Smaller shortstops coming back en vogue

MINNEAPOLIS – It was the summer of 2002, and shortstops ruled the world.

Joe Torre, who managed the New York Yankees at the time and was in charge of picking the American League reserves for that summer’s All-Star game, looked at a new breed of big, power-hitting shortstop that was revolutionizing the position and couldn’t seem to choose one over the other.

So he chose them all.

Texas Rangers star Alex Rodriguez was voted a starter by the fans, and Torre added Derek Jeter, Oakland’s Miguel Tejada and Boston’s Nomar Garciaparra to the roster. He then threw in slick-fielding veteran Omar Vizquel – the lone Cleveland Indian on the team and the only traditional player at his position – giving Torre an unheard of five shortstops in the game.

“It’s pretty exciting that you can take five shortstops and realize what offensive forces they are, in addition to their defensive skill,” Torre said at the time.

The area of real estate between second and third base had for nearly the entirety of baseball’s long and storied history been occupied by little guys with names like Pee Wee, Pesky and Ozzie – quick-footed, sure-handed and not much of a threat with a bat in their hands.

Sure there have been exceptions along the way – Cal Ripken Jr. in Baltimore, Barry Larkin in Cincinnati.

But many thought A-Rod, Jeter, Tejada and Garciaparra – all at their peaks at the same time – represented a sea change at the position, paving the way for bigger, stronger hitters to take over one of the most important spots on the diamond. Those four combined to hit 133 homers and drive in 468 runs that season.

Ten years later, Garciaparra is retired, Tejada appears headed that way, Jeter’s career is winding down and Rodriguez moved to third base in 2003. Now it’s looking more and more like that was just one special group rather than a revolution.

“That’s a different breed,” Red Sox shortstop Nick Punto said. “They were so special as players. … There’s not as many guys hitting 30 home runs around the league, so it’s good.”

Baltimore’s J.J. Hardy and Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki each hit 30 homers last season and Cleveland’s Asdrubal Cabrera had a big year with 25 homers and 92 RBIs. But that’s certainly not the norm now.

They have become so rare that Tulowitzki wonders how much longer he’ll be one of them.

“It’s hard for me to find people to relate to in this game just because no one – Cal Ripken is probably the only guy who was as big as me who stayed at short for a good portion of his career,” he said.

Tags: baseball

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