R Hornsby

“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

The Rajah

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

E Collins

“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 total of 3,315 hits is tenth all-time.

J Morgan

“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

Joe Morgan

The Little General

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

He had only 1,500 hits and 137 home runs with a career average of .311 in ten years of playing, 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, Rickey 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.”

J Robinson

“Give me five players like [Jackie] Robinson and a pitcher and I’ll beat any nine-man team in baseball.”
- Charlie Dressen

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.”

R Alomar

“I’ve been watching baseball for 60 years and he is the best I’ve ever seen.”
-Orlando Cepeda

Roberto Alomar

The Splendid Spitter

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 and 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.”


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