As much fun as these pieces are to put together, there's no way to come out a winner after they are published. Despite just nine slots, there will be some legitimately upset if the shortstop they grew up rooting for doesn't find his way on this list.
While you may feel badly that injuries derailed the careers of shortstops that were superstars at their peaks like Nomar Garciaparra and Troy Tulowitzki, most understand that their career numbers fall short of being worthy of selection for such an exclusive list. It's less easy to talk proponents of Barry Larkin, Alan Trammel and Bill Dahlen - all deserving Hall of Famers that drew serious consideration for the top nine - off the ledge. Others will be disappointed that we decided to categorize Ernie Banks as a first baseman instead of a shortstop, though "Mr. Cub" spent more than 3,600 innings at first base than shortstop.
With the understanding that the overwhelming majority of people that read this list will have some level of dissatisfaction, here is Audacy Sports' countdown of the nine greatest shortstops in MLB history:
9. Ozzie Smith - San Diego Padres, St. Louis Cardinals (1978-1996)
Best Season: 1987 - .303/.392/.383 with zero home runs, 75 RBIs, 89 walks, .775 OPS, 4.9 offensive WAR, 2.4 defensive WAR and 6.3 fWAR
Career Summary: .262/.337/.328 with 28 home runs, 793 RBIs, 2,460 hits, 1,072 walks, .666 OPS, 87 OPS+, 48.9 offensive WAR, 44.2 defensive WAR and 67.6 fWAR
While Smith hit just 28 home runs in his entire career, he managed to provide tremendous value in other aspects of the game. Most notably, "The Wizard" was a 13-time Gold Glove Award winner, one of the finest defensive players that the game has ever seen. Additionally, Smith's 580 career stolen bases put him in the top 25 in MLB history in that category. Smith received over 91% of the vote on his first ballot in 2002, earning him induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
8. Luke Appling - Chicago White Sox (1930-1943; 1945-1950)
Best Season: 1936 - 388/.474/.504 with six home runs, 128 RBIs, 85 walks, .981 OPS, 6.8 offensive WAR, 1.3 defensive WAR and 7.1 fWAR
Career Summary: .310/.399/.398 with 45 home runs, 1,116 RBIs, 2,749 hits, 1,302 walks, .798 OPS, 113 OPS+, 73.3 offensive WAR, 19.0 defensive WAR and 72.7 fWAR
Even among baseball savants, Appling's career is tremendously underrated. Across 20 MLB campaigns, Appling won two batting titles, including in 1936, when he finished the season with a staggering .388 batting average. A seven-time All-Star, Appling was an on-base machine, despite never really hitting for power. He averaged 87 walks a season during his career, and rode a .399 career on-base percentage to Cooperstown.
7. Derek Jeter - New York Yankees (1995-2014)
Best Season: 1999 - .349/.438/.552 with 24 home runs, 102 RBIs, 91 walks, .989 OPS, 9.1 offensive WAR, -0.1 defensive WAR and 7.4 fWAR
Career Summary: .310/.377/.440 with 260 home runs, 1,311 RBIs, 3,465 hits, 1,082 walks, .817 OPS, 115 OPS+, 96.3 offensive WAR, -9.4 defensive WAR and 73.0 fWAR
If you want a nuanced assessment of Jeter's career, don't log onto the internet. It is true that the five-time Gold Glove Award winner, well, shouldn't have won five Gold Glove Awards. Additionally, his legacy absolutely benefitted from the fact that he played for the Yankees, a team he helped to win five World Series titles. That said, any suggestion that Jeter wasn't worthy of being a first-ballot Hall of Famer is ignorant. He never won an American League MVP Award, but that's at least in part due to the fact that a portion of his peak came during the Steroid Era. There's pretty much nothing that the 14-time All-Star couldn't do offensively. He finished his career with a .310 batting average, and the 3,465 hits that he racked up in his career are by far the most of any player that began his career in the last 30 years.
6. Robin Yount - Milwaukee Brewers (1974-1993)
Best Season: 1982 - .331/.379/.578 with 29 home runs, 114 RBIs, 54 walks, .957 OPS, 9.9 offensive WAR, 1.8 defensive WAR and 9.8 fWAR
Career Summary: .285/.342/.430 with 251 home runs, 1,406 RBIs, 3,142 hits, 966 walks, .772 OPS, 115 OPS+, 83.1 offensive WAR, 6.8 defensive WAR and 66.5 fWAR
During a two-decade career spent entirely with the Brewers, Yount won two American League MVP Awards, the first in 1982 and the second not until 1989. Yount's 1982 season is one of the most dominant individual seasons that a shortstop has ever had, as he led the sport in hits, doubles, total bases, slugging percentage, OPS and OPS+. Inexplicably, Yount was only an All-Star three times during his career, but was elected with Nolan Ryan and George Brett as a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1999.
