Dave Bancroft, Travis Jackson, Bobby Wallace, and John Ward. No, this is not a list of NASCAR drivers. It is a list of men who have played shortstop in the major leagues and have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Suffice it to say, these guys don’t evoke the grandeur and prestige (tongue firmly in cheek) of that hallowed institution. This is one important reason why Jimmy Rollins, if he continues at pace for another 3-5 years, will go into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Not only that, but he has a chance at being considered one of the greatest shortstops of all time.
Sure, maybe I’m not giving the above-mentioned individuals enough credit, but if they were really that great, I would have at least heard of them before I actually looked at the list of actual Hall of Fame shortstops. I am one of those guys that really don’t take baseball before Babe Ruth that seriously. Further, I don’t really consider the truly “modern era” of baseball to have begun until Jackie Robinson broke in. Even so, as it pertains to this discussion, I cannot dispute that Honus Wagner was just incredible and stands head-and-shoulders above the rest. With the way he hit, he could have been a butcher in the field and it wouldn’t have mattered.
The shortstops in the Hall can be sorted into groups.
- The guys that played when dinosaurs roamed the earth: Bancroft, Jackson, Wallace, Ward, Hughie Jennings, Rabbit Maranville, and Joe Tinker (check his stats when you get a chance).
- Guys who got in mostly through their association with great teams: Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto, Loe Boudreau
- The truly deserving: Joe Cronin, Arky Vaughn, Luke Appling, Robin Yount
- The truly great: Wagner, Luis Aparicio, Cal Ripken, Jr., Ernie Banks, and Ozzie Smith
Now you have some context. Jimmy Rollins, during is first ten seasons in the league, has led the league in AB’s and triples four times, won three Gold Gloves (the beginning of a string I suspect), won one MVP and one World Series. He has averaged out of the lead-off spot, 660 AB’s (wow), 105 runs (wow again), and 36 stolen bases while hitting .274. There is no better defensive shortstop in the game. If this caliber of play continues it would take him right over the “truly deserving” category and into the “truly great”.
Of the shortstops currently in the Hall I would take three – and only three – before Jimmy: Honus Wagner, Ozzie Smith, and Luis Aparicio. Aparicio, was a World Series winner, 10 time all-star, 9 time Gold Glove winner, and led the AL in steals 9 straight years (bet you didn’t know that). He was the first state of the art modern day shortstop and an incredible fielder. Ernie Banks only played half his career at shortstop, and if not for that, he would be there with the other three. If you compare Ripken and Jimmy, I’ll take Jimmy’s total offensive game over Ripken’s power. In the field, Cal would catch any ball he could get his hands on, and so can Jimmy. The difference is that Jimmy gets his hands on more balls.
Yes, the roster of Hall of Fame shortstops is not reflective of superior offensive prowess, with shortstop being a defense-first position. Jimmy has more years left to play and hopefully another World Series or two to win. He is a phenomenal two way player who’s biggest sin is not walking more. While Phillies fans tend to be more agog these days over Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, let this little write up serve as a reminder of how good we’ve got it at shortstop. We may actually be in the presence of greatness. Jimmy Rollins is that good.