The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Current day shortstops fit the mold established by Cal Ripken Jr.

When Cal Ripken Jr. came onto the major-league scene as a rookie in 1981 and 1982, he was somewhat of an oddity for his position. At 6 feet, 4 inches and 200 pounds, he was considered a giant for shortstops. Along with his unusual physique, came a big bat. Not only was he a relative “giant” physically, but he ultimately became one of the “giants” of the sport, earning a spot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.


Ripken is generally credited with ushering in an era in which the shortstop position was expected to provide more offense, in addition to being a solid fielder. Today we are seeing shortstops like Fernando Tatis Jr., Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Dante Bichette, Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, and Trea Turner as some of the game’s best, because they are an offensive force on their respective teams, like Ripken was.


Before Ripken, the shortstop was primarily regarded as a “good field, no hit” position. The prototypical shortstop before the 1980s was relatively small in stature (often the smallest guy on the team), had a good glove, had good speed, and was mostly a singles hitter. Standout players like Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto, Lou Boudreau, Al Dark, Maury Wills, Luis Aparicio, and Larry Bowa are some of the best examples of the pre-Ripken model.


Occasionally there were anomalies at the position. Hall of Famer Ernie Banks started out as a shortstop for the Chicago Cubs in 1953, and he averaged 33 home runs during his first nine seasons, before moving to first base. Boston Red Sox shortstop Rico Petrocelli hit 40 home runs in 1969. Vern Stephens led the league in RBIs in three seasons in the late 1940s and early 1950s. At 6-foot-3, the Orioles’ Ron Hansen was one of the taller shortstops in the game during the 1960s.


Ripken came along and consistently demonstrated the most power for a shortstop since Banks. In his prime years from 1982 to 1998, Ripken averaged 23 home runs and 89 RBIs to go along with a batting line of .276/.344/.448. He was an eight-time Silver Slugger Award winner, a 19-time All-Star, and a Gold Glove winner twice.


The “Ripken mold” continued with some of the best shortstops in baseball from the mid-1990s into the 2000s that included Nomar Garciaparra, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Miguel Tejada. Like Ripken, they had an ability to bring offensive production to their teams and still provide the requisite defense for shortstops. Troy Tulowitzki followed them as one of the best fielding shortstops of all-time, and he managed to average (on a 162-game basis) 28 HRs and 98 RBIs during his career.


6-foot-3 Tatis Jr. is one of the most athletic players in the game today. He makes the spectacular plays in the field while also giving the Padres a power bat in the second spot of the batting order. Like Ripken in his time, Tatis Jr. has become one the popular faces in all of baseball. His contemporaries.


Bogaerts is a three-time Silver Slugger Award winner, while Story has two silver bats to his credit. Bichette is only in his first full major league season, yet he has already established himself as a nice complement to slugger Vlad Guerrero Jr. with the Blue Jays. The Dodgers can now boast having two of the best shortstops with Seager and Trea Turner, who was acquired at the trade deadline from the Washington Nationals. It’s a nice problem for the Dodgers to have both players. It looks like the versatile Turner is being moved to second base for the time being.


Correa has fulfilled the Houston Astros’ expectations after being the overall first pick of the 2012 draft. Still only 26 years old in his seventh MLB season, he’s one of the main reasons the Astros are contenders each year.


Most of the shortstops of yesteryear probably wouldn’t find a permanent spot on today’s rosters. While they were key players on their teams, they contributed in ways that aren’t valued as much in today’s game. Players like Wills or Aparacio, whose games were built around their speed on the bases, wouldn’t be appreciated for their skill, since base-stealing and bunting have been de-emphasized.


Ripken emerged before the current era of offensive explosion and changed the paradigm that it was indeed possible for shortstops to contribute more than singles and stolen bases. And we’re seeing the result of that today.

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