Second base has changed over the years; second basemen were not power hitters back in the day, and that has changed some, and not just because of steroids! The position used to be for guys who didn’t have the arm strength to play shortstop or third base, but that’s not the case any more.
Offense is the driving factor of our evaluation process, while value-based metrics formed its core. WAR ratings from Baseball Reference and Fangraphs were calculated differently; thus, we attempted to balance longevity and dominance rankings to get an adequate representation. Thus we looked at WAR7 (seven best seasons), WAR/162 (Average WAR per season), and how many seasons the player led his league in WAR leader rankings.
Once we had narrowed down our list, we added offensive stats and honors/awards as measures of excellence to complete it. Basic statistics such as hits, batting average, OBP, SLG, HRs, and RBI were combined with wOBA and wRC+ to measure offence, while All-Star game appearances, MVP awards or seasons where players finished among the Top Ten for MVP voting were considered.
Cano has always been an exceptional hitter, evidenced by his impressive career slash line of.301/.351/.489. After debuting with the Yankees in 2005 and quickly making his presence felt, finishing second in rookie-of-the-year voting, his sophomore season saw him bat.342, win a silver slugger award and make eight all-star teams, even adding in some gold gloves wins along the way! Cano should make the All-Time Steroid team!
Cano was an indispensable player during his tenure with New York and integral to their 2009 World Championship squad. Cano seemed set on remaining a Yankee for life until 2013 when he surprised everyone by signing a $240M contract with Seattle Mariners instead. While Cano continued hitting in Seattle, his first positive drug test forced him to miss half of the 2018 season before being traded to the Mets, where he enjoyed an excellent 2020 before again failing a drug test and missing all of the 2021 season due to another positive result.
Alomar made his major league debut as a Padre at 20 years old in 1988 and retired 17 years later with the White Sox. Alomar is best remembered for his stints with Toronto (World Series title wins in 1992 and 1993), the Orioles (four playoff appearances)and the Indians. Alomar amassed impressive stats during those four playoff appearances (.313 average, four home runs, 33 RBI, 32 runs scored and 20 stolen bases).
Alomar earned many honors throughout his career, such as 12 all-star selections, four silver slugger awards and ten gold gloves – five Top 10 MVP finalists appearances among them – making the Hall of Fame in just his second year after initially missing due to an unfortunate spitting incident on his first attempt.
Frankie Frisch was a remarkable athlete and likely the top defensive second baseman in this Top 10. His Fangraphs defensive rating led all second basemen with over 1,000 plate appearances; additionally, his speed led to three SB titles during his career; on top of all that, his hitting ability was further demonstrated with his 316/.369/.432 slash line.
Frisch began his professional baseball career with the New York Giants in 1919, lasting seven seasons with them and making four consecutive World Series from 1921-1924, winning two of them. Following a disagreement with Giants manager John McGraw in 1926, Frisch was traded to the St Louis Cardinals at season’s end but still went on to appear in four more World Series, winning two of them with the Cardinals! Additionally, he earned MVP honors with St Louis in 1931 while appearing in three all-star games after its inaugural game in 1933.
Once Jackie debuted with the Dodgers in 1947, it quickly became evident that he belonged. He won rookie-of-the-year honors, finished fifth in MVP voting and led the league in stolen bases. A year later, when he batted.342 with 37 SBs and 124 RBI in 1949, he won MVP honors, appeared in his first MLB All-Star Game, and led stolen base statistics and batting average.
The Dodgers made six World Series with Jackie in five years against the Yankees, winning only once during 1955 (his second to last season). Had Robinson played more seasons, he would likely rank nearer the top; as it stands, he ranks second among all-time WAR-162 and sixth among second basemen WAR7; this is a testament to his dominance; in 1962, he was elected into the Hall of Fame with first ballot vote; then, MLB retired his number 42 across baseball a full 20 years after retiring it for Robinson himself!
Rod Carew was one of the greatest hitters of his generation. He won seven batting titles and owns the third-highest lifetime batting average among players born after 1965 (behind Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs). From 1967-77, he was an all-star every year; 1967 saw rookie-of-the-year honors awarded; his breakout performance came in 1977 when he won the AL MVP after hitting.388/.449/.570 with 16 triples and 100 RBI! At this point, he switched over to first base, where he would remain for the remainder of his career.
