There are eleven shortstops that have been voted into the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA. One of the issues with the Hall of Fame is that the Veterans Committee has a way of muddying the waters. However, like with the third basemen we also have a mistake or two by the writers. That also has a way of making things more complicated. So, comparing all eleven guys at the same time makes little sense. We will split the group in two and look at the living legends and the mistakes at the same time.
That will leave a group of very similar players in the subsequent piece. It is always more compelling when we have similar players to compare anyway. When we look at mistakes we are not literally saying they should be removed. That’s impossible. We are simultaneously removing them from consideration for comparison sake and looking at the reasons why the writers overlooked their normal qualifications.
Books have literally been written about Honus Wagner. Wagner is clearly the best shortstop of all-time and even when you include Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter you could arguably say there is more distance between him and the second best shortstop than any player at any other position. That includes the likes of Ruth, Aaron, Mays, or anyone else you can think of. Sure, that could be a proverbial stacked deck, but value can be defined as the distance between two players.
Ripken stands second for now and that could be underwhelming in some sense. Ripken was always seen as extremely durable, but the general malaise of the 1980s and 1990s camouflage some really good all-around seasons. Part of that is that his stature made you think he couldn’t be a brilliant defensive shortstop. As we will see, the numbers will say otherwise.
Still, the greatest point here belong to Aparicio and Maranville. Both had stellar defensive reputations and matched what many would think should be the prototypical shortstop. They were small, slap hitters that either won Gold Gloves (nine in Aparicio’s case) or would have if they had been around during their career. Gold Gloves are great and if they are truly deserved they are really great. You are measured by your ability to help teams win games and not by highlight reels.
It should be noted that both that both players are more qualified that Pie Traynor, so everything is relative. That ignores the fact that we should have minimum standards and that usually means 300 in the win department. That’s unless there are extenuating circumstances like there were in Roy Campanella’s case.
Both Aparicio and Maranville were prolific players in terms of durability, but neither were particularly dominant during their prime. There is nothing wrong with a three or four-win player, but you don’t typically think Hall of Fame when looking at that sort of player. For most people, the concept of wins or an index is way too cumbersome to consider, so we bring the offensive and fielding numbers out for you.
We haven’t mentioned Yount. Even though he is not a controversial Hall of Famer there is some controversy over whether he should be considered an outfielder or a shortstop. Yount actually played more games at shortstop (1470 vs. 1218) even though it seemed like he was an outfielder for longer.
These numbers are somehow more meaningful than the index numbers and show how much of an advantage Wagner has. Keep in mind that when you are looking at the wOBA numbers that he played during the Dead Ball Era. Those numbers are ludicrously stupid given that fact. A team of Wagners would win 122 or 123 games in a 162 game schedule. It may not be the highest offensive winning percentage of all time but it’s pretty darn close.
On the flip side, it would be simplistic to say that these numbers disqualify Aparicio and Maranville, but they are pretty damning. It is wrong to assume 100 as average in OPS+ or wRC+ for shortstops. That’s a universal average. You are comparing shortstops with first basemen and outfielders. Maybe 90 is closer to the position average. Great. Should a below average offensive player get into the Hall of Fame?
Offensive winning percentage is always a good place to look as well. Aparicio’s base running gives him a bit of an edge of Maranville, but there is no getting around the fact that they are both below average. The traditionalists will tell you game is 50 percent pitching, 50 percent fielding, and 50 percent hitting. That’s 150 percent. So, it might be closer to 50/25/25. It’s hard to justify a below average offensive player. Let’s see if we can do it.
The most intriguing player here is Yount. The overall numbers are terrible, but when you look at the total zone shortstop runs you see he was an above average shortstop. That affected him in his defensive WAR totals as well. Admittedly, Aparicio and Maranville were legitimately good defensive shortstops. They might even be classified as really good depending on who you are comparing them to.
If you are comparing them to Ripken then they come up short. His defensive win shares did not include his time as a third baseman. So, it is fair to say he would be better in every single category. He won only two Gold Gloves. You look at him and naturally compare him to smaller guys like Ozzie Smith. Smith was legitimately better, but not by as much as people think. You see a six foot four muscle bound guy and naturally assume he’s slow. For Ripken it was the difference between being a good player that played a lot of games in a row and being a great player that played a lot of games in a row.
The BBWAA didn’t blow the Aparicio and Maranville vote as much as the Traynor vote. After all, they were legitimately good defensively. Aparicio was an elite base runner as well. They just didn’t do enough in the batter’s box. It isn’t about a lack of power. As we will see soon enough, Ozzie Smith is more than qualified despite his lack of power. It’s always more important to steal first base than hit an occasional home run.