. His love of dogs led him to name two of his charitable organizations after his dogs — The Ennis Furley Foundation (for special needs families and Camp Emma Lou (an outdoor retreat for kids).
8. Ron Santo
One of the best players who has not been inducted into the Hall of Fame, Santo hid his diabetes for most of his career. A disease that caused amputation of the lower half of both legs later in life when he was a Cubs broadcaster. Santo was an offensive power and a defensive whiz. The nine-time All-Star won five Gold Gloves, leading the league in total chances eight times, in putouts and assists seven times and in double plays six times. Santo had a deft eye, leading the league in walks four times on in on-base percentage twice. He was the first player ever to wear an ear flap on his batting helmet after he was beaned in 1966 by Mets pitcher Jack Fisher.
7. Chipper Jones
He was the first player drafted in 1990 and was the mainstay of the Braves’ long run of NL East titles in the 1990s. One of the all-time best switch-hitters, he has a .304 career average with a .402 on-base percentage, 454 home runs and 1,561 RBI as of the end of the 2011 season. Jones was NL Rookie of the Year in 1995, NL MVP in 1999 and has appeared in seven All-Star games. He once had 14 straight games in which he had at least one extra-base hit. He has played all 18 years for the Braves.
6. Alex Rodriguez
A-Rod was a shortstop with the Mariners and Rangers, but when the Yankees signed him to a 10-year $252 million deal, baseball’s biggest ever, they moved him to third base because Derek Jeter is their shortstop. He broke his own contract record in 2007 when the Yankees signed him to a 10-year $275 million deal. Since moving to the Yankees, he has been embroiled in several off-the-field controversies, but it doesn’t affect his play — 12 All-Star games, three MVPs, 10 Silver Slugger awards, five home run titles and two RBI titles. He was the youngest player to reach 500 home runs and the youngest to reach 600, beating Babe Ruth by a full year.
5. Wade Boggs
Teammate Jim Rice called him “Chicken Man” because the superstitious Boggs ate chicken before every game. He also got up at the same time each day, took exactly 100 ground balls before each game and wrote the word “chai” in the batter’s box before each at-bat, the Jewish word for “life,” although Boggs was not Jewish. It all worked. He won five batting titles for the Red Sox, appeared in 12 straight All-Star games and in 1987 he hit .363 while hitting 24 home runs and driving in 89. He hit .349 in his rookie season, best in the league, but was 121 plate appearances shy of the required 502 to qualify.
4. George Brett
His 3,154 hits, attained during a 21-year career with the Royals, are the most by a third baseman. He is one of only four major-leaguers in history to finish with a .300 batting average, more than 3,000 hits and more than 300 homers. The others are Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Stan Musial. He hit .390 in 1980 and was above .400 as late as September 19. He drove in 118 runs in 117 games that year. In 1983, Brett hit a two-out home run in the ninth inning to give the Royals a 5-4 lead over the Yankees, but Yankees manager Billy Martin protested Brett’s bat, saying the pine tar was too high up on the bat. Umpire Tim McClelland agreed and called Brett out, ending the game. AL President Lee MacPhail overruled the umpire and allowed Brett’s home run and said the game must resume at the point of Brett’s home run. A month later, the game was resumed and the Royals won.
3. Eddie Mathews
Known as one of the strongest players ever to play the game, Mathews once had a one-punch "fight" with fellow Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, who staggered to his dugout and said, “Don’t ever let me do that again.” Mathews hit 25 homers, three in one game, in his rookie year with the Boston Braves. The team moved to Milwaukee in 1953 and he hit 47 homers and drove in 135, beginning a string of nine straight seaons of 30 or more homers en route to 512 for his career. Ty Cobb once said of Mathews, “I’ve only seen two or three perfect swings in my life. This lad has one of them.” Mathews is the only player to play for the Boston-Milwaukee-Atlanta Braves.
2. Brooks Robinson
“The Human Vacuum Cleaner” is acknowledged by most as the best defensive third baseman in the history of the sport and he won 16 straight Gold Gloves to prove it. He could hit, too, as proved by his 1964 season when he hit .318 with 28 homers and a league-leading 148 RBI, which won him the MVP. His defense, though, is what defined him. In the 1970 World Series he hit .429 and was the MVP, but is best remembered for a half dozen beyond-belief defensive plays. After the World Series, losing manager Sparky Anderson of the Reds said, “If I dropped this paper plate I’m holding, Brooks would catch it on one hop and throw me out at first base.”
1. Mike Schmidt
Philadelphia fans only booed Santa Claus once, but they booed Schmidt nearly every day of his rookie season in 1973 when he hit .196 and struck out 138 times in 367 at-bats. The boos became adulation when Schmidt hit 548 homers, won the MVP three times, made the All-Star team 12 times, won the NL home run title eight times and the RBI title four times. In addition he was the NL version of Brooks Robinson, winning 10 Gold Gloves. His best year was 1980 when he won the MVP and the World Series MVP after hitting 48 homers and driving in 121 during the season. All this from a guy who did not make the all-league team when he played at Fairview High School in Dayton. Pete Rose once said of Schmidt, “To have his body, I’d trade mine and my wife’s and I’d throw in some cash.”