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The 10 Best Shortstops in MLB History

I am a former sports editor and currently serve as a historian with the Society of American Baseball Research and manage a valet operation.

Honus Wagner received the second-most votes in the inaugural Hall of Fame balloting in 1936.

Honus Wagner received the second-most votes in the inaugural Hall of Fame balloting in 1936.

Who Are the All-Time Greatest Shortstops in MLB History?

As a kid growing up around Cleveland in the 1990s, it wasn't surprising that I hoped to emulate Omar Vizquel’s dazzling defense on the baseball field. But what is a kid to do when he has next to no athletic talent? First, emulate the pros in a choppy backyard where no one is watching, then scrutinize and learn about the game instead.

One of the most fascinating evolutions in baseball history has been the changing landscape of the shortstop position. From a weak-hitting position that focused primarily on defense to the modern power-hitting setup, shortstop has undergone quite the transformation. But above all, defense still reigns supreme among shortstops, who regularly make highlight-reel plays on top of the routine plays from one of the most demanding positions on the diamond.

With that evolution in mind, I've taken a specific approach to ranking the greatest shortstops in MLB history. I’ve considered the success of each shortstop compared to his era and assessed how much his contributions impacted the overall history of the position and the game of baseball.

Selection Criteria

To be considered, a player must have played at least half of his games at the shortstop position (this disqualifies Hall of Famer Ernie Banks and Alex Rodriguez). This list of the 10 greatest shortstops in MLB history is then based on the following criteria:

  • Impact (Place in history, how he changed the position, etc.)
  • Defensive Success (Fielding percentage, runs saved, Gold Glove, etc.)
  • Offensive Success (Individual awards, above-average career totals, etc.)

10. Arky Vaughan

  • Years Played: 1932–43, ‘47, ‘48
  • Games at Shortstop: 1,485 of 1,817 (81.7%)
  • Playoff Appearances: 1947
  • Fielding Percentage: .951
  • Key Offensive Stats: .318 average, .406 on-base percentage, 1,173 runs, and 128 triples
  • Accolades: All-Star (1934–42)

While his defense wasn’t as spectacular as some other players on this list, the offensive punch that Arky Vaughan delivered still leaves him as one of the best shortstops of all time. As a perennial All-Star during his prime, Vaughan hit at least .300 in all but two seasons of his 14-year career (including a league-best .385 in 1935 for the Pirates). Vaughan’s biggest knock came defensively, especially early in his career when he committed 40 or more errors in five of his first nine seasons. Nevertheless, Vaughan was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1985.

Though Robin Yount didn’t spend his entire career as a shortstop, the half he did play at the position was very successful.

Though Robin Yount didn’t spend his entire career as a shortstop, the half he did play at the position was very successful.

9. Robin Yount

  • Years Played: 1974–1993
  • Games at Shortstop: 1,479 of 2,856 (51.8%)
  • Playoff Appearances: 1981–82
  • Fielding Percentage: .964
  • Key Offensive Stats: .286 average, 323 doubles, 885 runs, and 142 stolen bases*
  • Accolades: MVP (1982); Gold Glove (1982); All-Star (1980, ‘82, ‘83); and Silver Slugger (1980, ‘82)*

A lifelong Brewer, Robin Yount spent the first 11 of his 20 seasons as a shortstop before closing out his career in the outfield (1985–93). As a shortstop, Yount enjoyed his best season in 1982, when he was the American League MVP and led the Brewers to the World Series. He hit a career-high .331, his 210 hits and 46 doubles led the league, and he hit .414 during the Fall Classic in a losing effort to the Cardinals. Later on, Yount added another MVP trophy in 1989 and finished his career with 3,142 hits. He gained Hall of Fame status with the Class of 1999.

*Stats and accolades include only years 1974 to ‘84, when Yount played shortstop.

8. Alan Trammell

  • Years Played: 1977–96
  • Games at Shortstop: 2,139 of 2,293 (93.3%)
  • Playoff Appearances: 1984 and ‘87
  • Fielding Percentage: .977
  • Key Offensive Stats: .285 average, 412 doubles, and 1,231 runs,
  • Accolades: World Series MVP (1984); Gold Glove (1980, ‘81, ‘83, ‘84); All-Star (1980, ‘84, ‘85, ‘87, ‘88, ‘90); and Silver Slugger (1987, ‘88, ‘90)

Alan Trammell spent 20 years patrolling shortstop for the Tigers. He teamed up with second baseman Lou Whitaker for 19 of them to form the longest-tenured double-play combination in baseball history. Trammell added in a well-balanced offensive approach to become one of the most polished shortstops of his time. His best year came in 1987 when he hit .343 with 28 home runs and 105 RBI (all career-high marks). He also stole more than 20 bases for the third time in his career that season. Despite that success, it wasn't until 2018 that he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee (22 years after he retired).

