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The Tuesday Discussion: Who Was The Greatest Second Baseman Ever?

We’re going to go position-by-position around the diamond asking our writers to tell us the greatest big leaguer at each position.

We’ll continue with second base.

We asked or writers, “Who was the greatest second baseman of all-time?”

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Paul Semendinger – Second base is also very straight forward.

By WAR, WAR7, and JAWS, the best at second base was Rogers Hornsby. It’s a clean sweep. Figuring that Hornsby also batted .402 over a five year period from 1921 through 1925, it’s almost impossible not to choose him. Look at these numbers:

1921: .397/21/126

1922: . 401/42/152

1923: .384/17/83

1924: .424/25/94

1925: ..403/39/143

No other player ever put up numbers like that over a five year period. Ever.

Over a five year period, Rogers Hornsby averaged .402/29/120. Power and batting average.

That’s never been done by anyone else. It’s crazy.

And those weren’t his only good years.

In 1920 he batted .370. In 1928, he hit .387. In 1929, he batted .380.

But here’s the kicker. Want to talk Triple Crowns? How about the Quadruple Crown (a term I just invented)?

Hornsby led the National League in Batting, Average, On Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, and OPS for six consecutive seasons, from 1920 through 1925. That’s amazing. He then did it again in 1928.

Ty Cobb and Ted Williams each did it a total of four times, not consecutively.

Babe Ruth did this once.

Lou Gehrig did it once.

Stan Musial did it once.

Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, and countless others never did it.

The greatest second baseman ever was Rogers Hornsby.

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Ethan Semendinger – Second base may be the where the most interesting players in MLB history have played. Take Jackie Robinson: A man who broke the color barrier in baseball, allowing players of black descent to play the sport. (Interestingly, the 2nd black man in baseball, Larry Doby, also spent some time at second base.) How about Nap Lajoie: A player so prominent in the sport that a team renamed themselves after him just 1 season after he started playing for them. Add in Rod Carew: A player who became immortalized in “The Chanukah Song” by Adam Sandler. With a history like that, it’s hard for any player to stand out from the crowd.

However, there are two players that could each be considered the best: Eddie Collins and Rogers Hornsby. (Joe Morgan, a member of the Big Red Machine, comes in 3rd.)

Eddie Collins, a member of the Philadelphia Athletics $100,000 infield of the early 1910s, is the All-Time 2B leader in hits (3,315) and stolen bases (741) while being 5th in batting average (.333) and 2nd in on-base percentage (.424), walks (1499), bWAR (124.4), and fWAR (120.5). He also won the 1914 AL MVP Award.

Rogers Hornsby, is the All-Time 2B leader in on-base percentage (.434), slugging percentage (.577), and obviously OPS (1.010), both bWAR (127.3) and fWAR (130.3). He’s also 5th in hits (2,930), 3rd in home runs (301), won 2 MVP Awards (tied with Joe Morgan for most by a 2B), and won 2 Triple Crowns (who, along with Ted Williams, are the only players to win multiple Triple Crowns).

As much as I want to argue for Eddie Collins- who played the perfect type of baseball for his time and seems much like a modern day Ichiro type player- the answer for this one is Rogers Hornsby.

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Tamar Chalker – Jackie Robinson. He is rightly remembered for his role in history, but he was also a great second baseman.

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Lincoln Mitchell – There are three candidates for greatest second baseman of all time: Eddie Collins, Rogers Hornsby and Joe Morgan. Again, I am looking at players in the context of their time. If I were assembling a team, I might pick Collins. He was on base all the time-a lifetime .424 OBP, was by reputation a fantastic defender and stole 749 bases while being caught only 195. Collins was an elite defender and would be great fit at the top of any lineup. However, he was not the kind of impact player who could truly carry a team. He played in the deadball era, so only hit 47 home runs in the course of his 25 year career, but never led the league in doubles, triples or slugging percentage. So, even for that time, was not a slugger of any kind.

Rogers Hornsby was one of the greatest hitters of all time and the first real slugger in the National League. Perhaps his most extraordinary accomplishment was that from 1920-1925, he slashed .397/.467/.666 for an OPS+, over a six year period, of 201. The only other players to do that were Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds and Ted Williams. However, Hornsby was, again by reputation, a terrible defender and had a reputation as a very difficult and unpleasant person who was broadly disliked by his teammates, and as a manager, by his players. I am not sure I want that on my team.

