Outside of pitcher, shortstop is easily the most important position in baseball, which is why we felt the best shortstops of all time warrant special mention.
The greatest shortstops ever have to be excellent defensively as well as impact offensive players. Playing the position requires several average or better tools, making it arguably the toughest position in baseball to play.
Best shortstops of all time
In a way, the level of difficulty that comes with playing shortstop helps to separate the greatest shortstops of all time from those who were just decent.
But baseball has a long history, so it’s not easy distinguishing the top shortstops in MLB history across different generations. However, we were happy to take on the challenge of ranking the 15 best shortstops of all time.
15. Joe Cronin
Red Sox fans will surely know Joe Cronin’s name, as he’s part of their Hall of Fame and his number is retired. Of course, he only spent the second half of his career in Boston, spending his early years with the Pirates and Senators and eventually spending over a decade as a player-manager in Boston.
As a player, Cronin was a seven-time all-star and hit .301 during his career while amassing over 2,200 hits. He was regarded as one of the smartest and most-clutch players of his era. Ultimately, Cronin snuck into the Baseball Hall of Fame with 79% of the vote in his 10th year on the ballot.
14. George Davis
George Davis was one of the best shortstops and one of the best switch-hitters in baseball during the late 1890s and early 1900s. He loses points because he played a lot of other positions. Of course, that’s also a testament to his athleticism, which is why he was such a great shortstop.
As a batter, Davis racked up over 2,600 hits over his 20 seasons, finishing with a career average of .295, not to mention 619 stolen bases. For his era, Davis was truly an elite player and finally got inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998.
13. Lou Boudreau
Many call Lou Boudreau the original inventor of the defensive shift, giving him an important if controversial place in baseball history. But he was far more than an innovator; he was also a great shortstop.
Boudreau was a master at turning double plays and actually made a tough defensive play to help end Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hit streak. He was captain of both the baseball and basketball teams in college at Illinois, so his athleticism was off the charts for his era. During his time in the majors from 1938 to 1952, Boudreau was an all-star eight times, the batting champ in 1944, the MVP in 1948, and helped Cleveland win a World Series in 1948.
12. George Wright
We had to venture far back in the time machine to find George Wright, who was a shortstop and is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He played in the 1860s, 70s, and 80s, so it’s not like there are highlights of him. However, Wright is famous for being the first batter in National League history.
He was also the best player in baseball when the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first professional team. Wright later led the Boston Red Stockings to six championships in an eight-year span. Even if we don’t know much more about him than that, Wright still deserves to be mentioned among the best shortstops ever.
11. Robin Yount
Robin Yount would eventually move to the outfield, but he spent a little more than a decade being a full-time shortstop for the Brewers. He took home a Gold Glove toward the end of his tenure as a shortstop, as well as two Silver Slugger Awards.
Surprisingly, the first-ballot Hall of Famer was only selected as an all-star three times, each time as a shortstop. His first of two MVP awards also came as Milwaukee’s primary shortstop in 1982. It was a shoulder injury more than a lack of mobility or athleticism that eventually pushed Yount away from shortstop. But while he was there, he was certainly one of the best around.
10. Arky Vaughan
Arky Vaughan is one of the great players from the 1930s and 40s that most baseball fans don’t know about.
However, historians put him up there among the best of all time.
While playing for the Pirates and Dodgers, he was an all-star in nine straight seasons, not to mention a batting champ in 1935 and a stolen base champ in 1943. In his 14 seasons, Vaughn only failed to hit .300 or better twice, finishing his career with over 2,100 hits and a .318 average.
9. Alan Trammell
Alan Trammell deserves a ton of credit right off the bat for playing 20 seasons in the big leagues. That’s not easy, especially for a player who started over 2,000 games at shortstop and fewer than 60 total games at other positions.
He wasn’t blessed with natural defensive gifts but Trammell had a quick, accurate arm and would eat up every ground ball he could get to. He and Lou Whitaker formed one of the best all-time middle infield tandems, helping Trammell win four Gold Gloves during the first half of his career.
Trammell was also a six-time all-star and led the Tigers to a championship in 1984, earning World Series MVP honors. He finished his career with a .285 average and over 2,300 hits, which is more than adequate for a shortstop with his defensive resume.
8. Luke Appling
At the time of his retirement, Luke Appling was the all-time leader in both games played and double plays by a shortstop. He played from 1930 to 1950, albeit missing the 1944 season, all for the White Sox.
Appling logged a ton of innings at shortstop and was also regarded as one of the toughest hitters to face during that time. He routinely fouled off pitches and found a way to get on base as a great leadoff hitter. Appling finished his career with over 2,700 hits and a .310 average, winning two batting titles along the way.
While not always remembered as much as some other players, Appling was good at just about everything and should be considered among the top shortstops of all time.