7. Barry Larkin

  • Years Played: 1986–2004
  • Games at Shortstop: 2,085 of 2,180 (95.6%)
  • Playoff Appearances: 1990 and ‘95
  • Fielding Percentage: .975
  • Key Offensive Stats: .295 average, 441 doubles, 1,329 runs, and 379 stolen bases
  • Accolades: MVP (1995); Gold Glove (1994–96); All-Star (1988–91, 1993–97, ‘99, 2000, ‘04); and Silver Slugger (1988–92, ‘95, ‘96, ‘98, ‘99)

Cincinnati's Barry Larkin was quietly one of the best players of the 1990s—his well-rounded game was overshadowed by the monstrous home run hitters of the era. Larkin’s slick fielding was recognized as some of the National League’s best during the mid-1990s, and he added on impressive offensive statistics, including nine seasons with at least a .300 average. During his MVP season in 1995, Larkin hit .319 with 15 home runs, 29 doubles, 98 runs, and 51 steals, and led the Reds into the postseason. He also helped Cincinnati win the 1990 World Series and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012.

6. Luke Appling

  • Years Played: 1930–42, 1944–50
  • Games at Shortstop: 2,218 of 2,422 (91.6%)
  • Playoff Appearances: None
  • Fielding Percentage: .948
  • Key Offensive Stats: .310 average, 440 doubles, and 1,319 runs
  • Accolades: All-Star (1936, 1939–41, ‘43, ‘46, ‘47)

Luke Appling is one of the top players never to appear in the postseason, having spent 20 years with the White Sox during a period where they had just five winning seasons. Defensively, Appling was fairly average, finishing just one season with better than a .960 fielding percentage. But he twice led the league in hitting (.388 in 1936 and .328 in ‘43 when he was the runner-up in MVP voting). Had Appling not missed all of 1944 and most of ‘45 due to military service, he likely would have accumulated 3,000 hits for his career. But even though he missed that magical milestone, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1964.

5. George Wright

  • Years Played: 1871–82
  • Games at Shortstop: 530 of 591 (89.7%)
  • Fielding Percentage: .870
  • Key Offensive Stats: .301 average, 60 triples, and 665 runs

The first superstar in baseball history was George Wright, who debuted as a pro in 1869 and later helped the Boston Red Stockings to championships in four of the first five seasons of the National Association (1872–75) and twice in the earliest years of the National League (1877 and ‘78). As a pioneering shortstop, Wright dominated the game in its infancy, and he also saw ways to improve his position. Wright is credited as the originator of several techniques: being the first shortstop to play on the outfield grass, developing the strategy of sharing double play duties with the second baseman, and vouching for the rule that allowed runners to overrun first base to avoid collisions with fielders. In 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first independent professional team, and while the game was much different in those days, Wright posted monster numbers (49 home runs, 304 hits, 339 runs, and a .629 average) as the Red Stockings went 57–0. Wright was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1937 as a pioneer of the game.

4. Ozzie Smith

  • Years Played: 1978–96
  • Games at Shortstop: 2,511 of 2,573 (97.6%)
  • Playoff Appearances: 1982, ‘85, 87, and ‘96
  • Fielding Percentage: .978
  • Key Offensive Stats: .262 average, 402 doubles, 1,257 runs, and 580 stolen bases
  • Accolades: World Series MVP (1982); Gold Glove (1980–92); All-Star (1981–92, 1994–96); and Silver Slugger (1987)

Known as the "Wizard of Oz" for his tremendous defensive abilities, Ozzie Smith is remembered as one of the top shortstops of his era. The back-flipping All-Star was a prominent member of the Cardinals’ infield for 15 years and won an unprecedented 13 straight Gold Gloves from 1980 to ‘92. Though Smith made highlight play after highlight play, his career fielding percentage ranks 23rd all-time. He only has one of the top 50 single-season marks, but neither of those stats factor in Smith’s incredible range. Among all position players, Smith is the all-time leader in defensive wins above replacement at 44.2, which is significantly ahead of second-place Mark Belanger (39.5). Offensively, he was slightly above average and left his mark with more than 20 steals in each of his first 16 seasons. Smith never played anywhere defensively besides shortstop, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.

