What Is a Shortstop in Baseball? A Positional Guide

A shortstop makes a catch at second to get the runner out.

Whether you play or watch baseball, you’re bound to hear the word “shortstop” mentioned at least once or twice per game. If you’re still learning your baseball lingo, then the first thing to know is that a shortstop isn’t a reference to the ball stopping short of a player.

So, what is a shortstop in baseball?

A shortstop is the player that stands on the left side of the infield, between the third baseman and second base. Shortstops are usually heralded as one of the most important players on the field and it’s vital they’re good defensively. Shortstops are designated as “6” for scoring purposes.

The shortstop position is one of the most demanding on the field, making the position a fan favorite among baseball fans, young and old. Let’s take a look at the profile of a typical shortstop, the history of the position, and what it takes to be a professional shortstop.

Why Is it Called Shortstop?

The term “shortstop” is associated with the location of the player. Major League Baseball (MLB) historian John Thorn retells the history of the name with a reference to players serving as a stopping point for the ball when it falls just short of the outfield.

During the early years of baseball, the space between second and third base was originally uncovered, leaving the basemen and outfielders to negotiate coverage amongst themselves. Additionally, the original baseball was much lighter than the current ball – making it tough to throw long distances.

Sometime around 1850, the position of “shortstop” was added and this player was specifically designated to catch the ball in the space between second and third. Over the years, it became clear the physical positioning of the shortstop was ideal for connecting the infield and the outfield.

Skills Needed for a Shortstop

A shortstop is usually expected to be one of the most talented players on the team. Shortstop is usually referred to as the captain of the infield and requires a strong athlete and communicator. This position sees plenty of action and shortstops who struggle with nerves and player-to-player communication are frequently at risk of committing errors.

Not only should shortstops be strong communicators, but they need to be confident in their decision-making. A shortstop should be proactive and aggressive, always moving to meet the ball.

Finally, shortstops also need a strong arm to ensure they have the ability to launch the ball across the field. Shortstops must be accurate and be able to throw from multiple arm slots.

Is Shortstop the Hardest Position?

Shortstop is widely considered to be the most difficult position in baseball. Shortstops are involved in countless plays each game and are responsible for preventing stolen bases, fielding balls on the left side of the infield, knowing and preparing for all the catcher’s signals, and managing a majority of double-play scenarios.

Most shortstops are primarily defensive players. While every shortstop should at least be capable at the plate, not all players in this position are expected to be their team’s most valuable batter.

An all-around athlete is important to the success of the offensive line-up, but shortstops carry a greater sense of responsibility out in the field. A successful shortstop should feel confident in their knowledge of each infield position and demonstrate excellence in their ability to complete routine plays.

Different Types of Shortstops

The shortstop attempts to tag a runner out who is trying to steal second base.

There are three different types of shortstops – offensive shortstops, defensive shortstops, and all-around shortstops. As previously mentioned, a majority of teams focus on utilizing their shortstops for high-quality defense, with above-average offensive production an added bonus.

The MLB reinforces the idea that a defensive shortstop is a key to a team’s success, noting that the shortstop is “widely considered the most valuable defensive position in the infield, if not on the entire field of play.”

What Number Is Shortstop in Baseball?

For fans keeping track on their scorecards at home, the shortstop is listed as number “6” for scoring purposes

How Tall Are Shortstops?

Most shortstops are around 6’ tall, which is on par with a majority of the other infield players.

In 1979, Sports Illustrated’s Larry Keith noted some of the league’s disdain for smaller players, reporting that a National League scout was overheard saying a short shortstop wouldn’t be able to catch a “high line drive,” implying they’re a liability to the team.

In the 2013 MLB draft, there were 49 shortstops selected, with 30 (or 61%) of these players reportedly being 6’ or taller. Similarly, in the 2001 draft, there were 71 shortstops drafted, with 47 (or 66%) of them being 6’ or taller.

Who Takes the Throw at Second Base on a Steal?

Shortstops must be prepared to cover either second or third base at any time and are responsible for covering second in the event of an attempted steal. Responding to a steal at second requires agility and speed, two of the most important traits of any successful shortstop.

Shortstops are responsible for covering second base any time a ball is fielded to the right side of the field or when the runner attempts to advance on a wild pitch.

Can Lefties Play Shortstop?

While a leftie might be physically capable of playing shortstop, you won’t see any of them at the Major League level.

MLB journalist Anthony Castrovince explains the unwritten rule against left-handed infielders as a matter of “math and science.” A left-handed shortstop would inevitably waste time resetting their feet.

