As we continue our trip around the diamond on my all time top ten lists, we reach second base, where the rankings start to get fun. Choosing the players for the top ten second baseman has been relatively easy, just not quite as simple as catcher and first base.
Your prototypical second baseman is small, quick, good with the glove, provides a little more offense than shortstop, and sets the table for the rest of the offense. Dustin Pedroia is the best example of a prototypical second baseman in today's game.
However, is Pedroia the overall best second baseman in the game today? Absolutely not. If I were to rank the top five active second baseman, I would go: Chase Utley, Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, Brian Roberts, and Brandon Phillips. Is Utley a prototypical second baseman? Once again, the answer is absolutely not. Utley isn't a table setter; he's a middle of the order, run producing, home run hitter.
Some of the player stories are from the Bill James Historical Abstract.
Getting back to the top five of all time, I have mentioned in my previous articles that I will not consider anyone linked with steroids, in order to eliminate that controversy.
Upon revision, I have placed another player in the list, but I have not taken anyone out, simply adding another honorable mention.
In ranking the players, I have considered longevity, dominance of their era, average stats of their era, career statistics, 162 game average, defensive skills, the balance of their game, and accolades.
In listing their stats, I will list: 1). The 162 game average, and 2). Their career stats.
Here we go!
Honorable Mention: Frankie Frisch
New York Giants, St. Louis Cardinals 1919-1937
Four top ten MVP finishes, three ASG appearances, one MVP
1). .316 avg, 7 hr, 87 rbis, 29 steals, 107 r, .369 obp, .432 slg, 202 hits, 276 tb
2). .316 avg, 105 hr, 1244 rbis, 419 steals, 1532 r, .369 obp, .432 slg, 2880 hits, 3937 tb
Frisch was a great leader because of his endless energy and forceful personality. It was said Frisch started out as a subpar fielder. "Frisch is one of the poorest fielders we have ever lamped, but his terrific speed overcomes this in every game. 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" wrote Gordon Mackay in the 1924 edition of Reach Guide.
Frisch hit over .300 13 times, and stole more than 20 bases 11 times.
Frisch was the centerpiece of the 1921-1924 New York Giants pennant winners, with 1921 and 1922 World Series wins to their credit.
I'll also mention Bill Mazeroski here as possibly the best defensive second baseman of all time. I won't go into detail here, but I just felt he deserved a mention.
Honorable Mention: Ryne Sandberg
Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs 1981-1994, 1996-1997
Three MVP top ten finishes, ten ASG appearances, nine Gold Gloves, seven Silver Sluggers, one MVP
1). .285 avg, 21 hr, 79 rbis, 26 steals, 99 r, .344 obp, .452 slg, 179 hits, 284 tb
2). .285 avg, 282 hr, 1061 rbis, 344 steals, 1318 r, .344 obp, .452 slg, 2386 hits, 3787 tb
Ryno was a difficult player to rank, and I overranked him in the first edition. He was dominant during an eight year period, but Kent, the second sacker I replaced him with at number eight was just as good for longer. He had an extremely productive eight years out of a nine year stretch, but his other seasons were mediocre. He hit double digit deep balls 11 times including a 40 homer season, in addition to stealing 20 or more bags nine times.
Sandberg was one of the first power-speed second basemen in baseball, and was someone Chicago fans absolutely adored during the '80s and '90s.
10. Jeff Kent
Toronto Blue Jays, New York Mets, Cleveland Indians, San Francisco Giants, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers
Four MVP top ten finishes, five ASG Appearances, four Silver Sluggers, one MVP
1). .290 avg, 27 hr, 107 rbis, 7 steals, 93 r, .356 obp, .500 slg, 173 hits, 299 tb
2). .290 avg, 377 hr, 1518 rbis, 94 steals, 1320 r, .356 obp, .500 slg, 2461 hits, 4246 tb
When ranking a player, you must consider offensive production, defensive prowess, production at other positions, longevity, and dominance. Kent was very tough for me to rank, because he was very dominant offensively for a second baseman, but like Carew, wasn't good with the glove.
Kent is the third worst defensive player in this top ten list, behind Carew and Hornsby, in that order. However, Carew and Hornsby were both superior offensive players, hence Kent's ranking. Kent was better offensively than Sandberg, and was dominant for longer, so that's why he pushed Ryno out of the top ten.
