Aging shortstops. They've formed one of the main themes of this early offseason as Derek Jeter(notes) and the New York Yankees battle over dollars and years while the Colorado Rockies have committed themselves to Troy Tulowitzki(notes) until his age 35 season in 2020.
Position No. 6 on your scorecard is one of the most demanding positions to play well on the wrong side of 30, so we decided to take a look and see some of the best seasons ever put up by an over-30 shortstop. It should probably come as no surprise that shortstops in the second half of their 30s have generally not put up historical numbers, a fact that does not bode well for 36-year-old Derek Jeter as he goes forward with his demands.
Shortstops 35 and under, though, have fared well, which should give some confidence to Rockies fans as they prepare to live with Tulowitzki, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, over the next decade.
Without further delay, here are 10 of the best offensive seasons ever put up by a graying SS:
1. Honus Wagner, Pittsburgh Pirates (1908, age 34) .354/.415/.542, 10 HR, 109 RBI, 53 SB It's hard to pick a single season from Wagner's ledger. After his age 30 season in 1904, Wagner went onto play another 13 seasons and hit .318/.385/.450 during the dead-ball era. Unsurprisingly, the greatest shortstop ever was the greatest over-30 shortstop ever.
If we had wanted to do a straight top 10 seasons by an over-30 shortstop list, it would have been dominated by The Flying Dutchman. He owns the top six spots on the list of the top ten OPS+ seasons ever posted by a shortstop. And seven of the top ten. And eight of the top 20. And nine of the top 30. And ten of the top 50. You get the picture. Wagner is to shortstops as Babe Ruth is to outfielders: so far ahead of his peers that it is almost impossible to fathom his dominance. It's really a shame for the Pirates that he retired 93 years ago.
2. Barry Larkin, Cincinnati Reds (1996, age 32) .298/.410/.567, 33 HR, 89 RBI, 36 steals Larkin won the MVP in 1995, but his best offensive season, and best season overall, was 1996. It might be the best offensive season by an over-30 shortstop other than Honus Wagner. For a few years in the mid-'90s, following Ozzie Smith's retirement, Larkin was the best shortstop in baseball, and he remained the best shortstop in the National League for a few years after that. But 1996 marked the changing of the guard. That year was the rookie season of Nomar Garciaparra(notes) and Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez(notes) played his first full season at the age of 20 and finished second in the MVP vote. Larkin played for the better part of a decade after that, but 1996 was his peak.
3. Luke Appling, Chicago White Sox (1943, age 36) .328/.419/.407, 3 HR, 80 RBI, 27 SB
Old Aches and Pains took advantage of a weak wartime league and put up his best numbers in three years, setting a career high in steals and finishing second in the MVP voting at the advanced age of 36. (Honus Wagner actually finished second in the MVP when he was 38. He never actually won the award, but it was only created when he was 37.) I may be biased because we're both Georgians, but Old Aches and Pains is my single favorite baseball nickname ever. Like Ernie Banks, the greatest shortstop in White Sox history never played a single playoff game. Clearly, the Windy City is a tough place to play short. Starlin Castro(notes) has his work cut out for him.
4. Jimmy Dykes, Philadelphia Athletics (1929, age 32) .327/.412/.539, 13 HR, 79 RBI
Appling's teammate and manager was more ordinary than spectacular as a player, and the best season of his career came at the age of 32. He became a player-manager five years later, and had Appling's luck, never reaching the postseason as a manager. But he played in three straight World Series with the A's, from 1929 to 1931, and as usual, 1929 was the most impressive: he went 8-for-19 with four RBI in the Athletics' five-game shellacking of the Cubs. It all went south once he hit Chicago.
5. Eddie Joost, Philadelphia Athletics (1949, age 33) .263/.429/.453, 23 HR, 81 RBI
Joost was a classic three true outcomes player: He had power, walked a lot, struck out a lot, and hit for a low average. He was terrible through his 20s, batting .225 for his first decade in the league, but had a few decent years after reaching his second. His best year was 1949, but he posted similar numbers in 1951. But he could never maintain a high batting average, and 1952 was his last full season.
6. Joe Cronin, Boston Red Sox (1941, age 34) .311, .406, .508, 16 HR, 95 RBI
Maybe best remembered for being the player-manager of the Red Sox when Ted Williams was the face of the team, Cronin was actually one of the best shortstops of the period, with seven All-Star appearances and five finishes in the top ten for the MVP vote. 1941 was his last full season, and he hung up his spikes after eight at-bats in 1945, but continued to manage for two more years, and in 1946 he guided the Sox to their first pennant since 1918.
7. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees (2006, age 32) .343/.417/.483, 14 HR, 97 RBI, 34 SB
Jeter is 18th on the list, and the only active player, though his 2006 campaign is behind Barry Larkin's 1995, 1996, and 1998 seasons. But of the top 40 seasons by an over-30 shortstop, ranked by OPS+, four belong to Jeter, one more than Larkin. So it's not entirely unreasonable for him to claim that he will continue to have a great deal of success for an old shortstop.
8. Jeff Blauser, Atlanta Braves (1997, age 31) .308/.405/.482, 17 HR, 70 RBI
For some reason, the nickname "Doogie Blauser, the Hit Doctor" never caught on. Never flashy, and only an indifferent defender, Blauser was regularly outshone by five or six of his teammates, depending on who was closing. But for several years he was one of the best-hitting shortstops in the National League after Larkin. 1997 proved to be his career year: it was his last year in Atlanta, as well as the last time he ever played more than 120 games or hit above .250. After two middling years in Chicago, he retired.
9. Alan Trammell, Detroit Tigers (1990, age 32) .304/.377/.449, 14 HR, 89 RBI
Alan Trammell was the best shortstop in the AL at the same time that Ozzie Smith was the best shortstop in the NL, and he was the best player on the 1984 World Champion Detroit Tigers. So why isn't he in the Hall already? His prominence is hurt by a series of injuries after he turned 30 — he played until 1996, but 1990 was the last time he ever played as many in 115 games — and the relative obscurity of the Motor City, but Trammell was certainly one of the best players of his decade, and a deserving Hall of Famer.
10. Miguel Tejada(notes), Baltimore Orioles (2006, age 32) .330/.379/.498, 24 HR, 100 RBI
Tejada put up one of his best years during his sixth straight 162-game season. We now know that longevity was supplementally aided, but that doesn't change the fact that he was an absolute offensive force in the early '00s. After coming to prominence with the Athletics, he signed in Baltimore as a 29-year old free agent and actually hit better there than in Oakland, though that may have been because Camden Yards was an easier place to hit than the spacious Oakland Coliseum.