Genius Between Second and Third
The shortstop is the defensive leader of the infield. Defense comes first, but the great ones also bring plenty of offense propelled by their power or their speed … or both.
Here’s my rundown of the top 10 shortstops of the 1960s, based on a combination of their offensive prowess and their stellar defense.
1. Ernie Banks – Ernie Banks was to redefine the power and run production standards for a shortstop, starting in 1955 when he hit .295 with 44 home runs and 117 RBIs. Throughout the 1960s, Banks remained a consistent offensive threat despite the fact that he played for mostly sub-.500 Cub teams. During the decade, first as the Chicago Cubs’ shortstop and later as the team’s first baseman, Banks averaged 27 home runs and 95 RBIs per season. During the Cubs’ ill-fated pennant chase of 1969, Banks closed out the decade with a fine year, batting .253 with 23 home runs and 106 RBIs.
2. Luis Aparicio - Speed and defense made Luis Aparicio the American League’ premier shortstop from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s. Starting in 1956, he led the league in stolen bases for 9 consecutive years, with a career high of 57 in 1964. An 11-time All-Star, Aparicio collected 2,677 hits on a career batting average of .262, with a total of 506 stolen bases. When he retired, Aparicio had played more games at shortstop (2,581) with more assists (8,016) than any other shortstop in history.
3. Maury Wills - In addition to being an excellent shortstop (a 2-time Gold Glove winner), the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Maury Wills was so good at stealing bases that he won the Most Valuable Player award in 1962 while leading the league in that offensive category and no other. He stole 104 bases that year, 8 better than Ty Cobb’s single-season record. During his 14-season career, Wills averaged 49 steals per season, leading the league five different times.
4. Bert Campaneris – Bert Campaneris came up with the Kansas City Athletics as their shortstop in 1964, hitting a home run in his first at-bat and 2 homers in his first game. Starting in 1965, Campaneris led the league in stolen bases in each of his first 4 seasons and in 6 out of his first 8 years with the A’s. He led the league in triples in 1965 (12) and in hits in 1968 (177). During the 1960s, he batted a combined .264 with 292 stolen bases.
5. Dick Groat - Dick Groat was a consistent hitter for most of his career and an excellent shortstop, teaming with Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski to form one of baseball’s most prolific double play combinations. As the 1960 National League batting champion with a .325 average, Groat also led the league in singles (154), finished third in hits (186), and was sixth in on-base percentage (.371). He was voted league MVP for 1960. Following the 1962 season, Groat was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. He played well in 1963, bouncing back from so-so offensive numbers the previous 2 years to hit .319 with 201 hits, 43 doubles (tops in the majors), 11 triples and a career-high 73 RBIs.
6. Rico Petrocelli – In the 1960s, Rico Petrocelli was the closest thing the American League had to an Ernie Banks. As the shortstop for the Boston Red Sox, Petrocelli set the American League record for home runs by a shortstop when he blasted 40 in 1969. He also hit .297 with 98 RBIs that year, and drove in 103 runs for the Red Sox a year later. Over his 13-year career, all with Boston, Petrocelli hit 210 home runs.
7. Zoilo Versalles - The Minnesota shortstop was named American League MVP in 1965 as the leader of the pennant-winning Twins. The 5-foot-10 Cuban-born Zoilo Versalles had one heck of a year. He led the American League in at-bats (666), runs (126), doubles (45), triples (12), and total bases (308) while batting .273 with 19 home runs and 77 RBIs … plus winning the Golden Glove (his second). He continued his clutch hitting in the World Series, which the Los Angeles Dodgers took 4 games to 3. Versalles hit .286 with 4 RBIs on 8 hits, including a double, a triple and a home run. It was a season he never came close to matching.
8. Dick McAuliffe – Dick McAuliffe swung hard and played hard. The Detroit Tigers shortstop (who moved over to second base in 1967) averaged 17 home runs and 60 RBIs per year from 1962 to 1968. Eight times he finished in the top 10 in triples, and he led the American league in scoring in 1968 with 95 runs. In his 16-year career (all but the last 2 with Detroit), McAuliffe hit 197 home runs and drove in 697 runs.
9. Jim Fregosi – Jim Fregosi was the American League’s best-hitting shortstop for most of the 1960s, and a Gold Glove fielder. His best season was 1964, when he hit .277 with 18 home runs and 72 RBIs. Fregosi hit .290 in 1967 and led the American League in triples with 13 in 1968. A 6-time All-Star, Fregosi hit .265 over his 18-year career.
10. Ron Hansen – Ron Hansen didn’t scare many people with his bat, but he didn’t need to. His exceptional range and defensive savvy made him a valuable member of the Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox throughout the 1960s. And while he was only a .234 lifetime hitter, Hansen could produce runs. He was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1960 when he hit 22 home runs and drove in 86 runs. Though he never again matched those numbers, Hansen hit 10 or more home runs 4 more times and had 5 more seasons with 50+ RBIs.