Who remembers Steve Blass? For those not in the know, the former Pirates pitcher (and to this day radio broadcaster) was the original Rick Ankiel, suddenly losing all ability to locate his pitches anywhere near the strike zone. Well, one of the players in this week’s poll developed the infielder’s equivalent to “Steve Blass Disease,” unable to target their relatively short throws over to first base at times. That may have diminished their value, but it also tended to overshadow all the things they did well. So while guys like Roberto Alomar in the Hall of Fame and Craig Biggio likely to get in in the future, who are history’s forgotten second basemen?
Like many of the players in these polls, Stanky had a hard time sticking in once place during his career, but he was always a useful middle infielder whoever he was with. However, perhaps his greatest contribution to baseball occurred while he was with the Brooklyn Dodgers, as he was the first white player to openly stand up for Jackie Robinson, with teammates soon following suit.
Why he’s undervalued: Besides being an adept fielder (we disagree with the evaluation below), Stanky was a prototypical “Moneyball” player before Moneyball even existed. Although on-base percentage wasn’t truly given its due until Sabermetrics came along, Stanky was adept at finding his way to first base through the walk — doing so at least 100 times in six different seasons despite being a relatively light hitter. Manager Leo Durocher once said about him “He can’t hit, can’t run, can’t field. He’s no nice guy … all the little SOB can do is win.”
A four-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner, Lopes played 16 seasons in the major leagues between four teams, spending the bulk of his career with the Dodgers. Lopes won a World Series titles with Los Angeles in 1981 as a player (he also won one in 2008 as the Phillies’ first base coach), forming an infield — along with Steve Garvey, Bill Russell and Ron Cey — that stayed together for a record 8 1/2 seasons. Lopes was deployed mostly as a leadoff hitter, stealing 557 bases throughout the course of his career, including 77 in 1975.
Why he’s undervalued: It wasn’t just the number of bases that Lopes stole, but the rate of success with which he did so. Lopes ranks third all-time among players with more than 400 steals with an 83 percent stolen base record, behind only Tim Raines and Willie Wilson. During his prolific 1975 season, Lopes even manged to swipe 38 consecutive bags without being thrown out. But, on top of the speed, Lopes had uncharacteristic power for a second baseman, hitting double digits eight times and topping out at 28 in 1979.
Playing 17 seasons with eight different ballclubs, Trillo was a four-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner and two-time Silver Slugger Award winner. He is still one of the best players ever to come out of Venezuela, and after his playing days was inducted into the Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame. He was also the NLCS MVP in 1980, helping the Phillies move on to a World Series championship.
Why he’s undervalued: Despite winning only three Gold Gloves, Trillo is remembered as perhaps the best defensive second baseman of his era, known especially for his unusually strong throwing arm. Beyond his flashier defensive prowess, he had baseball instincts in the mold of Derek Jeter, being involved in two important heads-up cutoff plays during that 1980 run that prevented runners from scoring in key situations. At one point in his career, he made 479 consecutive plays at second base without an error — a record which has since been broken.
A four-time All-Star and four-time World Series champion, Knoblauch played just twelve seasons in Major League Baseball, most notably for the Twins and Yankees with one final season in Kansas City. A career .289 hitter with a .783 OPS, Knoblauch won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1991, helping Minnesota to a World Series victory. Knoblauch twice had seasons with an OPS above .900, and three additional ones at .800 or above. In those 12 seasons he managed to swipe 407 bases, and won a Gold Glove in his final season in Minnesota
Why he’s undervalued:
Despite winning three World Series titles as a Yankee, Knoblauch’s legacy is mostly remembered for his bizarre throwing problems that suddenly sprang up after he left Minnesota. He developed a Steve Blass-like inability to simply throw the ball from his position at second to the first base bag, committing 26 errors in 1999. By 2001 he had mostly shifted to the outfield and designated hitter, but his best years offensively came as a second baseman — and they were among the best seasons with a bat at the position in the sport’s history.