Grace at Second Base
The second baseman’s primary job is defense up the middle, with sure hands in turning the double play. Any offense he can generate is usually a bonus, and there were plenty of “bonus” second basemen in this list. In fact, the only World Series walk-off home run during the 1960s (or any decade before) came off the bat of a second baseman … the guy who tops this list.
Here’s my rundown of the top 10 second basemen of the 1960s.
1. Bill Mazeroski - You can’t talk about the great second baseman unless you include the man who did it better and longer than just about anyone else. That was Bill Mazeroski. Winner of 8 Gold Gloves, Mazeroski holds more defensive records than any other player in major league history. He wasn’t a bad hitter either, finishing his 17-year career (all with the PittsburghPirates) with more than 2,000 hits and a .260 lifetime batting average. He hit as many as 19 home runs in a season (1958), and finished his career with 138 homers, seventeenth all-time among second basemen … none of whom could match him in the field.
2. Bobby Richardson - From 1961 through 1966, the durable Bobby Richardson never had fewer than 600 official at-bats in a season. He led the American League in hits in 1962 with 209. That year he had a career-high .302 batting average, and finished second in the MVP balloting to teammate Mickey Mantle. He was the league’s Gold Glove second baseman from 1961 to 1965.
3. Pete Runnels - Pete Runnels was the 1960s’ first two-time batting champion, and the first player ever to win two batting titles while playing two different positions. As the Boston Red Sox starting second baseman, Runnels won his first batting championship in 1960 with a .320 average. Runnels moved over to first base in 1961, hitting .317 that year. As the Red Sox first baseman in 1962, Runnels claimed his second batting title with a .326 average.
4. Pete Rose - Cincinnati born and raised, Pete Rose was signed by the Cincinnati Reds in 1960, and had become the team’s starting second baseman by opening day of 1963. A strong debut season (.273 batting average on 170 hits) earned him Rookie of the Year honors for 1963. His best season during the 1960s came in 1968, when Rose led the league in hitting (.335), hits (210) and on-base percentage (.391), finishing second in the league in doubles (42) and second in the Most Valuable Player balloting. During the 1960s, he led the league in hits twice, in 1965 (209) and in 1968 (210). He repeated as the National League batting champion in 1969 (.348), the first year that he led the National League in runs scored (120).
5. Rod Carew – Rod Carew’s Hall of Fame career began in the 1960s, and he won the first of his 7 batting titles by the end of the decade, hitting .332 in 1969. The 1967 Rookie of the Year hit .300 or better in 15 of the 19 seasons he played, finishing with a career average of .328 and 3,053 hits.
6. Glenn Beckert – When Glenn Beckert was called upon to replace the late Ken Hubbs at second base for the Chicago Cubs, it meant stepping in for one of the best defensive second basemen in the National League. Beckert provided the Cubs with solid defense during his 9-year run in Chicago, and delivered considerably more pop with his bat. Between 1966 and 1969, Beckert hit for an average of .288 (he hit .283 over his 11-year career). He led the National League with 98 runs in 1968, the same year he won his only Gold Glove. His best hitting season was 1971, when Beckert finished third in the league with a .342 average.
7. Julian Javier – The St. Louis Cardinals’ second baseman throughout the 1960s, Julian Javier played an integral role in the team’s 3 pennant-winning seasons during that decade. He was a contact hitter with great range in the field. Javier hit 12 home runs with 65 RBIs during the 1964 championship season, and had his best year in 1967, hitting .281 with 14 home runs and 64 RBIs. He hit .360 in the 1967 World Series, and batted .333 in the 1968 World Series.
8. Ron Hunt – The New York Mets first genuine “star,” Ron Hunt hit .303 in 1964, his second full season. After one season with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1967, Hunt played for the San Francisco Giants, Montreal Expos and St. Louis Cardinals from 1968 to 1974, and led the National League in one statistical category for all 7 of those seasons: hit by pitch. He was hit by 50 pitches in 1971, the highest single-season total in the modern era.
9. Bobby Knoop – Though he led the American League with 11 triples in 1966, Bobby Knoop’s value to the California Angels was to be found in his durability and his glove. From 1964 to 1968, he averaged 155 games per year and won 3 Gold Gloves.
10. Cookie Rojas – As the Philadelphia Phillies’ second baseman from 1964 to 1969, Cookie Rojas was a fan favorite who teamed with shortstop Bobby Wine to form one of the best double play combinations in the league. Rojas hit .262 during his Phillies career and led the league with 16 sacrifice hits in 1967.