With Alex Rodriguez name in the news practically on a daily basis, the debate has heated up again as to whether he is the greatest shortstop of all-time.
Most historians believe Pittsburgh Pirates legendary Hall of Famer Honus Wagner deserves that title. After all , he won eight batting titles, and lead the National League in stolen bases five times. He was also one of five men named to the very first Hall of Fame Class, tying with Babe Ruth in the number of votes he received and trailing only Ty Cobb.
That was a different time though, the "Deadball Era" and few if any people are living today who actually saw Honus Wagner play.
Of the "Modern Era" shortstops you would have to consider Cal Ripken Jr. Ozzie Smith, Robin Yount and Derek Jeter. But for arguments sake I'm going to look at one of my personal favourites "Mr. Cub" Ernie Banks.
Most fans, my age or younger would only remember Banks as a first base slugger. However he began his career as a shortstop and was a dominant player in the 1950's.
Banks played eight full seasons at shortstop, the same number as A-Rod, before he moved to third base in deference to Jeter when he arrived with the Yankees.
Banks hit 512 home runs over his career, 298 while playing short. Five times he knocked in over 100 runs peaking in 1959 when he drove in 143, again while playing short. Four times he led the National League in extra base hits and four times he slugged over 40 home runs in a season. In 1959 and 1960, he led the National League in intentional bases on balls.
Banks was a 15 time All-Star, though, in some years of his career, there were two All-Star games in the same season. He won the Most Valuable Player Award back to back in 1959 and 1960, again as a shortstop. He was also sixth in the MVP voting in 1957 and fourth in 1960.
The incredible thing about Banks career is, for all his greatness, he never once made it to the post-season. The Cubs routinely finished second in the division and late in his career, they fell apart down the stretch and watched the 1969 Mets pass them and ultimately win their first World Series.
Banks was elected the Hall of Fame in 1977, when Alex Rodriguez was barely two years old.
So, how does A-Rod stack up against Banks? Well Rodriguez won two Gold Gloves as a shortstop in 2002 and 2003 at Texas, his final two years as a shortstop before moving to the Yankees. Banks had only one, in 1960, his second last season as a shortstop. A-Rod hit 340 homers as a shortstop, 42 more than Banks did while at short.
Rodriguez is a three time MVP, in 2003 with the Rangers and 2005 and 2007 with the Yankees. He also won seven Silver Sluggers for his hitting ability while at short.
A-Rod has been an All-Star in 14 of his 19 seasons, one fewer than Banks, but again during some of Ernie's seasons, there were two All-Star games in the same season.
Rodriguez has 2,901 career hits, already surpassing Banks' total. A-Rod has also drive in 1,950 runs, the most of any active player. He also has 647 home runs in total and his career batting average is right on .300.
In fact in his eight years as a shortstop, he only hit below .300 twice, and he won a batting title in 1996, hitting .358 with Seattle. A-Rod also has stolen 318 bases over his career, while Banks only stole 50, though to be fair, the stolen base wasn't as in vogue in 50's.
I mentioned earlier Banks never made it to the post-season. Rodriguez has, playing in 18 series, including one World Series. However, his numbers in the playoffs aren't exactly overwhelming. He hit .263 with 13 homers and 41 runs batted in.
His playoff teams won eight series and lost 10, though A-Rod did win the World Series in 2009 with the Yankees over Philadelphia. The numbers would seem to weigh in Rodriguez favour, but then you have to consider the whole person and his character.
Banks entered the Majors in the early 1950's following the trail blazed by Jackie Robinson, when he broke the "colour" barrier in 1947. Banks ascended the ranks in difficult times and was revered for his class, his personality and his talent. A-Rod is really only known for the latter.
Rodriguez may well be the greatest shortstop this side of Honus Wagner, but it's men like Ernie Banks who are the true Hall of Famers.