This is the second in a series of decade-by-decade looks at the greatest double-play combinations of all time. If you haven't read the first one, you should go here: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/411082-up-the-middle-the-top-10-double-play-combos-of-the-2000s
The 1980's were a decade of double plays. It started in 1980, when "The Bad News Bears: Double Play" was released, to little fanfare (it was much worse than the original). It finished as a decade featuring some of the greatest double play combinations in baseball history.
1.) These rankings are purely measurements of defensive prowess. Offensive ability is not taken into account. Apologizes to Roberto Alomar and Garry Templeton.
2.) Gold Gloves, as they can be pretty subjective, do not affect my decisions. Plus, during the 1980's, Ozzie Smith and Ryne Sandberg combined for 17 of them. It would just skew the argument unfairly.
3.) I'm measuring how both players performed together. Just because Frank White can win a Gold Glove, doesn't mean that the Royals could competently find a good second baseman.
4.) In my last article, the requirement for consideration was that the duo had to log multiple seasons in which both played manned the middle infield positions for at least one hundred games.
However, over the past decade we have been lucky enough not to have a strike. During the 1980's, however, the 1981 strike lessened the season from 162 games to 100. Instead of 100 games as the criteria, I used the appropriate ratio, which was approximately 62 percent of their team's games. So, any 1981 season in which the player played approximately 62 games is eligible for consideration.
The Field(ers), listed alphabetically by Second Baseman:
Roberto Alomar/Garry Templeton
Wally Backman/Rafael Santana
Tony Bernazard/Bill Almon
Tony Bernazard/Julio Franco
Rich Dauer/Cal Ripken, Jr.
Bill Doran/Craig Reynolds
Bill Doran/Dickie Thon
Bill Doran/Rafael Ramirez
Tim Flannery/Garry Templeton
Doug Flynn/Frank Taveras
Jim Gantner/Robin Yount
Damaso Garcia/Alfredo Griffin
Damaso Garcia/Tony Fernandez
Phil Garner/Tim Foli
Tom Herr/Ozzie Smith
Glenn Hubbard/Rafael Ramirez
Steve Lombardozzi/Greg Gagne
Davey Lopes/Bill Russell
Joe Morgan/Johnnie LeMaster
Ron Oester/Dave Concepcion
Jack Perconte/Spike Owen
Willie Randolph/Bucky Dent
Johnny Ray/Dale Berra
Jerry Remy/Glenn Hoffman
Harold Reynolds/Rey Quinones
Billy Ripken/Cal Ripken, Jr.
Juan Samuel/Steve Jeltz
Ryne Sandberg/Larry Bowa
Ryne Sandberg/Shawon Dunston
Steve Sax/Mariano Duncan
Steve Sax/Bill Russell
Rodney Scott/Chris Speier
Robby Thompson/Jose Uribe
Manny Trillo/Larry Bowa
Lou Whitaker/Alan Trammell
Frank White/Angel Salazar
Frank White/Kurt Stillwell
Frank White/U.L. Washington.
As with any ranking, there were some who were very, very good, but not quite good enough to make the cut. Make no mistake, they were great fielders, but for one reason or another, missed out on the top ten.
They are listed here in alphabetical order by second baseman:
Wally Backman-Rafael Santana
Tim Flannery-Garry Templeton
Damaso Garcia-Alfredo Griffin
Jack Perconte-Spike Owen
Willie Randolph-Bucky Dent
Ryne Sandberg-Larry Bowa
Fielding Percentage: .9729
Range Factor: 5.26
Throughout Royals history, there may not have been a more important player than Frank White. Okay, there's George Brett. But were it not for White, the Royals would not have been the powerhouse they were in the 70s and 80s.
After 1976, White's fielding percentage never dipped below .978, very impressive for a second baseman of his era. White won eight Gold Gloves in his career and is one of the best fielding second basemen ever. He was the best American League second baseman of his era.
U L Washington, on the other hand, was something of a less noticed piece of the Royals puzzle. He never shined like Brett or White. He was best known for his trademark toothpick, which was always situated in the furthest corner of his mouth, whether he was at the plate or in the field, and for being on first base when George Brett hit his famous “pine tar” home run against the New York Yankees.
Washington was consistently a bit below average, posting fielding percentages almost always around the league average. During his time in Kansas City, he only posted one poor season, in 1983.
Had the Royals placed a Gold Glover at shortstop during the eighties, or had at least were able to keep a shortstop around longer, Frank White could be much higher on this list.
Fielding Percentage: .9782
Range Factor: 4.88
When we think of second baseman from the 1980's, a few names come to mind. Ryne Sandberg? Bingo. Lou Whitaker? Absolutely.
But mention Bill Doran, and most "serious" fans under the age of twenty will simply look at you with a confused grimace.