9. Rod Carew
Minnesota Twins, California Angels 1967-1985
Six MVP top ten finishes, 18 ASG appearances, ROY, one MVP
1). .328 avg, 6 hr, 67 rbis, 23 steals, 93 r, .393 obp, .429 slg, 200 hits, 262 tb
2). .328 avg, 92 hr, 1015 rbis, 1018 steals, 1424 r, .393 obp, .429 slg, 3053 hits, 3998 tb
Second basemen seven through ten were extremely hard to rank; Carew is all the way down here because of his lack of defensive skills, which resulted in a move to first base.
Carew is easily one of the top five best hitting second baseman of all time, hitting over .300 15 times, including 7 batting titles.
8. Charlie Gehringer
Detroit Tigers 1924-1942
Eight MVP top ten finishes, one MVP
1). .320 avg, 13 hr, 100 rbis, 13 steals, 124 r, .404 obp, .480 slg, 198 hits, 297 tb
2). .320 avg, 184 hr, 1427 rbis, 181 steals, 1774 r, .404 obp, .480 slg, 2839 hits, 4257 tb
Gehringer was nicknamed 'Mechanical Man' because of his extreme consistency and the lack of excitement he brought to his game.
He only managed 20 homers once, but slammed double digit bombs 11 times. He hit over .300 13 times, and was able to reach 200 hits 7 times.
Gehringer was a great fielder in addition to being an amazingly consistent hitter.
7. Roberto Alomar
San Diego Padres, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, New York Mets, Chicago White Sox, Arizona Diamondbacks 1988-2004
Five MVP top ten finishes, 12 ASG appearances, ten Gold Gloves, four Silver Sluggers
1). .300 avg, 14 hr, 77 rbis, 32 steals, 103 r, .371 obp, .443 slg, 185 hits, 274 tb
2). .300 avg, 210 hr, 1134 rbis, 474 steals, 1508 r, .371 obp, .443 slg, 2724 hits, 4018 tb
I wanted to be careful not to overrate Robby, but I couldn't help but put him and his .300 average ahead of Sandberg.
Alomar was a great defender, yet he was somewhat overrated in that department. He was very comparable to what Brian Roberts is today: a table setter, a solid defender, a .300 hitter, a base stealer, all with about 12-15 homers per year.
Alomar hit .300 or higher nine times, double digit long balls nine times, and had 20 stolen bases ten times. All in all, a Hall of Fame career *cough*.
6. Craig Biggio
Three MVP top ten finishes, seven ASG appearances, four Gold Gloves, five Silver Sluggers
Houston Astros 1988-2007
1). .281 avg, 17 hr, 67 rbis, 24 steals, 105 r, .363 obp, .433 slg, 174 hits, 268 tb
2). .281 avg, 291 hr, 1175 rbis, 414 steals, 1844 r, .363 obp, .433 slg, 3060 hits, 4711 tb
I really wanted to put Craig Biggio higher, I really did. Biggio is my favorite second baseman of all time, and I desperately wanted to put him at number five. You'd think that after 3000 hits, and getting beaned a record 285 times, he would deserve a top five spot.
Anyhow, Biggio was a scrappy player that did a lot well. He got on base, he stole bases, he hit for power, he played every position except third and first, and he did it for two decades in Houston, getting overlooked year after year because of the market in which he and his teammate Jeff Bagwell played.
5. Napoleon Lajoie
Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Athletics, Cleveland Naps 1896-1916
1). .338 avg, 5 hr, 104 rbis, 25 steals, 98 r, .380 obp, .467 slg, 212 hits, 292 tb
2). .338 avg, 83 hr, 1599 rbis, 380 steals, 1504 r, .380 obp, .467 slg, 3242 hits, 4474 tb
How many clubs name their team after a player? Cleveland did, after their second baseman Napoleon Lajoie.
An absolutely superb hitter, Lajoie averaged over .300 15 times, including five batting titles and a magical year where he hit .426. Craig Biggio hit a ton of doubles, but Lajoie hit more.
Biggio was a better fielder, but how can you not put the .338 lifetime average here? It took Biggio 20 seasons to get to 3000 hits, but Lajoie did it in 19 seasons. Biggio's average took a hit because of the extra years he played, but so did Lajoie's. In other words, Lajoie was just a heck of a hitter.
