First, a brief description of what this series of articles will be – for the most part, they will be top ten type lists; though they may be shorter (if there aren’t enough “great” players) or longer (if there’s a log jam of “great” players). I will say if the player is in the HOF, list any major awards the player won and provide their key stats. All stats and awards were obtained from Baseball-Reference. This series was originally published on Informative Sports in 2009, however, they have been edited for publication here - some players added, some rankings adjusted etc.
A couple of notes about the stats – they will include their total offensive numbers, not just stats for their main position (for example, Yogi Berra’s stats include his batting stats when he played LF or 1B) and any stats in italics mean they were the leader in that category out of the players in the list. Also, players will be ranked where they were best known at (Ernie Banks at SS for example) or where they played the most games (Pete Rose played the most games at 1B as a single position but he played more total games in the outfield and of those at LF, so that’s where he ended up getting ranked). To see how I evaluate/use stats, click here for a breakdown of hitting stats. At the end, I will then describe any reasoning behind my choices and why I ranked them where I did.
Only three caveats to my lists:
1 – the players have to actually be retired. They cannot be unsigned players who haven’t officially retired yet
2 - sorry, but no Negro League players will be on these lists unless they had long-term MLB service (any records or stats from the Negro Leagues are “questionable” at best due to the record keeping; i.e. Josh Gibson’s HR totals etc)
3- no confirmed or heavily-suspected PED users. This includes anyone who admitted to using steroids knowingly or unknowingly (so guys like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Gary Sheffield are not on these lists) and guys where the evidence is very strong that they used (Roger Clemens for example)
We covered the greatest catchers, greatest first basemen, greatest second basemen and greatest shortstops already, so this week we move on to the hot corner, Third Base. Out of all the positions, this is the “weakest” overall in baseball history. The other positions all had at least ten players who popped into my head when first thinking of the position but for Third Base, only five immediately came to mind. However, the players that are ranked are considered some of the best hitters the game’s ever seen and one of the greatest defensive players in baseball history. On to the rankings:
#1 – Mike Schmidt: HOF, 3 MVPs (and 2 other top-5 finishes), 12 time All-Star, 10 Gold Gloves, 6 Silver Sluggers, 2404 games, .267 batting average, .380 OBP, .527 Slugging %, .908 OPS, 147 OPS+, 548 HRs, 1595 RBIs, 2234 Hits, 1507 BBs and 1883 Ks.
#2 – George Brett: HOF, 1 MVP (and 3 other top-5 finishes), 13 time All-Star, 1 Gold Glove, 3 Silver Sluggers, 2707 games, .305 batting average, .369 OBP, .487 Slugging %, .857 OPS, 135 OPS+, 317 HRs, 1595 RBIs, 3154 Hits, 1096 BBs and 908Ks.
#3 – Brooks Robinson: HOF, 1 MVP (and 4 other top-5 finishes), 15 time All-Star, 16 Gold Gloves, 2896 games, .267 batting average, .322 OBP, .401 Slugging %, .723 OPS, 104 OPS+, 268 HRs, 1357 RBIs, 2848 Hits, 860 BBs and 990 Ks.
#4 – Eddie Mathews: HOF, 2 top-5 MVP finishes, 9 time All-Star, 2391 games, .271 batting average, .376 OBP, .509 Slugging %, .885 OPS, 143 OPS+, 512 HRs, 1453 RBIs, 2315 Hits, 1444 BBs and 1487 Ks.
#5 – Wade Boggs: HOF, 1 top-5 MVP finish, 12 time All-Star, 2 Gold Gloves, 8 Silver Sluggers, 2439 games, .328 batting average, .415 OBP, .443 Slugging %, .858 OPS, 130 OPS+, 118 HRs, 1014 RBIs, 3010 Hits, 1412 BBs and 745 Ks.
#6 – I Don’t Know: HOF as part of Abbott and Costello’s famous “Who’s on First” bit. Just kidding with including this here, however, I can’t hear “I don’t know” without responding “Third Base!”
Honorable Mention: Frank Baker, George Kell, Graig Nettles and Ron Santo
Will/may be on this list someday: Chipper Jones (who will be in a tough battle with George Brett for number 2), Evan Longoria, David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman (all three have a legit shot at making this list)
There is a clear battle for number 1 at this position – Schmidt versus Brett. I decided Schmidt’s overall power and better defense overcame Brett’s advantages in batting average and total hits. If not for Brooks Robinson, Schmidt might be considered the greatest defensive third basemen in history – what he did with the glove on the fast, nasty turf in Philly was unreal.
The battle for number 3 was just as tough – Robinson versus Mathews. The classic defense versus power debate. As with shortstop where I had Ozzie Smith ranked high due to his defense, in my opinion, Brooks’ clear advantage in defense slightly overcame Mathews’ advantage offense. However, if you feel Matthews should be higher than Robinson a legitimate argument could be made for that.
Wade Boggs earned the final spot on this list by being a consistent hitter over his entire career (constantly getting over 200 hits per season and always batting over .300) and his underrated defense. Also, for a solely “batting average hitter” like Boggs, he is the only member of the 3000 hit club to get his 3000th hit as a HR.
So, what do you think? Do you have a problem with the order? Did I leave someone off? If so, let me know. Don’t just say “you left off so-and-so” — give me a good explanation of why they belong and where in the order they belong. If you present a good enough case, I just might add them to the list. Come back next week when we begin our jog through the outfield in Left Field.