Derek Jeter was the face of the Yankees throughout his career and made several memorable defensive plays during the postseason.

Derek Jeter was the face of the Yankees throughout his career and made several memorable defensive plays during the postseason.

3. Derek Jeter

  • Years Played: 1995–2014
  • Games at Shortstop: 2,674 of 2,747 (97.3%)
  • Playoff Appearances: 1996–2007 and 2009–12
  • Fielding Percentage: .976
  • Key Offensive Stats: .310 average, 3,465 hits, 1,923 runs, and 544 doubles
  • Accolades: Rookie of the Year (1996); World Series MVP (2000); Gold Glove (2004–06, ‘09, ‘10); All-Star (1998–2002, ‘04, 2006–12, ‘14); and Silver Slugger (2006–09, ‘12)

Considered to be one of the faces of modern baseball, Derek Jeter's sterling career is exemplified by solid defense and offense—and a penchant for winning. Jeter helped lead the Yankees to five World Series championships in seven chances, often displaying greater prowess during the postseason. Jeter hit .321 throughout 38 World Series games, and he hit a home run every 7.9 postseason games (well above his regular-season average of a home run every 10.6 games). His postseason fielding percentage of .976 was exactly in line with his regular-season mark. Jeter never appeared defensively at any position but shortstop, and he was an easy choice for the Hall of Fame on the 2020 ballot.

Cal Ripken Jr. became the most durable player in baseball history while also transforming the type of player who could succeed as a shortstop.

Cal Ripken Jr. became the most durable player in baseball history while also transforming the type of player who could succeed as a shortstop.

2. Cal Ripken Jr.

  • Years Played: 1981–2001
  • Games at Shortstop: 2,302 of 3,001 (76,7%)
  • Playoff Appearances: 1983, ‘96, and ‘97
  • Fielding Percentage: .979
  • Key Offensive Stats: .276 average, 431 home runs, 1,695 RBI, and 1,647 runs
  • Accolades: MVP (1983, ‘91); Rookie of the Year (1982); Gold Glove (1991, ‘92); All-Star (1983–2001); and Silver Slugger (1983–86, ‘89, ‘91, ‘93, ‘94)

Cal Ripken Jr. redefined what a shortstop could be. Ripken stood 6’ 4” and became the tallest regular shortstop in baseball. He took it a step further to become the most durable player in the history of the game. The "Iron Man" played in 2,632 consecutive games for the Orioles, becoming the face of the franchise and ushering in a new era of bigger, power-hitting players at the position. Ripken slugged 431 home runs during his 21-year career, and he made 19 straight All-Star teams. Ripken was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007 with one of the highest vote totals in history.

Honus Wagner was a legendary shortstop for the Pirates in the early 1900s, and his legacy has left him among the all-time greats at the position.

Honus Wagner was a legendary shortstop for the Pirates in the early 1900s, and his legacy has left him among the all-time greats at the position.

1. Honus Wagner

  • Years Played: 1897–1917
  • Games at Shortstop: 1,887 of 2,794 (67.5%)
  • Playoff Appearances: 1903 and ‘09
  • Fielding Percentage: .940
  • Key Offensive Stats: .328 average, 3,420 hits, 1,732 RBI, 1,739 runs, 643 doubles, 252 triples, and 723 stolen bases

One of the most complete players in baseball's earliest years was Honus Wagner, who patrolled shortstop and contributed extraordinary offensive statistics. Wagner was an eight-time batting champion and led the league in doubles seven times, steals five times, RBI four times, and triples three times. Known as the “Flying Dutchman” for his speed, Wagner played all but his first three seasons for the Pirates after opening his career with the Louisville Colonels. In his first season in Pittsburgh, he posted career-highs when he led the league with a .381 average, 45 doubles, and 22 triples. Wagner was inducted with the inaugural class of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936 and has regularly been regarded as one of the best players in baseball history during anniversary celebrations.

Honorable Mentions

While the best shortstops in Major League history are featured above, here are a handful more who just missed the cut but are worth remembering.

Joe Cronin (1926–45)

Joe Cronin is most known for his tenure with the Red Sox, but his best season came in 1933 with the Washington Senators. That season, he hit .309 with a league-high 45 doubles to finish as the runner-up in MVP voting. He also posted a .960 fielding percentage, which is tied for his best mark in a full season. Cronin was a seven-time All-Star, played for 20 seasons, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956.

George Davis (1890–1909)

Despite his status as an offensive star of the dead ball era, George Davis was a forgotten player whose story was eventually discovered. With 2,665 hits and a .295 career average, Davis was a star switch-hitter for the Cleveland Spiders, New York Giants, and Chicago White Sox over a 20-year career. Davis hit .300 or better each season from 1893 to 1901, and he drove in at least 100 runs three times. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1998.

