The Greatest Players: Total Defense #1 through #16 (excluding catchers)
This post ranks the 30 greatest players in the history of baseball based on their defensive performance (this list is for position players excluding catchers).
Our defensive ratings include not only the ability to field and throw the ball, but also the players’ knowledge of the game, when and where to throw, positioning, the capability to “call” defensive sets, and simply knowing which plays to prioritize.
Remember, pure glove work alone rates a few players extremely high in the rankings, such as Richie Ashburn (CF), Dave Bancroft (SS), Davy Force (SS), Jack Glasscock (SS), Willie Kamm (3B), Nap Lajoie (2B), Fred Pfeffer (2B), and others.
#16 (15 are tied):
Dom DiMaggio CF
Dom DiMaggio, “The Little Professor” was one of the great center fielders in the history of baseball. He patrolled Fenway Park for the Boston Red Sox for 11 years, and was the anchor of the team’s outfield defense. He was selected for 7 All-Star teams, and finished in the top 5 for OF assists and fielding percentage in the AL every year he played in the 1940s and 1950s.
Vince DiMaggio was a center fielder, and brother to Dom And Joe DiMaggio. He played mostly for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and was a superb defender. He had a great arm, and led the NL in assists 3 years. He always finished in the top 5 in fielding percentage.
Mike Griffin CF
Mike Griffin was a star center fielder in the late 19th century. He played mostly for the National League’s Brooklyn franchise. He was so good as a center fielder, it was said he covered “half the outfield.” He led all of baseball with 5 fielding percentage crowns, and finished at or near the top every year in other defensive categories.
Charlie Grimm was a fine-fielding first baseman, who played 20 seasons for mostly the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs in the 1920s and 1930s. He was a take-charge defender, leading the National League in fielding percentage 6 times, and always finished in the top 5 in all defensive categories.
Glenn Hubbard was a solid-fielding second baseman for mostly the Atlanta Braves for 12 years in the 1980s. He had amazing range for a second sacker, and led the league in several defensive categories.
Hughie Jennings was a Hall of Fame shortstop for mostly Baltimore in the National League during during the 1890s. Jennings played for 18 seasons and was a superb offensive performer, but he was an excellent defensive shortstop. He had a great throwing arm, and led the NL in fielding percentage for SS 3 times, and always finished around the top in other defensive categories.
Al Kaline RF
Al Kaline was one of the great defensive right fielders in the history of baseball. He played 22 seasons for the Detroit Tigers from 1953 to 1974, and patrolled right field as if it were an art form. He was selected for 18 All-Star games, and led the AL in RF fielding percentage 7 times, and finished around the top in other defensive categories.
Don Mattingly, a star first baseman for the New York Yankees, played for 14 years in the 1980s and 1990s. He was an All-Star (selected for 6 games) offensive producer but was also known for his defensive skills. He won 9 Gold Gloves, and 4 fielding percentage crowns. While he was the AL MVP in 1985, and won numerous batting awards, he is still known as one of the best fielding first basemen in the history of baseball.
Bill Mazeroski, one of the best fielding second basemen ever, played for 17 seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was selected for 10 All-Star squads, largely on the strength of his defense. He garnered 8 Gold Gloves, and led the NL in many defensive categories, including in assists for 9 years.
Cal Ripken, Jr. was a fine offensive producer, but was especially known for his excellence as a shortstop. Ripken is a member of the Hall of Fame, and owns many baseball records, most notably the consecutive games played streak at 2,632. He played for the Baltimore Orioles for 21 seasons, and won MVPs in 1982 and 1991. He led the AL in SS assists for 7 years.
Phil Rizzuto SS
Phil Rizzuto, affectionately known as “The Scooter,” played shortstop for the New York Yankees for 13 years in the 1940s and 1950s, and is in the Hall of Fame. He won the 1950 AL MVP, and was the field leader on defense. He was selected for 5 All-Star teams, and was a clutch defensive performer.
Ron Santo 3B
Ron Santo, a star third baseman, played for mostly the Chicago Cubs for 15 seasons. He was selected as an All-Star 9 times, was a fine offensive producer, and a very fine third baseman. He was always in the top tier of 3B defensive stats, led all third basemen in assists for 7 straight years.
Joe Start 1B
Joe Start, “Old Reliable,” is credited with developing the first base position. Players today still defend first base the way Joe Start did. He is credited with playing Major League ball for 27 years (confirmed for at least 24 years at the Major League level), for a variety of teams from the 1860s through the 1880s in the National Association and the National League. Start was a good hitter, but was known as a consummate defender. He won 5 fielding percentage crowns, always finishing around the top of defensive stats.
Curt Welch CF
Curt Welch, an outstanding center fielder, played for 10 seasons, mostly in the American Association for a variety of teams. He played from 1884 to 1893, and became one of the great center fielders. He either led or was near the top of all defensive categories in his era.
Bobby Wine, Sr., a slick-fielding shortstop, played for 12 years in the 1960s, mostly with the Philadelphia Phillies and Montreal Expos. He either led or was near the top of several defensive categories during his career. He made playing shortstop look easy.
#8 (8 players tied):
Mike Schmidt 3B
Mike Schmidt, a superb third baseman, was an offensive juggernaut, but his defense always drew rave reviews. He played for 18 seasons in the 1970s and 1980s, for the Philadelphia Phillies, and was a standout defender. He is a member of Cooperstown, and was an All-Star team selection for 12 years. He won the NL MVP in 1980, 1981 and 1986. He also won 10 Gold Gloves, leading the NL in 3B assists 7 times.