4. Jackie Robinson
Four MVP top ten finishes, six ASG appearances, ROY, one MVP
Brooklyn Dodgers 1947-1956
1). .311 avg, 16 hr, 86 rbis, 23 steals, 111 r, .409 obp, .474 slg, 178 hits, 271 tb
2). .311 avg, 137 hr, 734 rbis, 197 steals, 947 r, .409 obp, .474 slg, 1518 hits, 2310 tb
If Robinson had played his entire career in the MLB, I may have been able to put him at number one on this list. But, like Josh Gibson, I am forced to drop him down my top five because of the inability to gauge his entire career.
Robinson was a tremendous athlete that did it all on the baseball field. He hit double digit homers nine of his ten years in the MLB, hit over .300 six times, had an on base percentage of over .400 six times, slugged .500 five times, and stole double digit bases nine of ten years.
His stolen bases would have been much better if he had played in the bigs sooner, because his legs had already started to tire early into his career with the Dodgers.
3. Joe Morgan
Houston Astros, Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies, Oakland Athletics 1963-1984
Five MVP top ten finishes, ten ASG appearances, five Gold Gloves, one Silver Slugger, two MVPs
1). .271 avg, 16 hr, 69 rbis, 42 steals, 101 r, .392 obp, .427 slg, 154 hits, 242 tb
2). .271 avg, 268 hr, 1133 rbis, 689 steals, 1650 r, .392 obp, .427 slg, 2517 hits, 3962
Morgan was an incredibly intelligent, exciting second baseman. He was an integral part of the Big Red Machine, and was one of the table setters for Cincinnati, along with Pete Rose.
At 5'7", Morgan got a ton out of his small frame. He hit double digit homers 13 times and stole 20 bags 14 times, including 60 bases three times. His .271 average may not get anyone excited, but how about his .392 obp? Morgan never struck out, and he took a ton of walks, making his .271 average forgivable.
Morgan was a great defender, and an extremely exciting player, but all in all, he doesn't hold a candle to...
2. Rogers Hornsby
St. Louis Cardinals, New York Giants, Boston Braves, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Browns 1915-1937
Four MVP top ten finishes, two MVPs
1). .358 avg, 22 hr, 114 rbis, 10 steals, 113 r, .434 obp, .577 slg, 210 hits, 338 tb
2). .358 avg, 301 hr, 1584 rbis, 135 steals, 1579 r, .434 obp, .577 slg, 2930 hits, 4712 tb
I mentioned that Lajoie was a superb hitter—Hornsby was better.
Hornsby hit above .300 14 of his 15 full seasons, 7 of which were batting titles. He hit .400 or higher THREE TIMES. He led the league in on base percentage nine times, and led the league in slugging nine times as well. Hornsby ended his career with an OPS above 1.000. Hornsby could just flat out rake.
However, he wasn't nearly as good of a fielder as a lot of other players on this list, which is the reason he's not at number one.
Hornsby was said to be a jerk; an entertaining example includes an argument with an umpire. In the middle of the argument, Hornsby punched the surprised ump in the face. When asked the reason for this, he said "Well, I wasn't making any progress trying to talk to him."
1. Eddie Collins
Philadelphia Athletics, Chicago White Sox 1906-1930
Seven MVP top ten finishes, one MVP
1). .333 avg, 3 hr, 75 rbis, 43 steals, 104 r, .424 obp, .429 slg, 190 hits, 245 tb
2). .333 avg, 47 hr, 1300 rbis, 744 steals, 1821 r, .424 obp, .429 slg, 3315 hits, 4268 tb
Collins is hands down the best second baseman in MLB history. Shall I elaborate further?
Collins hit .300 16 full seasons—but he didn't just hit .300. He hit higher than: .320 14 times, .330 12 times, .340 10 times, .360 three times and .370 once. Collins rarely struck out, and he took a good amount of walks.
With 3315 hits, Collins has more than any other second baseman in league history, and ranks tenth on the all time hit list, three spots ahead of Lajoie.
Collins was an excellent fielder as well; his speed allowed him to make almost every play.
Speaking of his speed, Collins stole 40 bases ten times, including a year in which he had 81 thefts.
Is there any question about the identity of the best second baseman of all time?
...and let the opinions flood in. But while you're at it, if you wonder about my other top ten lists, here are the links for the others.