Omar Vizquel (1989–2012)

Omar Vizquel provided a combination of defense and longevity never seen before at the shortstop position. After a 24-year career (the most seasons ever played primarily as a shortstop), Vizquel had the highest career fielding percentage in position history (.9847) and three of 10 best single-season marks. Offensively, he built solid numbers with his longevity (.272 average, 2,877 hits, and 404 steals), but he's remained shy of induction to the Hall of Fame.

Pee Wee Reese (1940–42, 1946–58)

One of the leading stars of the powerhouse Dodgers teams of the 1940s and '50s, Pee Wee Reese was among the top shortstops of his era. Reese appeared in seven World Series for Brooklyn, winning a championship in 1955. The 10-time All-Star missed three years of his prime due to military service, but he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984.

Rabbit Maranville (1912–33, ‘35)

Rabbit Maranville's career spanned both the dead ball and live ball eras, and the Hall of Famer's defensive range is still considered among the best of all time. His career batting average of .258 left much to be desired, but his defense kept him in the lineup, and he holds a large lead in career putouts by a shortstop with 5,139 (Bill Dahlen is second with 4,856).

After Alex Rodriguez went to the New York Yankees, he transitioned from shortstop to third base.

After Alex Rodriguez went to the New York Yankees, he transitioned from shortstop to third base.

Special Mention

As explained in the introduction, baseball legends Ernie Banks and Alex Rodriguez just missed qualifying for this list, but their contributions at shortstop are still worth mentioning.

Ernie Banks

The first prominent power-hitting shortstop in baseball history was Ernie Banks. His 44 home runs in his second full season established a new record for shortstops, and his 277 career homers as a shortstop stood as the positional record until the 1990s. Between 1955 and '60, Banks hit more than 40 home runs in all but one season, won a pair of MVP awards, and was selected as an All-Star each year. Those five seasons with 40 or more homers (including his career-high mark of 47 in 1958) stood as the top five positional single-season ranks until the 2000s. Banks transitioned to first base after eight seasons at shortstop, and of his 2,476 games, 1,125 came as a shortstop (45.4%).

Alex Rodriguez

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Alex Rodriguez was considered the best player in all of baseball and seemed destined to become the greatest shortstop of all time. Accusations of steroid use and a move to third base spoiled his case as the best shortstop ever, but he did produce some of the finest offensive stats the position has ever seen. Rodriguez led the American League in home runs each season from 2001 to '03, and added two Gold Gloves and an MVP award in that span. His career-high 57 home runs from 2002 remain the position's single-season record. When he went to the Yankees in 2004, he moved to third base because New York legend Derek Jeter had a firm grip on the shortstop position. Of Rodriguez's 2,784 career games, 1,272 came as a shortstop (45.7%).

Who Is the Best Defensive Shortstop of All Time?

In measuring the best defensive shortstop of all time, an observer must consider several factors—fielding percentage and range chief among them. When combining the two, Ozzie Smith comes out as the greatest defensive shortstop of all time. Smith wasn’t the first shortstop to dazzle with defense, but he brought the magic of defense to life in special ways. He holds the record for the most Gold Glove awards won by a shortstop (13). He also has the highest defensive wins above replacement value of any fielder in history (44.2) and the most fielding zone runs value among shortstops (239).

Right behind is Omar Vizquel. With a career spanning 24 seasons, Vizquel has the highest career fielding percentage among all shortstops (.9847) and was the recipient of 11 Gold Glove awards, the second most at the position. He also holds three of the 10 best single-season marks for fielding percentage among shortstops. Lesser known is Mark Belanger, who was a standout defensive stalwart for the Orioles in the 1970s.

Players With Multiple Gold Gloves at Shortstop

  • Ozzie Smith (13)
  • Omar Vizquel (11)
  • Luis Aparicio (9)
  • Mark Belanger (8)
  • Dave Concepcion (5)
  • Derek Jeter (5)
  • Tony Fernandez (4)
  • Jimmy Rollins (4)
  • Andrelton Simmons (4)
  • Alan Trammell (4)

