Let’s end the Cal Ripken Junior versus Derek Jeter debate right now – Honus Wagner was better than both of them. Wagner is the career WAR leader for shortstops (138.1), just ahead of Alex Rodriguez (113.3) and Cal Ripken Junior (92.5). He played during the dead ball era and was a star during that time.
Wagner finished his career with some very impressive totals. He hit 643 doubles, 252 triples, and 101 home runs. Wagner amassed 3,420 hits during his career, scoring 1,739 runs and driving in 1,732 runs. During a time when hitting was dead, Wagner was an extremely dominant hitter, putting up a career batting average of .328, a career on-base percentage of .391, and a career slugging percentage of .467. His career wRC+ of 147 trails only Ross Barnes among shortstops.
The only question with Wagner was his defense. Defensive statistics were quite primitive when Wagner played. However, he was one of the best fielders during that time and Fangraphs gives him a positive defensive value for his career. You could argue that Alex Rodriguez or Jeter or Ripken would be a better choice given those circumstances. However, Wagner is the quintessential leadoff hitter and was one of the toughest outs of all-time. I’ll take my chances with him.
As a utility infielder, Ozzie Smith has a clear role on the team. Wagner’s defense wasn’t fantastic, so why not go to the Wizard of Oz in the late innings? Sure, Smith wasn’t that great at the plate. However, he was unquestionably a superior defensive shortstop than Wagner. Smith’s quickness and speed would likely make him a great option at second base as well.
Next: Third Base