5. George Davis - Cleveland Spiders, New York Giants and Chicago White Sox (1890-1909)
Best Season: 1893 - .355/.410/.554 with 11 home runs, 119 RBIs, 42 walks, 964 OPS, 5.6 offensive WAR, 0.5 defensive WAR and 6.0 fWAR
Career Summary: .295/.362/.405 with 73 home runs, 1,440 RBIs, 2,665 hits, 874 walks, .767 OPS, 121 OPS+, 70.8 offensive WAR, 24.0 defensive WAR and 84.6 fWAR
Simply because of when he played, Davis is one of the most underrated stars in baseball history. He checked in on our countdown of the greatest switch hitters, though, and finds himself pretty high on this list. Davis played in an era where home runs weren't prioritized, but still managed to drive in 135 runs in 1897. He had six seasons where he hit .320 or higher. He's 17th in MLB history with 874 career stolen bases. Even without having displayed the ability to hit home runs at a remarkable clip during his career, there's little doubt that Davis would have been a star in any era.
4. Arky Vaughan - Pittsburgh Pirates, Brooklyn Dodgers (1932-1943; 1947-1948)
Best Season: 1935 - .385/.491/.607 with 19 home runs, 99 RBIs, 97 walks, 1.098 OPS, 10.0 offensive WAR, 0.7 defensive WAR and 9.6 fWAR
Career Summary: .318/.406/.453 with 96 home runs, 926 RBIs, 2,103 hits, 937 walks, .859 OPS, 136 OPS+, 76.3 offensive WAR, 12.0 defensive WAR, 72.6 fWAR
Vaughan was so dominant at his peak that despite only playing in parts of 14 MLB seasons, he's fifth among all shortstops in MLB history in career bWAR. Vaughan hit .300 or better in every season of his career expect the final one, led the league in walks three separate times and has the fourth highest WAR-7 - the total of the seven highest bWAR totals from single seasons during a player's career - among all shortstops in the history of the sport.
3. Cal Ripken Jr. - Baltimore Orioles (1981-2001)
Best Season: 1991 - .323/.374/.566 with 34 home runs, 114 RBIs, 53 walks, .940 OPS, 9.2 offensive WAR, 3.5 defensive WAR and 10.6 fWAR
Career Summary: .276/.340/.447 with 431 home runs, 1,695 RBIs, 3,184 hits, 1,129 walks, .788 OPS, 112 OPS+, 78.1 offensive WAR, 35.7 defensive WAR and 92.5 fWAR
Ripken is most associated with playing in an MLB record 2,632 consecutive games, though reducing his career to just that record is a disservice. He was a two-time American League MVP, a two-time Gold Glove Award winner, a Rookie of the Year, eight-time Silver Slugger Award winner and made a staggering 19 All-Star teams. Ripken is 16th in MLB history with 3,184 career hits and finished his career with 431 home runs. Simply put, he's one of the most consistently valuable players that the sport has ever seen.
2. Honus Wagner - Louisville Colonels, Pittsburgh Pirates (1897-1907)
Best Season: 1908 - .354/.415/.542 with 10 home runs, 109 RBIs, 54 walks, .957 OPS, 11.4 offensive WAR, 1.4 defensive WAR and 11.8 fWAR
Career Summary: .328/.391/.467 with 101 home runs, 1,732 RBIs, 3,420 hits, 963 walks, .858 OPS, 151 OPS+, 123.2 offensive WAR, 21.3 defensive WAR and 138.1 fWAR
Wagner is most famous for being the face of the most iconic baseball card ever, but putting him in that box is unfair. While his contact numbers stand out the most, Wagner hit 101 career home runs in an era where that was a ton. It leads you to think that if he had played 20 years later, he could have hit a significant amount of home runs, as the sport changed and the long-ball became more prevalent. Wagner led baseball in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, RBIs, stolen bases, runs, hits, singles, doubles, triples and total bases at least once in his career. Well over 100 years after his last game, the legacy of Wagner lives on because he's one of the most dominant players ever.
1. Alex Rodriguez - Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers and New York Yankees (1994-2016)
Best Season (as a shortstop): 2002 - .300/.392/.623 with 57 home runs, 142 RBIs, 87 walks, 1.015 OPS, 8.7 offensive WAR, 1.1 defensive WAR and a 10.0 fWAR
Career Summary: .295/.380/.550 with 696 home runs, 2,086 RBIs, 3,115 hits, 1,338 walks, .930 OPS, 140 OPS+, 115.3 offensive WAR, 10.4 defensive WAR and 113.7 fWAR
The initial inclination here was not to make A-Rod eligible for this list, as he's most associated with playing third base for the Yankees. However, Rodriguez actually spent 702 more innings during his career at shortstop than he did at the hot corner. Between his tenures with the Mariners and Rangers, Rodriguez made seven All-Star teams, won an American League MVP and hit 307 home runs. Rodriguez was a full-time shortstop in parts of nine seasons, a period in which he established himself as one of the most dominant statistical players that has ever played.