Joe Morgan did not have the flashy offensive numbers of Hornsby, but like Collins was a great defensive second baseman. Morgan also played in a much more competitive time, not least because the Major Leagues in which he played were integrated. Morgan, along with Willie Mays, Henry Aaron and Barry Bonds, may have been one of the best all around players in baseball history. He could hit, draw walks, steal bases, hit home runs and play defense at a level somewhere between very good, his power, and supreme, his base stealing-689 against only 162 times caught stealing, and his batting eye-eight times with more than 100 walks at a time when that was much more rare than it is today. From 1972-1976, Morgan averaged more than 20 home runs, 100 walks, 60 stolen bases a year while winning four gold gloves with an OPS+ of 163. That is about as complete a player as you could hope for. Morgan was also great teammate and clutch player. He got the winning hit in game seven of the 1975 World Series, and as a San Francisco Giant did this on the last day of the 1982 season, knocking the Dodgers out of the playoffs and making at least one 14 year Yankees and Giants fan at Candlestick Park very happy.

So, for my all time greatest second baseman, I am going with the guy who had the slightly less impressive statistics, but who could do it all on the baseball field-Joe Morgan.

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Mike Whiteman – Questions such as this are fun yet challenging at the same time. How does one compare players across the full spectrum of baseball history?

I’ll take a shot at it. I say Eddie Collins was the greatest second baseman of all time.

A look at Collins’ statline is a bit foreign to those of us used to seeing lots of home runs and strikeouts of late but his career spanned from 1906-1930, a vastly different era of the game. He was one of the more accomplished players of the Deadball era where run manufacturing strategies were king.

Yet, we can take a look under the hood to compare him on at least a somewhat level playing field.

First, Collins had a lifetime OPS+ of 142. While this is not at the level of Rogers Hornsby and Nap Lajoie, it’s in the top ten of second basemen all-time. That type of production can be dropped into any lineup at any time of baseball history and produce at a high level.

Collins’ bat wasn’t his only asset. He stole 741 bases for his career. Lest you think that’s just a function of the Deadball era, he led the American League in steals in 1923 and 1924 when the home run was coming into vogue and stolen bases were going down. These were Collins’ age 36 and 37 seasons.

In trying to make sense of Deadball era fielding, one way is to compare players to peers. Over his career, Collins had a .970 fielding percentage with a 5.42 Range Factor per Nine Innings (RF/9). The average second baseman during this time had a 5.36 RF/9 and .958 percentage. Basically, he was able to get to more balls in play than the average second baseman and was able to turn more of the opportunities into outs. His defensive prowess continued well into his career and was among fielding leaders even in his last year as a regular player in 1926. A quick year by year look at AL fielding stats through his career indicate that Collins would be a prime candidate for a Gold Glove (if the award existed then) at least nine times.

Known as one of the smartest players of his time, he could contribute to his team in so many ways. Throughout his career he ranked among leaders in bases on balls. He holds the record for career sacrifice bunts. Whatever the situation, it seems that Collins could execute, and help his team win.

Collins would meet the criteria of the “winner” label that has grown in importance through the years. He was a crucial part of six American League pennant and four World Series winning teams through his career, slashing .328/.381/.414 with 14 stolen bases in 34 Series games. Looking back in hindsight, he could have been in series Most Valuable Player consideration three times.

Collins won the Chalmers Award as AL MVP at age 27 and finished second in MVP voting at age 37. Baseball-Reference defines 8+ WAR is MVP caliber, 5+ WAR as All-Star worthy. Six times he reached over eight, and fifteen times he attained the All-Star level WAR. His 3315 hits ranks eleventh all-time, his 1821 runs scored eighteenth, his .333 career batting average thirtieth. Only Ty Cobb had more stolen bases than Collins among his Deadball contemporaries.

He was held in high respect by his teammates and opponents. Hall of Fame manager John McGraw, having been on the losing side of two World Series’ to Collins and the Athletics was effusive in his judgement:

“I want to go on record as saying that Collins is the greatest ballplayer in the world…Ty Cobb may mean more in the box office because of his ability as a drawing card, but Collins win more ballgames for a club, which is what counts in my mind….Collins is not playing for individual glory, which is what I like about him. He is always ready to dump down the bunt when that looks like the play. He is also very aggressive and has so much pepper that he keeps all the rest of the team in its toes. He is a finished ballplayer of the thinking type, and, to my mind, the greatest in the world.”

High praise indeed. Do you think McGraw saw his share of great players?

Though Collins’ career ended almost a hundred years ago, Yankee fans have seen a player Collins’ mold. Multi-talented? Smart? Team oriented? High respect from peers and opponents?

Kind of reminds me of Derek Jeter.

Hornsby may have been a better pure hitter. Lajoie may have hit for more power. Joe Morgan may have been faster. Ryne Sandberg may have been a better fielder. Eddie Collins brought the whole package, and brought it for almost twenty years. He’s my guy at the Keystone corner.

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Cary Greene – My answer to the Tuesday discussion is a simple Rogers Hornsby. It’s not close. He was the greatest second baseman of his era and his statistics will likely never be matched by a second baseman.

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Tim Kabel – My choice is Rogers Hornsby.

#SecondBase #JoeMorgan #EddieCollins #RogersHornsby #JackieRobinson

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