Though Carew was successful individually for the Twins, his teams werenot, only twice during his time there did they reach the playoffs, never making it to a World Series. Once it became apparent he would leave, in February 1979, they traded him to the California Angels, where, unfortunately for Carew, there wouldn’t be much postseason success there either.
Carew retired after 1985 despite still having an effective season that saw him hit 280 with an OBP of.371. In 1991, he was elected into the Hall of Fame with 90.5% of votes in his favor.
LaJoie is known as one of the first stars in American League history. Debuting for Philadelphia at first base before switching over to second in 1898 – where his fame truly flourished. No matter where Lajoie played in the field, his outstanding defense made an impressionful statement. But more important was LaJoie’s success at bat: in an era before awards were handed out, he led key offensive categories multiple times over his 21-year career: hits (4x), doubles (5x), RBI (3x), batting average (5x), SLG (4x) and HRs (1x).
Lajoie was an intense competitor who often clashed with umpires. However, his biggest fight came when he left his contract with the Phillies to join the insurgent American League Athletics in 1901 and help legitimize it; although Lajoie only played briefly with them as legal action by the National League prohibited him from playing any team other than the Phillies there in Philadelphia.
After dominating virtually every statistical category and winning the Triple Crown for one season with the Athletics, Lajoie moved on to Cleveland, where his Bronchos changed their name in 1903 in honour of Lajoie’s prowess as their leader – with “The Naps.”
Lajoie spent most of his remaining career playing for Cleveland before rejoining the A’s for two final years (1915-16). By this point, he had reached his late forties and begun showing signs of weariness; Lajoie retired following that season and was later honoured with induction into Cooperstown.
Charlie Gehringer earned the moniker “The Mechanical Man,” due to his robotic consistency and durability in hitting, running, and defensive play. Gehringer is unique among this Top Ten as being the sole player who spent their entire career with one organization – the Detroit Tigers.
Gehringer made his MLB debut with the Tigers in 1924 but didn’t become a regular until 1926. Once established, the Tigers did not need to look elsewhere for a second baseman until 1942, during which period The Mechanical Man led the league in games four times; hits, runs, doubles twice; triples, stolen bases once; and batting average once (in 1937 he also won MVP and hit an outstanding.371/.458/.520 line!). Additionally, he played in all six All-Star Games, starting with 1933’s All-Star Game.
Gehringer made three trips to the World Series, winning one championship in 1935. He batted over 20 contests in this World Series, 321, with an OBP of 375. Seven years after playing his last game, he was honored with induction into the Hall of Fame.
Collins stands tall among second basemen in the record books because of his lengthy career. He ranks first in stolen bases, second in games played, plate appearances, triples, runs, third in batting average, and sixth in RBI. Furthermore, Collins earned an MVP win in 1914 and six top 5 MVP finishes during his time.
Connie Mack’s Athletics were legendary, winning four World Series with Eddie until 1915. Following their ignoble loss in 1914, Mack broke up the A’s and sold Eddie Collins to the Chicago White Sox for $50k – but that did not stop Eddie from dominating the small ball for 12 seasons in Chicago!
At that time, they reached two World Series (in 1917 and 1919), winning one. Unfortunately, their second appearance became known as “Black Sox Scandal” due to reports that multiple players conspired against the team by throwing it. Collins wasn’t implicated directly, yet this scandal dismantled their entire organization.
Collins returned to the A’s for four more seasons before retiring at 43 at the end of 1930. In 1939, he was honored by being inducted into the Hall of Fame with four other distinguished figures.
Joe Morgan made an immediate impact upon joining the Houston Colt 45s before signing with their successors in 1965, the then Astros. That year, he finished second in rookie-of-the-year voting while leading in walks. Morgan made his first of ten all-star teams two seasons later. Still, it wasn’t until 1972 that his career truly blossomed with the Cincinnati Reds, when he led in runs, walks, and OBP while finishing fourth in MVP voting and making an appearance in the World Series.
