Best of the Best: Shortstops
Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
With the off-season being at an essential standstill for the Orioles as far as the news goes, I thought I would bring you, the reader, a weekly list of the top five Orioles of all time for each position (second base, catcher, etc). Last week, Frank Robinson received the number one spot for right fielders in decisive fashion. With Derek Jeter announcing this week that this season will be his last one, I want to rank his position that the “Iron Man” made famous in Baltimore: shortstop.
The shortstop position is often considered the most dynamic defensive position in the entire sport. Because most right-handed hitters have a tendency to pull the ball slightly, more balls are hit to the shortstop than any other position. The shortstop must have tremendous agility due to the speed at which balls are traveling in his direction. The position also requires a strong arm because, depending on where the ball is hit, the shortstop has one of the longest throws to make to first base.
Other obligations of the shortstop include covering second base for double play situations and covering second when a runner at first is attempting to steal. The emphasis on defense makes this position hard to fill. And with the growing need for superb hitters as well, shortstops in the Majors must be just as good at the plate as they are in the field.
This list is based purely on the player’s statistics in seven categories while said player was with the Orioles organization. The seven categories I will be judging them in are batting average, fielding percentage (at shortstop), games played (at shortstop), All Star games (if applicable), Gold Gloves (if applicable), RBIs, and home runs. Here we go!
5. Mike Bordick
Mike Bordick played six years of his career in a Baltimore uniform. His hitting was solid, acquiring a .260 batting average over six years. Where Bordick really stood out was on defense. At shortstop, Bordick maintained a .986 fielding percentage.
His best year fielding came in 2002. That year he recorded the highest single-season fielding percentage of any shortstop in the history of baseball (.998). He only committed one error in the 117 games of the ’02 season. You could almost call him a “human vacuum” because anytime a ball was hit in his direction that runner was guaranteed to be thrown out by Bordick.
What I found shocking was that he never won a Gold Glove Award, which included the 2002 season. You almost begin to question what a player has to do in order to win that award because only one error in 117 games sounds deserving to me. It is this lack of awards and recognition that keep Bordick from being ranked higher up on this list.
4. J.J. Hardy
J.J. Hardy first came to the Orioles in 2011 after being with the Twins for a season. Once here, he proved to all of Baltimore that he was here for the long haul. In his first year with the team, he hit .269/.310/.491. His .990 fielding percentage made fans of Orioles and baseball alike, take notice of #2.
The following year he helped the Orioles reach the playoffs for the first time since 1997. In this miraculous season, Hardy earned his first Gold Glove Award of his career with his highest ever fielding percentage (.992). He also helped the team at the plate. Although his batting average decreased from the year prior to .238, he still hit 22 home runs, which was important in all the one-run and extra-inning games the team played that season.
Hardy had his best year with the team this past season in 2013. He hit .263/.306/.433 with 25 home runs and 76 RBIs. This led to Hardy winning his first Silver Slugger Award. His great year was capped off mid-season when he was named to the American League All Star (first All Star game as an Oriole). Another solid year defensively won him his second consecutive Gold Glove Award as well.
Hardy is turning into one of the best defensive shortstops in the game today. Although his batting average is not outstanding, he is a reliable hitter in clutch situations and can work the count and get on base when the team needs base runners. Although Bordick was a slightly better fielder, Hardy is more of the total package.
3. Luis Aparicio
Although Luis Aparicio played the majority of his career in Chicago with the White Sox, you cannot overlook his performance during his time with the O’s.
He helped the Birds win their first World Series in 1966. In addition to this, he was named to the American League All Star Team twice (1963 and 1964). He won two Gold Glove Awards in his five years in Charm City as well. His stats prove why he was deserving of these acknowledgments.
As an Oriole, he hit .251/.297/.343. He also drove in 194 RBIs and hit 33 round trippers. He was a clutch hitter, he was even more of a clutch base runner. Leading the Majors in stolen bases in both 1963 (40) and 1964 (57), Aparicio showed why he was such a threat once he got on base.
Also, his fielding percentage improved once he came to Baltimore. In 1963, he achieved a .983 fielding percentage, which turned out to be a career-high for him. Alongside Brooks Robinson and Jerry Adair in 1963, Aparicio was a part of one of the best defensive infields in the game of baseball to date (although the 2013 Orioles might dispute that).
2. Mark Belanger
Mark Belanger played 17 of his 18 years in the MLB with the Orioles. He was yet another Oriole that had a decorated career. He earned eight Gold Gloves in orange and black. He also was a part of the 1966 and 1970 World Series Champions.
His defensive efforts were well documented. In Baltimore, he had a lifetime .979 fielding percentage. In those 17 years with the team, he led the American League in fielding percentage and assists three times each. When he finished his playing career, he captured the highest ever fielding percentage by an American League shortstop (.977).
He set franchise records for career games, assists and double plays as a shortstop. However, all of his records were broken by the next player on this list.
His batting numbers were not as spectacular as his fielding. He only hit a career .227 batting average with the ball club. His best year at the plate came in 1969 where he hit .287/.351/.345. His .287 batting average that year was a career high, besides 1965 (he only had three plate appearances in 1965).
Nevertheless, Belanger still has the tenth-most hits in franchise history (1,304). His non-stellar batting numbers keep me from putting him higher up on this list. Besides, you cannot put anyone above this next player on this list.
1. Cal Ripken, Jr.
Cal Ripken, Jr. He is not only the best shortstop the Orioles have ever had, but he is also arguably the greatest shortstop the game of baseball has ever seen. When Ripken came to Baltimore, Earl Weaver saw potential for greatness, not at Ripken’s natural position of third base, but actually at shortstop. This was the best thing that happened to Ripken’s career because once he was placed at shortstop, he thrived.
The Maryland native started playing exclusively at shortstop in 1983. Coincidentally that year, the Orioles won their third World Series, defeating the Phillies four game to one. This player had a decorated career at shortstop. Not only was he named the American League Rookie of the Year (1982) and American League MVP in both 1983 and 1991, but he was also an eight-time Silver Slugger Award winner and a fourteen-time All Star.
Surprisingly, he only won a Gold Glove Award twice. This seems extraordinarily low, especially because he has the second-highest single season fielding percentage in the history of baseball (.996 in 1990). This fielding percentage means, in 161 games played, he only committed three errors. In his 17 seasons at shortstop, he maintained a .979 fielding percentage.
Ripken was also a great hitter as well, leading the Orioles all-time in hits (3,184), runs (1,647), RBIs (1,695) and home runs (431). In his 21 years, he hit .276/.340/.447. However, Ripken’s most memorable statistic is breaking Lou Gehrig‘s record for most consecutive games played. On September 6th, 1995, Ripken broke Gehrig’s record, which had stood the test of time for 56 years. With his 2,131 game played, Ripken was deemed the nickname, “The Iron Man.”
His storied career made him a first ballot Hall of Famer. And in 2007, he became the sixth player to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame as a Baltimore Oriole. Ripken was also eight votes away from a unanimous decision (98.53% of the vote); this happened to be the third highest percentage in history.
Well that is my list. Anyone you think I left out or if the order should be different, just leave a comment. Next Tuesday, I will be doing another “Best of the Best.” You have the decision of what position I should write about next, comment below and I will pick the most popular.