After making a catch between second and third, the player would need to twist nearly 180 degrees to find their throwing position before throwing the ball to first or second base. Coaches of Little League and high school tend to encourage lefties to play first, the outfield, or pitch.

Why Do Shortstops Throw Sidearm?

The shortstop jumps over the baserunner, while getting ready to throw the ball sidearm to first.

Shortstops are known for throwing sidearm because of the location of their position in comparison to the other infielders. In some circumstances, the shortstop is close enough to the second baseman to quickly underhand the ball.

In other cases, however, the shortstop is too far from second base or the play requires greater speed and accuracy than that of an underhand toss. When a shortstop recognizes they must quickly get rid of the ball, they’re more likely to do so using a sidearm technique.

Former Padres second baseman, Matt Antonelli, teaches that a shortstop throwing sidearm should throw at an angle slightly upwards, using their body’s momentum to launch the ball across a further distance.

Additionally, the throw should be aimed above the waist of the target to prevent them from having to scoop a ball out of the dirt and reset their glove position, costing the defense time and energy. 

Best Shortstops of All Time

While some “best player” lists are highly contentious and can create a heated argument amongst fans, there is little debate over the list of greatest shortstops to ever play the game. Star athletes Ozzie Smith, Cal Ripken Jr., Derek Jeter, Willie Wells, and Honus Wagner are usually in the top five of every VIP shortstop list.

Ozzie Smith was known by fans as “The Wizard of Oz,” and called St. Louis home for more than a decade of his career. Inducted into the hall of fame in 2002, Ozzie won a World Series in ‘82, was voted into the All-Star Game 15 times, and played more than 2,500 games as a shortstop.

Cal Ripken Jr., or “Iron Man,” to Baltimore fans, was MVP of the American League twice and played more than 3,000 games for the Orioles. Ripken was voted into the MLB Hall of Fame in 2007 after 19 trips to the All-Star Game and two Rawlings Gold Glove awards. Ripken also holds the record for most consecutive games played at 2,632.

Derek Jeter played shortstop for the New York Yankees for 20 years before retiring and getting inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame in 2020. Jeter won five World Series rings and Rawlings Gold Glove awards was voted into the All-Star Game 19 times, was selected as the Rookie of the Year in ‘96, and won the World Series MVP in 2000.

Willie Wells, or “El Diablo,” played in the East-West All-Star Game eight times and was considered a great mentor to Jackie Robinson. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997 following his death in ‘89, Wells was one of the first players to wear a batting helmet.

Last but surely not least, Honus Wagner was considered by some as one of the greatest all-around players to ever live, playing for 21 seasons – from 1897 to 1917. Honus was a baseball legend, playing every infield position except catcher, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1936.

How Much Do Shortstops Make?

Because the shortstop position is considered to be one of the most demanding, shortstops have historically been paid very well. According to Spotrac, an online financial tracker and contract library, the top ten reported contracts for shortstops in 2021 ranged from $10,500,000-$22,300,000.

On December 11, 2000, shortstop Alex Rodriguez and the Texas Rangers agreed to a trade deal worth $252 million over ten years. At the time of the deal, it was (and still is) one of the greatest financial negotiations in sports history.

Most Double Plays Turned by a Shortstop

Cal Ripken Jr. holds the record for most turned double plays in a career, with 1,565 throughout his 21-year career. Rick Burleson holds the record for the most double plays in one season at shortstop, recording 147 in the 1980 season. 

Shortstops can’t turn double plays alone though – the greatest shortstop and second baseman duo in the last 20 years is thought to be Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Most Errors by a Shortstop

Herman Long holds the current MLB record for most errors committed by a shortstop, with 1,037 over 15 years.

In 1885, American Major League player, Germany Smith, made seven errors in a single game while playing for the Brooklyn Bridegrooms. This is considered the most errors in a single game by any shortstop in the history of professional baseball.

Most Home Runs by a Shortstop

Cal Ripken Jr. holds the record for the most home runs at shortstop, hitting 431 during his career. Second to Cal Ripken Jr. is Miguel Tejada, who has 307 home runs on the books. Tejada retired at the end of the 2013 season.

Most Games Played at Shortstop

Omar Vizquel played 2,709 games at shortstop in the majors. Vizquel played 2,180 of these games in the American League and 529 in the National League. In his career, Vizquel played 2,968 games across five positions, boasting a 24-year career on six different teams. Derek Jeter comes in second with 2,674 games played at shortstop.

Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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