History Unblurred: The 10 Best Defensive Second Basemen in MLB History

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History Unblurred: The 10 Best Defensive Second Basemen in MLB History
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The econd base position is one of the most important defensive positions on the field. In fact, other than the pitcher, catcher and shortstop positions, it is probably the most important defensive position on the field.

Let's talk about who the best ever were at that position, defensively speaking.

note-next to each player I will also list an offensive letter grade, so you know where they stand in that category, the way I see it (we can assume they are all an "A +" defensively, since they are among the top 10 all time, defensively).

Here we go. History unblurred. The way it really is.

 

10. Frankie Frisch (1920s) offensive Rating: A +

Frisch had 641 assists during the 1927 season and it still stands as the MLB record for a Second Baseman.

He was, by far and away, the best defensive second baseman from the 1920s.

"Frisch can knock down more balls with his elbows, knees, chest and head, and by dint of his fleet recovery throw out the runner, than any nine men we know"-Gordon Mackay, respected baseball historian, 1924

Frisch was also one of the 10 best offensive secondbasemen in the history of MLB. I suppose that makes him one of the 10 best overall second basemen in the history of MLB. It's why he's a top tier Hall of Famer at the position.

11-20: Here is a list of 10 other second basemen that were in serious contention of taking this 10th spot away from Frisch. I will list them in order, from oldest to newest: Fred Dunlap (1880s), Nap Lajoie (1900s), Lonny Frey (1940s), Eddie Mayo (1940s), Gil McDougald (1950s), Jackie Robinson (1950s), Red Schoendienst (1950s), Fernando Vina (1990s), Craig Counsell (2000s) and Pokey Reese (2000s)

 

9. Joe Gordon (1940s) offensive rating: A +

"Among modern second basemen, Joe Gordon, Billy Herman and Charlie Gehringer were the best on the double play pivot. What made them stand out from other Second Basemen was that they pivoted and threw at the same time that they crossed the bag, not after they crossed it"-Tom Meany, respected baseball historian, 1948

He's an A + offensive second baseman, too. I guess that makes him an A + overall at Second Base. He's finally in the Hall of Fame, where he belongs. Now that he's in the Hall of Fame, he's not only in, but he's a top tier second baseman. I'm glad he's in, but what took you so long, Veteran's Committee?

 

8. Hughie Critz (1930s) offensive rating: D -

"The New York Giant infield of Hughie Critz, Bill Terry, Travis Jackson and Freddie Lindstrom, the million dollar infield as it was called, and it used to perform up to its name...they were so deft, so quick, so breathtaking that the fans would sit, first in stunned silence, and then in gathered bedlam"-Arnold Hano, respected baseball historian

I just love that old quote from Hano. In fact, that entire infield made it into the Hall of Fame, except for Critz.

Critz didn't make it into the Hall of Fame because of his offense. He wasn't a failure offensively, but he was the next best thing. It just wasn't his forte, well below average, offensively.

 

7. Bobby Grich (1970s) offensive rating: A

"Grich won four Gold Gloves, and won them over stiff competition-Frank White"-Bill James, respected baseball historian/Godfather of Sabermetrics and the modern rating system, 2002

Of course, Grich won Gold Gloves back when they meant a bit more than they do today. You know, before we realized they would float if dropped into the Hudson River, like Derek Jeter's Gold Gloves float. That wasn't very nice of me to say, I like Jeter, offensively speaking.

Grich was a great offensive second baseman, an "A" offensively. He's one of the 20 best overall second basemen in the history of MLB when you mix his offense and his defense together. That's all there is, right? Offense and defense? Oh, Bill James and other respected historians will say there is a third part to the equation, Length of Career. Well, Grich has that, too. He played in over 2,000 games.  

There are three second basemen that often present themselves before me as should-be Hall-of-Fame second basemen. The first is Bobby Grich. The other two are Cupid Childs (1890s) and Hardy Richardson (1880s). They are both missing that third part of the equation that so many respected historians like (Length of Career). Neither of them had short careers, but they didn't have long ones either. Childs played in just over 1,450 games and Richardson played in just over 1,300 games. Either way, Grich, Childs and Richardson are the three best second basemen in the history of MLB that are not in the Hall of Fame, with arguments from Davey Lopes (1970s) and Tom Daly (1890s).