Morgan would enjoy four incredible seasons, particularly 1975 and 1976 when he won both NL MVP awards. An all-around talent, Morgan could run, hit for power, play great defense, take home five gold gloves in Cincinnati and lead the league in OBP four times.
As the Reds’ dynasty unravelled, Morgan moved on and played his final five seasons for four clubs before retiring with an OBP of.392. When eligible, BBWAA quickly added him to Cooperstown, electing him during his inaugural eligibility year of 1990. Who was the greatest second baseman, Morgan or Hornsby?
Rogers Hornsby is the uncontested choice as the greatest second baseman ever. Hornsby excelled in nearly every category and led in WAR. His offensive prowess ranks ninth on Fangraphs WAR for all offensive players and 12th on Baseball Reference; only Ty Cobb boasts a higher lifetime batting average than Hornsby at.358, so this award goes to him without question.
Hornsby debuted with the Cardinals in 1915 and became a starter the following season. By 1920, he had won his first of six consecutive (and seven total) batting titles with a BA of.370; this would prove to be the lowest mark among his titles’ years. Three times, Hornsby hit over 400 average (including his remarkable 424 average in 1924; no player ever before or since has achieved such an exceptional single-season batting average with as many plate appearances.). Hornsby is considered one of the greatest St. Louis Cardinals of all time.
Hornsby won five batting titles, four hits/doubles/RBI titles, two triple/homer victories and nine OBP/SLG crowns over his 14-year career – which ranks him among the greatest right-handed hitters ever. After becoming one of the St Louis Cardinals’ greatest right-handed hitters ever in 1926 (when Frankie Frisch was brought back as manager), Hornsby was traded to the Giants. He would be traded back to the Cardinals in 1928. He finally earned another MVP award in 1929
Hornsby began his player management career with the Cards in 1925, remaining so for most of his playing career with them and the St. Louis Browns (where he still hit over 300 four times). In 1937, he retired, and five years later, he was honored by being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Late to reach his full potential, he hit most of his 377 home runs after turning 30, with six years spent with the San Francisco Giants being his best years.
He amassed a 136 OPS+ over this span, averaging 41 doubles, 29 home runs, 115 RBI and 5.3 WAR per season. In 2000 alone he posted an incredible season hitting.334/.424/.596 with 41 doubles, 33 homers 125 RBIs and 7.2 WAR – bettering teammate Barry Bonds in terms of OPS+ performance to claim National League MVP honors.
Beloved Cubbyness and a brief stint as one of the most talented second basemen aside, Sandberg’s main strength lies in exploiting Wrigley Field to hit for power; his slugging percentage at Wrigley was remarkable (.491) as opposed to an unspectacular.412 anywhere else. Add his questionable defense into this mix, and no comparison would ever be made against Chase Utley or Robbie Cano, let alone Alomar or Morgan.
On his journey to joining the 3,000 Hit Club, he posted 13 seasons with at least 150 hits, ranking among the top 20 all-time in doubles (668; sixth), runs scored (1,844; 16th) and hit by pitches (285); all contributing to a career on-base percentage of.363.
Only Barry Bonds (162.8), Alex Rodriguez (117.6), Pete Rose (79.5) and Dead-Ball Era shortstop Bill Dahlen (75.1) among retired position players have greater career WAR than Lou Whitaker (75.1).
Whitaker was an integral member of the Detroit Tigers for over two decades alongside shortstop Alan Trammell and first garnered attention with an AL Rookie of the Year honor in 1978.
He posted ten seasons with at least 4.0 WAR, reaching his career high-water mark of hitting 279/.391/.489 to earn a 141 OPS+ with 26 doubles and 23 home runs during 1991 when he reached age 34.
As an outstanding batter, he produced at least ten home runs and 50 RBIs in 12 consecutive seasons, culminating in 1979 with 30 home runs and 101 RBIs, finishing eighth in AL MVP voting.
Defensive WAR among second basemen also places him among the top 15 in all time, and he earned four consecutive Gold Glove Awards early on with the Baltimore Orioles.
He did not become an everyday player until the age-26 season; during those five seasons as part of the Philadelphia lineup, he averaged 39 doubles, 29 home runs, 101 RBI and scored an astounding 111 runs averaging 135 OPS+ with 7.9 WAR as per OPS+.
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