In this week’s edition of the All-Time Major League Baseball Undervalued Team, we present a widely varied crop of players. While Buddy Bell seemingly had baseball in he blood, in once sense Ron Cey always seemed like an unlikely star, emerging as baseball’s version of a cult figure on the West Coast in the ’70s while playing in the shadow of some of the game’s all-time greats at third base. Robin Ventura was as smooth as silk at the hot corner, while Placido Polanco’s contributions to good baseball are hard to enumerate.
The son of former major leaguer Gus Bell, and the father of David and Mike Bell, suffice it to say baseball was in Bell’s genes. Bell played 18 seasons in MLB, most notably for the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers. Bell won six consecutive Gold Gloves beginning in 1980, and though he never posted an OPS above .877, he also only had two full seasons in which that figure dropped below .700.
Why he’s undervalued: In short, Bell was a defensive wizard the likes of which his six Gold Gloves don’t even represent. Bell was known for playing well off the third base line, yet being able to quickly range to his right to take away hits down the line. His range factor remains fifth all-time among third basemen. And, aside from that, Bell usually held his own with the bat, onl striking out more than 70 times once in his career.
Although Ventura may be best remembered for his ill-fated attempt to charge a mound with Nolan Ryan standing on it, he was also a heck of a ballplayer, too. In effect, Ventura’s career had two acts: first with the Chicago White Sox, then with the New York Mets. With the Sox, Ventura teamed up with Frank Thomas to make for a powerful middle of the lineup, while with New York he played with a prolific defensive infield and made a run all the way to the World Series. All in all, Ventura made two All-Star teams and won six Gold Gloves.
Why he’s undervalued: Ventura possessed a rare combination of power and defensive agility that’s rarely been matched in MLB history. Not only did Ventura twice hit 30 home runs, but he also knew how to take walks before it was trendy to do so, takin 105 free passes in 1993. And Ventura was one of the best defensive third basemen of his era, known for his soft hands and for teaming up with John Olderud, Rey Ordonez and Edgardo Alfonzo on the Mets for what might be the best defensive infield in the history of baseball.
When you earn a nickname like “The Penguin” from Tommy Lasorda of all people, you’re doing something right in the game. Though that nickname might be a derogatory, Cey was among the game’s best third basemen during the ’70s. During that decade he went to six consecutive All-Star Games, routinely posting OPS figures in the mid-.800s. He finished his career with 316 home runs and a .799 OPS over 17 big-league seasons.
Why he’s undervalued: For much of his career, Cey was overshadowed by Mike Schmidt and Peter Rose, the era’s preeminent third basemen. Cey was also part of a Dodgers infield (along with Bill Russell, Davey Lopes and Steve Garvey) that stayed together for 8 1/2 seasons, the longest-running group ever. With that group, the Dodgers won the World Series in 1981, in which Cey won the MVP award in a three-way tie with Steve Yaeger and Pedro Guerrero.
Polanco didn’t really start playing third base regularly until 2001, but before that he largely played everywhere on the diamond, so we’re going to count him. At age 37 Polanco has already played 15 years in MLB and is still going strong, playing in 90 games with the Phillies last season. Polanco was the MVP of the 2006 ALCS with the Detroit Tigers, hit .341 in 2007 and was twice voted to start in the All-Star Game.
Why he’s undervalued: Polanco has no major accolades to his name, but it’s the little things that he’s always done. For instance, Polanco’s been notoriously and historically difficult to strike out, once hitting a figure as low as 5.1 percent in 2007. Though we’re counting Polanco at third base, he’s also the only player to ever win a Gold Glove at two infield positions. On top of that, while unspectacular Polanco has always been a consistent offensive threat, posting an OPS above .800 only three times, but rarely falling below .700.
So who’s the most undervalued third baseman in the history of Major League Baseball?