However, Doran was one of the premier second sackers of the decade. Although he never made an All-Star squad, he had several solid seasons. His best defensively were the 1985 and 1987 seasons.
In '85, Doran posted a .980 fielding percentage to go with a career-high 5.60 Range Factor.
In 1987, he was stellar again, leading the league in fielding with a .992 mark and posting a plus 4.70 Range Factor to boot.
Craig Reynolds was an All-Star twice, although both in the 1970's, and he was the best of three shortstops to accumulate sufficient playing time with Doran. He was a .966 fielder, just barely above the league average for his career.
Had Doran played more time with Dickie Thon, the best shortstop in Astros history, perhaps the Astros could be a rung or two higher in these rankings.
Fielding Percentage: .9764
Range Factor: 4.97
Thank goodness we called him Robby.
Otherwise, one of the key pieces of the 1989 Giants team that won the National League pennant would have been overshadowed by a pennant-winning home run 37 years earlier.
As it is, so many people still forget Robert Randall Thompson (spelled with a "p"), although he was one of the most important pieces to a Giants team that was very successful in the late 1980's. He made his first All-Star team in 1988 and led the league in triples in '89. His glove was stellar in 1989, and he fielded .989, which was good for fourth in the league.
Although he would not win a Gold Glove until 1993, he was still one of the best second basemen in baseball.
His comrade at shortstop from the time he came into the league until '93 was Jose Uribe, "the ultimate player to be named later" and second-cousin of current Giants shortstop Juan Uribe.
While Thompson was the most decorated of the pair, Uribe was no slouch himself. His defense greatly improved when Thompson joined the fold.
In 1986, Thompson's rookie year, Uribe's fielding percentagae improved by .016, and his Range Factor improved by .14, both exceptional improvements. In 1989, he led the league in double plays, with 85.
After injuries cut short his 1991 season, he lost his starting job to Royce Clayton in 1992. His life was tragically cut short in 2006 by a car crash.
Fielding Percentage: .9761
Range Factor: 5.03
Throughout their history, the Reds have been very successful about keeping their good players. None set better examples than Reds lifers Ron Oester and Davey Concepcion.
While Concepcion is well-known for his years as a part of the Big Red Machine and the best fielder in baseball, Ron Oester is often overlooked as one of the important players for the Reds teams after The Big Red Machine was dismantled.
After Joe Morgan signed with the Astros in 1980, Oester was instantly named the starting shortstop. As a rookie, his defense was impressive.
He put up a .980 fielding percentage in his first two seasons, and under the tutelage of Concepcion, his defense reached a peak in 1985, when he posted a fielding percentage of .989, best in the league, and a Range Factor of 5.52, good for third. When paired with Concepcion who was then considered one of the best defenders ever, the Reds had one of the best double play combinations in National League history.
Bill James described him as "a quiet, efficient player who was always overlooked". He was the starting second baseman for Cincinnati until 1990, when he was replaced by Mariano Duncan, and won his first World Series as a bench player. He retired following that season.
Fielding Percentage: .9763
Range Factor: 5.03
When shortstops are discussed, Cal Ripken, Jr.'s name often floats around in the conversation. We notice his 431 homers, his 3,184 hits, his 19 All-Star selections, and of course, the record.
But to me, what stands out about Iron Man the most is his defense.
In 1989, his best defensive season, he put up a .990 fielding percentage, .02 above the league average of .970. To put this in context, Jimmy Rollins has won the National League Gold Glove award for the past three years, with Fielding Percentages of .985, .988, and .990, all less than .02 above the league average.
Ripken has all the marks of a great defender. In fact, he may be the second most talented shortstop of the 1980's.
Dauer, on the other hand, was on his way out when Ripken came in. The veteran second baseman played his last five years when Ripken played his first five with Baltimore. Dauer always had a good fielding percentage, around seven to ten points above the league average. Although Dauer never received any accolades, he did lead all second basemen with a .989 fielding percentage in 1981.
Fielding Percentage: .9776
Range Factor: 5.14
In the 1980's, the Brewers made one World Series appearance, losing to the Cardinals in seven games. They would be competitive for the rest of the decade, largely on the strength of their legendary infield, which included Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, along with first baseman Cecil Cooper. There was also a second baseman.
The second baseman's name is probably new to many of the younger fans. Jim Gantner. And although Gantner is long forgotten outside of the 414 area code, he was still one of the most solid basemen of the 80's.
Gantner was a rock, playing 100+ games eight times during the 80's, and starting in 1981, his first year at second, he fielded above .980 every year. In a full season, you could expect a Range Factor of around 5.60 from Gantner.
Robin Yount is the more spectacular of the duo. Even though he became an outfielder in 1985, he is consistently ranked as one of the top shortstops ever, having one two MVP Awards, one as a shortstop.