 

6. Jeff Reboulet (1990s) offensive rating: D

A defensive specialist. When I was younger, I used to love to watch this guy play defense.

He wasn't a failure offensively, but he was certainly below average, unfortunately.

 

5. Bobby Doerr (1940s) offensive rating: A +

Doerr is an "A +" offensively and he's one of the five best defensive second basemen in the history of MLB. That's why he's a top-tier Hall-of-Fame second baseman, one of the 10 best ever, overall, at the position. Somehow, a quiet top-tier Hall-of-Fame second baseman because he was Ted Williams' teammate in Boston.

 

4. Glenn Hubbard (1980s) offensive rating: D +

Hubbard played much of his career for those Atlanta Braves teams that had an overabundant amount of ground ball pitchers on their team. Many historians point this out because it makes Hubbard's defensive numbers better than they should be. Of course, once they point this out, they then proceed to rate him an "A +" defensively and call him one of the best defensive second basemen of all time. It's always made me wonder, what the hell did you point it out for then?

Here's what happened with Hubbard, he DID play on ground ball teams (generally speaking). AND he was one of the best defensive second basemen ever. What do you get when you combine those two facts? You get Glenn Hubbard's defensive numbers, off the chart.

It's why almost every historian ever calls him an "A +" defensively. There was a historian once that just called him an "A" instead of an "A +". But he was immediately fired, beaten over the head with wiffle ball bats and called names because of it. He was then forced to apologize, he was allowed to call his Mother (upon his request) and then he was re-hired. The reason that I'm telling you this is so YOU don't make the same mistake as that guy did.

I got sidetracked there. Oh, offensively, Hubbard pretty much got the job done, but he was slightly below average.

 

3. Jody Reed (1990s) offensive rating: C -

I remember reading something that Bill James had written about Jody Reed. It was probably in his Win Shares book or his Baseball Historical Abstract book, I can't remember, forgive me. But Bill James presented this conclusion, Jody Reed is second all time in the history of MLB in defensive Win Shares per season for a second baseman, behind only Bill Mazeroski. That's a heck of a fact that Bill James presents. I guess that's why many historians say that Reed was among the best defensive second basemen that have ever graced the field, I agree with them on Reed.

He pretty much got the job done offensively, ever so slightly below average.

 

2. Bill Mazeroski (1960s) offensive rating: C -

I hate to bring up Bill James again (actually, I love it), but he came to an amazing conclusion on Bill Mazeroski, too. Again, I can't remember which of his books. Give me a break, he has so damn many of them now, who can keep them all straight?

Anyway, most of you know that Bill James pretty much invented the Win Shares system, which so many take as gospel. I think his system is flawless, except he puts too much weight on Length of Career, but that's another article. Either way, Bill James comes to this conclusion on Mazeroski: his 113 defensive career Win Shares is 1st all time in the history of MLB for a second baseman.

The fact is, if I did a cross section of the 100 most respected baseball histoians in the United States, I can almost guarantee you that Mazeroski would show up as the best defensive second baseman in the history of MLB. I almost agree. He was about as good as any second baseman that has ever taken the field.

He pretty much got the job done offensively, too. He was ever so slightly below average.

Should a below-average offensive player be in the Hall of Fame at any position other than the pitcher's?

Not if you ask me. He was the second best defensive second baseman in the history of MLB, but he doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame with that offense.

What a great defensive player, though.

 

1. Bid McPhee (1890s) offensive rating: A +

"McPhee never wore a glove until his last three seasons: he was one of the last players to play barehanded. He worked to toughen his hands, and felt that he was more sure handed without the leather. A broken finger finally forced him to wear a glove in 1896, and that year he fielded .978, a record fielding percentage for a second baseman until well into the 1900s. McPhee also recorded 529 putouts in 1886, a Major League record which still stands; no one else is within 40 putouts"-Bill James, respected baseball historian/Godfather of Sabermetrics and the modern rating system, 2002

Not all historians will call him the best defensive second baseman in history, but they will almost all call him one of the 10 best ever. I think he was the best ever, barehanded.

He was also an "A +" offensively. It's why he's a top-tier Hall-of-Fame second baseman, the earliest second baseman in the Hall of Fame and one of the 10 best second basemen in the history of MLB.

 

There it is. History unblurred. The way it really was.

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