Career Fielding Percentage Leaders at Shortstop

*Active ... Note: Data through 2020 season

RankPlayerSeasonsFielding % as SS

1

Omar Vizquel

24

0.9847

2

Troy Tulowitzki

13

0.9846

3

José Iglesias*

9

0.9845

4

Freddy Galvis*

9

0.9841

5

Jimmy Rollins

17

0.9834

6

J.J. Hardy

13

0.9832

7

Mike Bordick

14

0.9821

8

Rey Sanchez

15

0.9813

9

Andrelton Simmons*

9

0.9812

10

Cesar Izturis

13

0.9808

Single-Season Fielding Percentage Leaders at Shortstop

Note: Data through 2020 season

RankPlayer (age)Fielding % as SSYear

1

Mike Bordick (36)

0.9982

2002

2

Cal Ripken Jr. (29)

0.9956

1990

3

Omar Vizquel (33)

0.9954

2000

4

Carlos Correa (25)

0.9953

2020

5

Francisco Lindor (26)

0.9952

2020

6

Rey Sanchez (32)

0.9941

2000

7

Rey Ordóñez (28)

0.9938

1999

T-8

J.J. Hardy (32)

0.9933

2015

T-8

Omar Vizquel (39)

0.9933

2006

10

Omar Vizquel (31)

0.9931

1998

Career dWAR Leaders at Shortstop

Note: Data through 2020 season

RankPlayer (yrs)Defensive WAR

1

Ozzie Smith (19)

44.2

2

Mark Belanger (18)

39.5

3

Cal Ripken Jr. (21)

35.7

4

Joe Tinker (15)

34.3

5

Luis Aparicio (18)

31.8

6

Rabbit Maranville (23)

30.8

7

Omar Vizquel (24)

29.5

8

Bobby Wallace (25)

28.7

9

Bill Dahlen (21)

28.5

10

Art Fletcher (13)

28.3

How Many Shortstops Are in the Hall of Fame?

There are 26 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame who have been inducted as a shortstop. The earliest honoree was Honus Wagner, who was inducted with the inaugural class of 1936. Derek Jeter, who was elected in 2020, is the most recent shortstop to get inducted.

How Has the Shortstop Position Changed Over Time?

Throughout history, the position that has changed the most in Major League Baseball is shortstop. While all shortstops are relied upon as defensive stalwarts, the offensive production expected from the position has grown exponentially over the years. The offensive shift began in the 1950s when Hall of Famer Ernie Banks proved that a shortstop could be a power hitter. Then in the 1980s, 6’4” Cal Ripken Jr. became the largest player to play the position, and his success helped morph the shortstop position into what it is today—a position of power hitters.

Shortstops have collectively set records for home runs from the position in each of the last four full seasons—including 676 homers hit in 2019 (more than 100 than in any other season). Even the COVID 19-shortened 60-game season in 2020 saw more home runs hit by shortstops than any season before 1987. The once long-standing 1964 record of 212 home runs by shortstops now ranks 29th all-time, and today’s shortstops hit home runs with more than twice the frequency than they did that season.

The table below shows a progressive leaderboard of single-season home runs hit by shortstops dating back to 1920.

Evolution of Offense From Shortstops

Note: Rank listed is relative to all seasons since 1920

RankYearGHRPAPA/HRABBA

1

2019

4858

676

20879

30.89

19004

0.269

2

2018

4862

571

20484

35.87

18609

0.259

3

2017

4860

534

20364

38.13

18616

0.264

4

2016

4856

493

20315

41.21

18493

0.263

5

2002

4852

423

20789

49.15

18780

0.266

7

2000

4858

420

20784

49.49

18442

0.267

12

1999

4856

389

20638

53.05

18455

0.273

15

1996

4534

361

18824

52.14

16871

0.267

25

1995

4034

274

16864

61.55

15052

0.254

26

1987

4210

257

17135

66.67

15487

0.258

29

1964

3248

212

13640

64.34

12198

0.255

34

1962

3234

195

13474

69.10

12045

0.258

37

1959

2470

185

9987

53.98

8910

0.255

46

1958

2458

166

9911

59.70

8971

0.247

48

1950

2206

153

9518

62.21

8401

0.265

58

1949

2175

125

9498

75.98

8337

0.263

62

1947

2208

114

9322

81.77

8217

0.268

69

1930

2350

101

9943

98.45

8828

0.283

85

1929

2370

71

9901

139.45

8772

0.273

87

1927

2150

59

8980

152.20

8051

0.277

92

1925

2002

51

8448

165.65

7501

0.27

93

1924

2020

49

8496

173.39

7605

0.272

97

1922

1958

39

8491

217.72

7529

0.284

100

1921

1936

35

8463

241.80

7552

0.275

101

1920

1874

29

8029

276.86

7200

0.263

© 2021 Andrew Harner

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