Out of the nine defensive positions in baseball, the shortstop position really stands out for its crucial role in game strategy and defense. When I was growing up playing baseball, the shortstop was usually our most athletic and best player. Let’s find out what is a shortstop in baseball and why it’s so important.
The shortstop position, like many aspects of baseball, has evolved significantly since the sport’s early days. Originally, the shortstop was positioned as a sort of roving fielder, primarily responsible for fielding balls hit to the outfield. As the game evolved, the shortstop’s role shifted closer to the infield, particularly to cover the area between the second and third bases. This change reflected the increasing speed and complexity of the game, necessitating quick reflexes and strategic positioning.
Typically, the primary responsibility of the shortstop is defense.
- Fielding Ground Balls: The shortstop is primarily responsible for fielding ground balls hit between second and third base. They need quick reflexes and agility to reach these balls, as well as a strong and accurate arm to make the throw to first base to get the batter out.
- Covering Second Base: In certain situations, such as a double play or when a ball is hit to the right side of the infield, the shortstop covers second base.
- Turning Double Plays: One of the most critical roles of a shortstop is their involvement in double plays, particularly the 6-4-3 (shortstop to 2nd baseman to 1st baseman). They must quickly and accurately receive and relay throws, often while pivoting around the base to avoid sliding runners.
- Communicating and Strategizing: As a central player in the infield, the shortstop often takes on a leadership role in terms of communication and strategy.
- Cut-off Man on Throws to the Infield: In certain plays, such as a ball hit deep into the outfield, the shortstop will act as the cut-off man for the throw to the infield, helping to shorten the throw’s distance and increasing the chance of tagging out a runner or preventing runners from advancing.
While the primary focus of a shortstop is defense, their role in a team’s offense has grown over time. Historically, shortstops were not expected to be significant contributors to a team’s hitting. However, in recent decades, there has been a trend towards shortstops who can provide offensive power. Contributing not just with fielding prowess but also with batting ability. Players like Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, and Alex Rodriguez have epitomized this shift, excelling both at defense and as potent hitters.
Best Shortstops Of All Time
- Honus Wagner: An early 20th-century player, Wagner is often considered the greatest shortstop in the history of baseball. A key figure in the dead-ball era, he won eight batting titles and was known for his all-around abilities in hitting, speed, and defense.
- Derek Jeter: A modern icon of the New York Yankees, Jeter was known for his hitting, consistency, leadership, and postseason performances. He accumulated over 3,000 hits and numerous accolades, including five Gold Glove Awards.
- Cal Ripken Jr.: Famous for breaking Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played, Ripken redefined the shortstop position by combining durability with power hitting. He was a 19-time All-Star and two-time American League MVP.
- Ozzie Smith: Known as “The Wizard,” Smith dazzled with his defensive prowess. He won 13 Gold Glove Awards and was known for his acrobatic plays and excellent range. While not a power hitter, his offensive skills improved significantly over his career.
- Ernie Banks: Nicknamed “Mr. Cub,” Banks was known for his powerful hitting, amassing 512 home runs during his career. He was a two-time National League MVP and was renowned for his positive demeanor and love for the game.
- Alex Rodriguez: Before moving to third base later in his career, Rodriguez was a standout shortstop with impressive power and batting skills. He was a three-time American League MVP and a 14-time All-Star.
- Robin Yount: Yount spent his entire 20-year career with the Milwaukee Brewers, excelling both as a shortstop and later as a center fielder. He won two MVP awards and was known for his hitting and consistency.
- Barry Larkin: A key player for the Cincinnati Reds, Larkin combined offensive talent with excellent defense. He was a 12-time All-Star and won the National League MVP in 1995.
What Is A Shortstop In Baseball Called?
In baseball, the position of shortstop is commonly referred to simply as “shortstop” or abbreviated as “SS” in lineups and statistical records.
For baseball position numbers, shortstop are “6”.
- “The Captain of the Infield”: This term is often used to describe a shortstop due to their central role in infield defense.
- “Middle Infielder”: This is a broader term that includes both shortstops and second basemen.
- “Double Play Artist”: A term used for shortstops who are particularly adept at initiating and turning double plays.
- “Utility Player”: Sometimes used to describe a shortstop who is versatile enough to play multiple positions effectively. However, it’s more commonly associated with players who don’t have a fixed position.
What Makes A Good Shortstop?
Exceptional fielding ability is paramount. This includes quick reflexes to react to fast-hit balls, agility to move swiftly in any direction, and the skill to field grounders and catch pop flies consistently. Good hand-eye coordination and soft hands are essential for fielding the ball cleanly.
Strong and Accurate Arm
A good shortstop must have a strong arm to make long, accurate throws to first base. The ability to throw quickly and accurately while off-balance or on the move is a key skill.
Excellent range, or the ability to cover a lot of ground, is crucial. This means being able to reach balls hit to either side. Therefore having the speed and agility to get to balls that other infielders can’t.
Quick and Smart Decision-Making
A shortstop must make quick decisions, especially when deciding to go for a ball, determining which base to throw to, or turning double plays. This requires a deep understanding of the game, situational awareness, and the ability to read hitters. Plus to anticipate where the ball will be hit.
Leadership and Communication Skills
Often considered the infield’s quarterback, a good shortstop is a leader on the field. They must communicate effectively with other infielders, outfielders, and the pitcher, directing positioning and strategy.