Born to Play Ball - Second Basemen
Rogers Hornsby (1915-1937)
"I don't like to sound egotistical, but every time I stepped up to the plate with a bat in my hands, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the pitcher."
- Rogers Hornsby
Rogers Hornsby was the greatest hitting second baseman in history and many consider him the best right hand hitter ever. His career batting average of .358 (second all time to Ty Cobb's of .366) included three seasons when he hit over .400. His .424 mark in 1924 is the highest in the modern era, yet his 1922 and 1925 seasons might be even better because he won the Triple Crown in each of those campaigns. From 1921 through 1925, he averaged .402, a feat that may never be equaled, especially when one considers that it has been some 60 years since a player hit .400.
He started his career as a weak-hitting minor league player, but when he added weight and muscle, the slugger in him emerged. Few took hitting as seriously as Hornsby. He refused to read newspapers (unless it was to see his batting average) or watch movies, believing those activities would damage his eyes. Playing for the St. Louis Cardinals for most of his career, he led the Redbirds to victory in the 1926 World Series over Babe Ruth's New York Yankees. But this proved to be his last full season in St. Louis, due to a personality that was anything but warm. As a player and manager, he demeaned players who committed errors or pitchers who were hit hard during a game. Such a personality and his demand for a large salary increase made him expendable. He was traded to the New York Giants, then the Boston Braves and the Chicago Cubs - all in three years. It seems his ill-temper got the best of him, nowhere better exemplified than when Hornsby ended an argument with an umpire by flattening him with a punch. After the game, a reporter asked Rogers why he hit the umpire. "Well, I wasn't making any progress trying to talk to him."
Hornsby was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1942 and was named to Major League Baseball's All Century Team in 1999.
Eddie Collins (1906-1930)
"They called [Eddie] Collins "Cocky," not because he was arrogant, but because he was filled with confidence based on sheer ability."
- Jack Kavanaugh
Eddie Collins played in an era of fundamental baseball as opposed to the power ball of Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron or Barry Bonds. He was a slick fielding second baseman who holds career records for assists and putouts at his position. Yet he was an offensive weapon as well, with a career batting average of .333 and a base stealer of legendary proportions.
Born in New York state in 1887, Collins was a rarity in baseball - he attended college at Columbia University. When he first arrived in the majors, he played under an assumed name because he was also Columbia's starting quarterback on the gridiron. In just a few years, he led Connie Mack's Athletics to four of five American League pennants. Were it not for Ty Cobb, he would have been the game's premier base stealer.
He played on four world championship teams, batting .328 with 42 hits and 14 stolen bases in 34 Fall Classic games - each among the all-time leaders. He played in six World Series contests, four with the Philadelphia Athletics and two with the Chicago White Sox. He was a member of the "Black Sox" in 1919 where several teammates took bribes from gambling lords to throw the World Series. Collins was never implicated in the scandal that rocked America's pastime. In fact, Collins watched in disbelief as teammate after teammate failed to execute simple plays, lobbed pitches or struck out.
Eddie Collins finished his career a 25 year player, the American League record for longevity, and his 3,315 hits is tenth all-time.
Joe Morgan (1963-1984)
The Little General
"A good base stealer should make the whole infield jumpy. Whether you steal or not, you're changing the rhythm of the game."
- Joe Morgan
He was the greatest second baseman of his generation, and at only 5'7", 160 pounds, terrorized opponents through a unique combination of power and speed. Joe Morgan's career began with the Houston Colt .45s (later renamed the Astros) in 1963, playing in spacious parks that were unfriendly to hitters. In 1972, he was part of a multi-player trade that landed him in Cincinnati with the Reds, where he was the perfect fit for a team on the rise.
Morgan was the catalyst for the Big Red Machine that went on to win three pennants and two World Series. His teammates included All Stars like Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, and Dave Concepion, but it was Morgan who regularly led the league in walks and was among the league leaders in stolen bases and runs sparking the Reds. He won consecutive MVP awards in 1975 and 1976, the latter based on a .330 average, 113 runs scored, 114 walks, 111 RBIs, 27 homers and his fourth consecutive Gold Glove.
He bounced around with the Astros, Giants, Phillies and Athletics in the last five years of his career. He was a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee in 1990 and named to the Major League Baseball's All Century Team. Baseball historian Bill James ranks Morgan as the greatest second baseman of all time, based on James' complex analysis of career statistics.
Joe Morgan is now a regular on ESPN's national broadcasting team for Major League Baseball.
Jackie Robinson (1947-1956)
"Give me five players like [Jackie] Robinson and a pitcher and I'll beat any nine-man team in baseball."
- Charlie Dressen
He had only 1,500 hits and 137 home runs with a career average of .311 in a ten year career, yet Jackie Robinson's greatness can never be measured in numbers. He may well be the most influential player in over 100 years. When he debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson changed baseball, American sports and the country forever - he broke the unwritten color barrier of the game. It was Robinson who opened the door for greats like Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, and all players of color. Willie Mays once said, "Every time I look at my pocketbook, I see Jackie Robinson."
Dodger general manager and president Branch Rickey was never one to do things by the book. He was determined to integrate baseball. After scouting many Negro League players, he settled on the all-around athlete from UCLA, Jackie Robinson, signing him in 1945. After a brief period in the minors, Ricky called up the gifted Robinson.