His best season by far was 1981, when, in a strike-shortened season, he posted career highs in fielding percentage (.985) and range factor (5.86). It is estimated that he saved a stellar 19 runs that year with his defense.
The very next season, he led the Brewers to the AL pennant while posting a .969 fielding percentage. He won his first Gold Glove that year, although his 1981 season was far superior.
Fielding Percentage: .9701
Range Factor: 6.19
Glenn Hubbard and Rafael Ramirez are reminiscent of a pair of Braves we explored during my last piece, Marcus Giles and Rafael Furcal.
Like Giles and Furcal, Hubbard and Ramirez had a very high Range Factor to go with a below average Fielding Percentage, which makes them very hard to rank.
Their high Range Factor could be contributed mostly to Hubbard, who led the league's second baseman in the category in 1980, '82, '84, '85, '86, and '87. In fact, his 6.922 Range Factor in 1985 is the highest of all-time by a second baseman. Hubbard alone warrants their placement here.
In fact, it is my sincere belief that if he had played next to Ozzie Smith or Omar Vizquel or even Barry Larkin, he would have been recognized as part of the greatest double play combination ever.
Hubbard is often overlooked when talking about the best defensive second baseman ever, whether it be because of his lack of Gold Gloves or, yes, his lack of offensive talent.
As I explored in my last article, the two halves of a middle infield play off of each other, so it's entirely possible that Ramirez, a career .953 fielder, dragged Hubbard down. It's quite possible that Hubbard is one of the best defensive second baseman ever.
In fact, Bleacher Report's own Michael W, who ranks Hubbard as the fourth best defensive second baseman ever, wrote this:
"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."
Fielding Percentage: .9793
Range Factor: 5.24
During the 1980's, Ryne Sandberg was the top defensive second baseman around. He was so good, in fact, that the combination of Sandberg-Bowa was just short of making this list at the number ten spot.
In fact, for much of the 80's, a National League Gold Glove factory was planted firmly between second and first at Wrigley Field.
Ryne, who was named after reliever Ryne Duren, holds the all-time record for fielding percentage at second base, with a .989 mark. He also won nine consecutive Gold Gloves in a period that seems to have been chock-full of great defensive second basemen.
For the most part, his middle infield partner was Shawon Dunston, a good fielder in his own right. Unfortunately, Dunston often made mental errors, whether in the field, on the bases, or at the plate. As Bill James said, Dunston was an "eternal rookie, a player who continued until the end of his career to make rookie mistakes."
Perhaps, had Larry Bowa stuck around for longer with the Cubs, the Sandberg-Bowa combination would be here. Unfortunately, I don't feel I can give it to them on the basis of two seasons.
Fielding Percentage: .9848
Range Factor 5.34
Ozzie Smith. He's, quite simply, the most remarkable fielder baseball has ever seen.
Let's put it in statistics.
He never finished below fourth in fielding percentage, a category he led the National League in in 1981, '82, '84, '85, '86, '87, '91, and '94.
Only once, in his final full season, did he finish lower than third in Range Factor, which he led National League shortstops in for the 1978, '82. '83, '84, '88, and '92 seasons.
For Total Zone Runs, a more obscure stat, he led the league's shortstops in 1979, '80, '82, '84, '85, '86. '88, '89, '90, and '92. In fact, he led all fielders in this statistic for the 1980 and 1982 seasons.
Of course, we all know the wonders of the Wiz.
But just how good was Tommy Herr?
Well, he only led the league in two categories, Range Factor, in 1981, and Total Zone Runs, in 1982. However, during his time in St. Louis, his Range Factor always placed in the mid-to-upper fives, and his fielding percentage was very impressive, as high as .992 and never lower than .985, which help to solidify the St. Louis duo's high placement on this list.
This may be the lone case where one fielder's defense didn't affect the other, as Smith was spectacular for his entire career, no matter who was playing second base.
Fielding Percentage: .9808
Range Factor: 5.26
Those are the words that come to mind when thinking of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker. And you never think of just one.
They are an item, like peanut butter and jelly. Even during Trammell's current Hall of Fame candidacy, it is often mentioned that he is one half of the greatest double play combination of all-time.
Whitaker-Trammell. They played eighteen years together at the major league level, and two in the minors. Twenty years! Can you imagine going to work with the same person less than 60 feet away every day for two decades?
When you play that long together, you leave all other combinations in the dust. And if Trammell and Whitaker are the best ever, as many say they are, then the 80's were their best showing.
During the decade, the two made a combined 11 All-Star squads. They collected six Gold Gloves. I could go over individual stats, like how Whitaker led the league in Fielding Percentage in 1991, or that Whitaker led in Total Zone Runs in 1982. But really, these are not individuals.
Trammell in 1996, without Whitaker, was like an elderly person who has lost their spouse. After just 66 games, he succumbed to injury and retired.