Ferguson: Third Base is the toughest route to Cooperstown

Scott Ferguson, TSN 1050
8/25/2014 4:33:26 PM
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I've always wondered why there are so few third basemen in the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown.

In fact there are fewer that played the "Hot Corner" in the Hall than any other position.

In total there are 16 men enshrined, but four of them were restricted to playing in the Negro Leagues because of the social injustice of racism and the Colour Barrier.

Of the remaining 12, Paul Molitor actually only played the position for a little over 700 games, due in large part to injuries. He earned his spot in the Hall and deservedly so for his versatility, his hitting and his ability as a DH, not to mention, his incredible baseball "IQ" and base running ability.

That only leaves 11 men who primarily played third and made it to Cooperstown, since the first class was announced in 1936.

Though playing a corner infield position might initially make you think of power first and defence second, it really seems to be the other way around.

Only two of the 11 hit over 500 home runs, Phillies great Mike Schmidt and Braves legend Eddie Mathews. George Brett was next over 200 behind them. Brett and Wade Boggs were both incredible gap to gap hitters.

It's a little surprising to see that four of these Hall of Famers actually hit fewer than 100 homers, including Frank "Home Run" Baker, who won four home run titles despite only hitting 96 in his career in the early 1900's. Baker actually used a 52 ounce bat that could be as many as 20 ounces heavier than the lumber used today.

Defence is really the gold standard at third base. Orioles' Brooks Robinson, who really defined greatness in the 60's and 70's at third, won 16 Gold Gloves. 16 in a row, I might add.

Schmidt won 10 Gold Gloves and six Sliver Slugger awards as top hitter at his position in addition to being a three time Most Valuable Player and 12-time All-Star. There simply isn't anyone in that class today.

When I first saw Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie and Orioles third baseman Manny Machado play, I thought both had a shot at greatness.

They're both certainly young enough to reach those lofty heights, but Lawrie has been bogged down by injuries and Machado has now had season ending surgeries on both knees over the last two seasons.

The top three third baseman right now, in no particular order, are Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Mets David Wright and Adrian Beltre of the Texas Rangers.

Longoria has established himself as one of the top two or so defensively while still striving to achieve his full potential offensively.

Wright, slowed by injuries this season, is a seven time all-star and two-time Gold Glover. What he really needs is a winning Mets team to raise his profile. 

Beltre at 35 is in the twilight of a very good career, he is a four- time Gold
Glove winner and has taken three Silver Slugger awards. He has a fairly decent shot at being the 17th third baseman to get into Cooperstown
Ed Sprague is probably the best third baseman the Blue Jays ever developed on their own.

Others such as Kelly Gruber, Tony Batista, Scott Rolen, Troy Glaus or Lawrie were picked up in deals or draft claims (Gruber) from other organizations.

Even the great platoon of the early days Garth Iorg and Rance Mulliniks originated elsewhere.

In their entire history, the Blue Jays have only had one of their third basemen win a Gold Glove; Gruber in 1990.

As great a franchise as the Yankees are, Boggs and Frank Baker are the only third baseman to make it to Cooperstown. Boggs spent the lion's share of his career in Boston and Baker began his career in Philadelphia.

Over the weekend, Arizona made it known, they're going to at least experiment with moving former Blue Jays second baseman Aaron Hill from the "Keystone" to third next season. It's partially because they haven't developed anyone else for the position, partially because of his power potential and because they can't find another team to take his contract off their hands. It's just another example though of how difficult it is to find and develop a quality third baseman let alone a Hall of Famer.

Last week I talked about how much easier the Tigers schedule looked down the stretch since they had 11 games remaining with Minnesota, While on the weekend, they wrapped out 60 hits in their four game set with the Twins at Target Field. The last time Detroit did that in a four game series was July 6th to the 8th in 1956 at old Comiskey Park in Chicago against the White Sox.

Yet for all of that offence, the Tigers could only get a split and remain a game back of Seattle for that final Wild Card position.

How important is a team's road record? Well only one team currently holding a losing record away from home is in possession of a Play-off position, That would be St. Louis at (31-33) and sitting in the first Wild Card spot in the National League, The Blue Jays are (32-36) with just 13 road games to go.

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