That spring Robinson suffered racial slurs from fans, opposing players and even a few teammates. Robinson never took the bait; he knew if he responded, it would set integration back many years. Instead he became all the more determined to excel, showing all of America that it was no longer only a white man's game. Fellow Dodger Pee Wee Reese had seen the pressure on and hatred directed at Jackie. In a game in Cincinnati (one of the southernmost teams at the time), the heckling and death threats were at their most intense. Reese, a Southerner, walked over to Robinson on the field, put his arm around him as friends would do and talked to him for a moment. Reese had made a statement to the fans and America - Robinson was a teammate. Robinson later said, "That meant so much, so much."
Robinson went on to win Rookie of the Year, an MVP award in 1949, and he appeared in six World Series. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1962, but the greatest tribute of all came in 1997, the 50th anniversary of his courageous entry into the game, when every team in baseball retired his number - 42. Whenever you see players of color in any sport, think of Jackie Robinson.
Was Robinson bitter over what he had to go through so that others could play professional sports? In his own words, he said, "The way I figured it, I was even with baseball and baseball with me. The game had done much for me, and I had done much for it."
Roberto Alomar (1988-2004)
The Splendid Spitter
"I've been watching baseball for 60 years and he is the best I've ever seen."
- Orlando Cepeda
Many would take exception to Roberto Alomar's inclusion as one of the greatest second basemen in the history of the game. He played for eight different teams over his career, usually wearing out his welcome. He was vilified for his behavior, especially when he spit in the face of an umpire after being thrown out of a game. That said, he was a complete player who hit for average with power, drove in runs, stole bases and formed great double play duos with the likes of Cal Ripken, Jr., and Omar Vizquel.
He helped the Toronto Blue Jays to two straight World Series titles, played in the post season seven times, and won ten Gold Gloves.
He was born to play ball: his father was a major leaguer and his brother, Sandy Alomar, was a big league catcher. He was a switch hitter who averaged .300 and stole 30 or more bases eight times. His best seasons were with the Cleveland Indians when he hit over .300, clubbed more than 20 homers, drove in over 100 runs and stole 30 or more bases.
Maybe the best assessment was by the great slugger Orlando Cepeda. According to Cepeda, "I've seen a lot of second basemen in my time. My father played in the Negro Leagues ... where I saw Cool Papa Bell. I played with Julian Javier, Felix Milan, and Cookie Rojas. I played against Bill Mazeroski and Joe Morgan. In All-Star games, I saw Rod Carew. As good as they were, none were as good as Roberto Alomar. I've been watching baseball for 60 years and he's the best I've ever seen."
Ryne Sandberg (1981-1997)
"[When you] hit a home run - put your head down, drop the bat, run the bases, because the name on the front [of your jersey] is more - a lot more - important than the name on the back."
- Ryne Sandberg
One of the most beloved players in Chicago Cubs history, Ryne Sandberg played the sport hard and clean, always respecting the game and its traditions. He was a solid fielder, winning nine Gold Gloves. He broke Joe Morgan's consecutive games at second without an error in 1989. He won the MVP award in 1984, leading the Cubs to the playoffs. He joins Brady Anderson and Barry Bonds as the only players to have both a 40 home run and 50 stolen base season in their careers. When Sandberg retired in 1997, he owned the career record for most home runs by a second baseman.
Rod Carew (1967-1985)
"He's the only guy I know who can go four for three."
- Alan Bannister
Rod Carew's bat seemed like a magic wand - seemingly every time he flicked it, he got a hit. He won seven batting titles, was a perennial All-Star, and was considered the best bunter of his generation. In 1977, he fell eight hits shy of hitting .400, finishing with a .388 average, the highest mark since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941. He was also a great base runner, stealing home seventeen times in his career. Although never a great fielder, he did collect over 3,000 hits in his career. Spending most of his time with the Minnesota Twins, he left the Twin Cities when he believed Twins' ownership was not committed to winning. He spent his last years with the California Angels.
Napoleon Lajoie (1896-1916)
"[H]e was fluent and unhurried as a second baseman, with an insouciance belying the carefully calculated movements of his big frame."
- Tom Meany
Nap Lajoie was baseball's greatest star before the arrival of Ty Cobb. He played for the Philadelphia Phillies and Athletics and for twelve years with the Cleveland Indians. Early in his career the American League was very weak, especially compared to the National League. For several seasons in the first part of his playing days, foul balls were not counted as strikes, helping him amass a .426 average in 1901. Even when the rules changed, Lajoie continued to bat well over .300, ending his career with a .339 average and 3,242 hits, a mark only eclipsed at the time by Honus Wagner. Contemporaries marveled at his offense, but his defense was extraordinary, and he easily is one of the top fielders of all time at his position. Lajoie was in the second group of inductees to the Hall of Fame.
Bill Mazeroski (1956-1972)
"The impressive thing about Maz was that he fielded everything perfectly. I backed him up for 10 years and never got a ball."
- Bill Virdon
Bill Mazeroski will forever be remembered as the slayer of the fearsome New York Yankees, when he clubbed the only walk off home run in a seventh game of a World Series. Maz's Pittsburgh Pirates won the World Series in seven games despite being outscored and out hit by wide margins in that Fall Classic. But Mazeroski was never a great offensive player. If anyone made the Hall of Fame for defense, it was him. He is easily the best fielder to play second base. Despite a stocky build, he exhibited cat-like reflexes and his double play relay earned him the nickname "No Hands" - when turning a double play he got rid of the ball so fast, it was as though he never touched the ball. On his retirement, nearly every record for fielding at second belonged to him.