Ozzie Smith SS
Ozzie Smith, “The Wizard,” earned his nickname as a brilliant shortstop for mostly the St. Louis Cardinals over a 19 year career. He played flawlessly from 1978 to 1996, and set the standard for style as a shortstop. He was selected for 15 All-Star games, and won 13 Gold Gloves. Ozzie led the NL in SS fielding percentage 8 years, and is the All-Time leader in SS assists with 8,375.
Ichiro Suzuki, one of the best right fielders ever, has, at this printing, played 11 seasons, starting in 2001, with the Seattle Mariners. He already owns several offensive records, and his defense in right field has spawned a video of his amazing accomplishments. He won the AL MVP in 2001, and has won 10 Gold Gloves.
Fred Tenney 1B
Fred Tenney, who played suffocating defense as a first baseman, was possibly the best defensive player at his position in the history of baseball. He played 17 seasons for mostly the Boston NL franchise, from 1894 to 1911. He won 8 assist titles as a first baseman, and was a perennial leader in all defensive categories.
Pie Traynor 3B
Harold “Pie” Traynor earned his nickname with his skillful fielding at third base, playing with the Pittsburgh Pirates for 17 years during the 1920s and 1930s. He was an excellent offensive producer as well, but his defense was spectacular. He led the NL in 3B putouts 7 times, and was in the top echelon of all fielding stats throughout his career. He is in Cooperstown.
Omar Vizquel SS
Omar Vizquel, a shortstop whose elegant excellence on defense made him a treat to watch, won 11 Gold Glove Awards. At this printing, he has played 23 seasons for mostly Cleveland and Seattle in the American League. Since his Rookie year (1989), Vizquel’s fielding percentage at SS is 2nd All-Time.
Honus Wagner SS
Honus Wagner, a Hall of Fame icon, was one of baseball history’s best run producers. He was also a great defender at shortstop. He played for 21 seasons, mostly for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and was annually a leader in most defensive categories. He was his team’s leader on defense, a superb player.
Carl Yastrzemski has been called the best left fielder to ever play the game. Of course, he excelled as a hitter. Yet, his defense drew superlatives from peers and fans alike. He played for 23 seasons with the Boston Red Sox, from 1961 to 1983, and was selected to 18 All-Star squads. He won 7 Gold Gloves and led the AL in OF assists 7 times.
#2 (tied with 6 players):
Lou Boudreau SS
Lou Boudreau was a great shortstop during the 1940s for mostly the Cleveland Indians. This Hall of Famer also became the youngest manager since 1900 for a Major League team. Boudreau refined what became known as the “Boudreau shift”, a type of defense to cut down on hits by pull hitters, such as Ted Williams. He was selected for 7 All-Star teams, and won the AL MVP in 1948. He was the best fielder at SS for 10 straight years. Some believe he was the best defensive shortstop in baseball history.
Roberto Clemente, a right fielder, is generally proclaimed as the best defensive right fielder in the history of baseball. Clemente played 18 seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and was elected to the Hall of Fame. He had great range and a rifle arm, and won 12 Gold Gloves. He was elected to the Hall of Fame, and chosen for 15 All-Star squads. He was an MVP in 1966, and was a fine offensive performer… but, it is his defense that is still talked about.
Bid McPhee 2B
John “Bid” McPhee was one of the great defensive second basemen of All-Time. He played for Cincinnati in the American Association and National League, for 18 seasons, in the 1880s and 1890s. McPhee was a fine hitter, but he set new standards for defense that are still benchmarks today. Bid McPhee is a member of Cooperstown, and led the NL in 2B fielding percentage for 9 years, and also was a leader in every defensive category during his career.
Red Schoendienst, an amazing second baseman, played 19 seasons for mostly the St. Louis Cardinals from 1945 to 1963. He was a stellar defender, and was elected to Cooperstown for his accomplishments. He was on 10 All-Star teams, and led in 2B fielding percentage for 7 years. He was one of the steadiest-fielding second basemen of the 20th century.
Tris Speaker CF
Tris Speaker, a center fielder, is still considered the best at his defensive position ever. He was an astounding offensive player, but the standards he set on defense are still unmatched. He is a member of the Hall of fame, and played 22 years for mostly the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians, from 1907 to 1928. He was at or near the top every season for defensive excellence.
Bobby Wallace, who mostly played shortstop, is one of the best defenders of All-Time. He played 25 seasons, from 1894 to 1918 for Cleveland and St. Louis of the National League and the AL’s St. Louis Browns. He called defensive sets for his team, and finished first or near the top of every defensive category, year after year. He was one of the most dependable fielders in the game.
#1 Brooks Robinson 3B
Brooks Robinson, “The Vacuum Cleaner,” was a third baseman who is generally regarded as the best defender in the history of baseball. He played 23 seasons for the Baltimore Orioles from 1955 to 1977, and is a member of the Hall of Fame. Videos of his World Series (1970) defensive plays give an amazing snapshot of what Orioles fans saw everyday. He won the MVP in 1964, and was on 18 All-Star teams. He won 16 Gold Gloves in a row, and had no equal at the Hot Corner. He was the leader in 3B fielding percentage for 11 years.
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