7. Barry Larkin
There are far too many people who overlook Barry Larkin as one of the greatest shortstops in baseball history. During the latter part of his career, injuries kept him sidelined for extended periods and hindered his performance, perhaps making him a third-ballot Hall of Famer rather than a first or second-ballot Hall of Famer.
Nevertheless, we’re talking about someone who played nearly two decades at shortstop in the big leagues. If Larkin hadn’t been competing with Ozzie Smith during the first part of his career, he probably would have ended up winning more than three Gold Gloves because he was a much better defender than those three Gold Gloves indicate.
At the same time, Larkin won Silver Slugger honors nine times and MVP in 1995. He was also a 12-time all-star who finished his career with over 2,300 hits, a .295 average, and 379 stolen bases. He’s a great example of a shortstop who could truly do it all.
6. Ernie Banks
Unfortunately for Ernie Banks, he spent the latter part of his career as a first baseman after moving there from shortstop, so that hurts his standing on our list a little.
Nevertheless, he’s one of the greatest players in baseball history and had some of his best years as a shortstop.
His two MVPs were both won as a shortstop. He also led the NL in homers twice and RBIs twice during his days at a shortstop. Also, don’t let the fact that Banks won just a single Gold Glove fool you because he could field his position as well as any shortstop in his era.
5. Alex Rodriguez
Before he went to the Yankees and was forced to move to third base, Alex Rodriguez spent a decade playing shortstop and did enough during that time to be considered among the best shortstops in MLB history.
Keep in mind that he only started doing PEDs toward the end of his time as a shortstop.
He did win MVP in 2003 and was a six-time all-star before his trade to the Yankees. A-Rod was also a two-time Gold Glove winner at shortstop and won six of his 10 Silver Slugger awards, including a run of five in a row, while playing shortstop.
He also led the American League in homers in three straight seasons while still playing shortstop. Surely, those accomplishments, even if they were a little aided by PEDs, elevate A-Rod well above the average shortstop.
4. Ozzie Smith
If defense was all that mattered, Ozzie Smith would be even higher on our list of the best shortstops of all time. True to his name, he was an absolute Wizard with the glove.
Even the 13 consecutive Gold Gloves that Smith won don’t do justice to just how amazing he was; one has to watch highlight reels to truly appreciate what he brought to the table defensively.
But Smith was more than just a defensive genius. While he didn’t have much power, hitting a mere 28 home runs in his career, he did rack up over 2,400 hits and 580 stolen bases, so he contributed in other ways.
He even won a Silver Slugger Award in 1987. His bat also helped him win NLCS MVP in 1985 with one of the most famous postseason home runs in Cardinals history. Smith was also a part of the St. Louis team that won the World Series in 1982.
3. Derek Jeter
No list of the greatest shortstops ever would be complete without Derek Jeter. One could also consider him one of the best leadoff hitters of his generation as well. The guy could hit, and he could hit in any situation, which is why he earned nicknames like Mr. November and Captain Clutch. He finished his career with over 3,400 hits and a .310 batting average.
Jeter was also Rookie of the Year in 1996 and a 14-time all-star across his 20 seasons in the majors.
Of course, Jeter’s lucky number was five. The Hall of Famer won five Silver Sluggers, five Gold Gloves, and five World Series rings. Defensively, he was one of the smartest and most consistent shortstops to ever play the game. He also had a flair for the dramatic when it came to making brilliant defensive plays, much like his ability to hit in the clutch.
2. Cal Ripken Jr.
Despite playing some third base later in his career, baseball’s iron man played shortstop for the vast majority of his streak of 2,632 consecutive games. Of course, Cal Ripken Jr. wasn’t just a guy who showed up and played every day. He was also one of the best shortstops of all time.
Despite winning just two Gold Gloves, Ripken was a steady defensive player. He also began his career by winning Rookie of the Year honors and won his first of two MVP awards in his second full season. In fact, his rookie season was the only year that Ripken wasn’t an all-star, earning a selection to the Midsummer Classic in 19 straight seasons. With eight Silver Slugger awards on his mantle, there is no doubt that Ripken is one of the elite shortstops in baseball history.
1. Honus Wagner
Honus Wagner is often associated with an expensive baseball card. But that card is so expensive in part because Wagner is probably the best shortstop of all time. Even Ty Cobb called Wagner “maybe the greatest star ever to take the diamond.” That’s game recognizing game.
The Flying Dutchman had everything you could ask for in a shortstop. He could run, he could hit, and he could field his position.
He won eight batting titles during his career while also leading the National League in RBIs five times. Since he played from 1897 to 1917, home runs weren’t a huge part of the game during Wagner’s era and he finished with just 101 career homers.
But he also had 3,430 career hits and a .329 average. He was also one of the best base stealers in MLB history, leading the NL in stolen bases five times and amassing 722 stolen bases in his career, showcasing elite ability in all areas of the game.