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At early levels of baseball, playing shortstop is like playing quarterback in peewee football. Everyone wants to do it, and usually, the most athletic kid on the team gets to play there.
Whether or not that player goes on to play shortstop for his future teams depends on his development as an infielder as the position becomes more complex and requires more skill than athleticism.
Still, at all levels of baseball, the shortstop is one of the most important positions on the field for any team that wants to succeed defensively.
In baseball, the shortstop is positioned between second and third base. His position mirrors that of the second baseman. Many consider the shortstop to be the captain of the infield because of where he is located on the diamond and all that he is asked to do.
It is one of the more complex positions in baseball, so here is some more in-depth information about playing shortstop.
What Does a Shortstop Do?
A shortstop is considered to be one of the most important, if not the most important, positions on the field. This defensive position has several responsibilities that include the following:
- Field ground balls on the left side of second base.
- The shortstop should attempt to cover as much ground as possible, but he normally has priority on ground balls hit between second base and where the third baseman is positioned.
- Take priority on fly balls in the infield.
- Because of where he is positioned and his strong defensive ability, the shortstop has priority over all other infielders on fly balls in the infield. If he calls for the ball, everyone else must let him have it.
- Serve as a cutoff man on throws from the outfield.
- On any ball hit to the left side of the outfield, the shortstop is the cutoff man on throws to second and third base.
- Relay the number of outs to the rest of the infielders and outfielders.
- The shortstop is expected to know the number of outs at all times and is charged with sharing it with the whole defense. He simply holds up the number of outs with his fingers in between at-bats to relay this information.
- Control the running game with a runner on second base.
- Some teams charge their shortstop with the responsibility of controlling how many looks the pitcher gives the runner on second. Simple hand signals relay this information. The shortstop also sometimes calls pickoff plays to second.
- Cover second base on stolen base attempts.
- With a left-handed hitter who normally pulls the ball at the plate, the shortstop is normally charged with covering second on stolen bases.
- Cover second base on double plays.
- For ground balls hit to the right side of second base with a runner on first, the shortstop covers second on double-play attempts.
Is Shortstop the Most Difficult Position on the Field?
As one can see, the shortstop has many responsibilities that don’t necessarily relate to fielding ground balls and fly balls. Because of this, some consider it to be the most difficult position on the field.
Others would argue that catcher is more difficult because of the physical demands of the position. Regardless of where people stand on this debate, they all typically agree that teams must place an emphasis on the shortstop position.
Most hitters are right-handed, and right-handed hitters have a tendency to pull the ball to the left side of the infield. With his positioning being deeper than the third baseman, the shortstop is able to cover more ground and field more of these ground balls.
This is why most coaches put their best infielder at shortstop: he typically gets more opportunities than the other positions to make plays on defense.
If you need more help settling the debate as to why shortstop is the most difficult position on the baseball diamond, check out our article “Why is Shortstop the Hardest Position in Baseball?”
Why is it Called “Shortstop”?
The shortstop position was created in the mid-1800s and is credited to a man named Doc Adams. It actually originated as an outfield position.
Back then, the weight of the baseballs was so light that outfielders had a difficult time throwing the ball into the infield. The shortstop was created to primarily serve as a cutoff from the outfielders to the infielders.
It was known as a “shortstop” for the outfielders’ throws so that they did not have to make long throws that they were not able to make.
As baseballs became heavier and of higher quality, the shortstop became an infield position, but the name stuck.
Profile of the Typical Shortstop
As the modern-day game of baseball becomes more advanced, some of the old prototypes of certain positions are coming into question.
For example, catcher was always thought to be a defense-first position. Teams were typically willing to sacrifice offensive production from their catcher if he was a high-level defensive player.
Now, with more importance than ever placed on power hitting and less emphasis placed on stealing bases, more teams than ever are willing to sacrifice defensive ability for offensive production from their catcher.
The shortstop position, however, has mostly remained the same over recent years when it comes to protype. Very few teams are willing to sacrifice defensive ability at shortstop for offensive prowess.
If a shortstop has a lot of offensive potential, but his defense is not up to par, then he is often moved to one of the other infield positions. With that being said, more shortstops than ever are great hitters as well as great defenders.
Several years ago, it was thought that shortstops had to be smaller, quicker players. Cal Ripken Jr. was one of the first shortstops to break that mold. Ripken stood 6 foot 4 inches and displayed an offensive production at the position that had not been seen in a long time.
He paved the way for some of the game’s best shortstops who were taller than the average player of that position. Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Troy Tulowitzki, and a host of others all stood 6 foot 3 or taller helping to break the mold of what shortstops used to be.
All in all, a shortstop must be quick enough to cover ground, sure-handed enough to make as few errors as possible, and have a strong enough arm to make tough throws from deep in the infield.
If a player carries all of those qualities, he can be a successful defender at shortstop.
There have been 26 shortstops inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
The most recent shortstop to make his way into the Hall of Fame is longtime Yankees captain Derek Jeter. Jeter was only one vote shy of being a unanimous selection. He had a 20 year career and eclipsed the 3,000 hit mark late in his tenure.
Some argued throughout his career that Jeter was never the best or most talented shortstop in the MLB, but no one can debate his consistency as both a defender and a hitter. He won several World Series titles and made clutch plays in the field and at the plate in each of them.
He is known as “The Captain” and for most of his career was considered to be the face of the shortstop position.
Other notable shortstops in the Hall of Fame include Barry Larkin (Cincinnati Reds), Cal Ripken Jr. (Baltimore Orioles), Ernie Banks (Chicago Cubs), Ozzie Smith (St. Louis Cardinals), Pee Wee Reese (Los Angeles Dodgers), and Honus Wagner (Pittsburgh Pirates).
Wagner was the first shortstop to ever be inducted into Cooperstown in 1936. He actually played every position in his Major League career except catcher, but his primary position was shortstop.
He was one of the first players to bring an offensive presence to the position while also being an elite defensive player.
Why don’t left-handed throwers play shortstop?
Left-handed throwers rarely play second base, third base, or shortstop because of the time it takes for them to square up their shoulders to make a throw to first base after fielding a ground ball. When right-handers field a ground ball, their shoulders and body are already in a position to throw the ball to first. Lefties require more time to throw it, giving the runner an extra step or two.
What number is the shortstop position on the lineup card?
Shortstop is number 6 on the lineup card. Each position has a number used for lineup cards and scorekeepers. Shortstop is number 6 on that list.
Do shortstops have to play in the same spot every play?
No, shortstops can start anywhere they’d like on the field. In fact, teams often move their players around depending on who is hitting, and sometimes they will shift their shortstop to the other side of second base. There have been talks of the MLB developing a rule that eliminates the shift, but as of now, all defensive players are able to start each play wherever they choose.