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Phillies' Top 5 third basemen: Zolecki's take

@ToddZolecki
April 13, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. Love this list? Hate it?

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. Love this list? Hate it? If you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Todd Zolecki’s ranking of the top third basemen in Phillies history. Next week: shortstops.

• Philadelphia's All-Time Team: Catcher | 1B | 2B

1) Mike Schmidt, 1972-89
Key stat: 106.9 bWAR is the highest among all third basemen in baseball history.

Is Schmidt the greatest third baseman in Phillies history? Absolutely. Is he the greatest third baseman in baseball history? Try to make an argument for anybody else.

“He was the best player I’ve ever played with,” Pete Rose said in, “The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly: Heart-Pounding, Jaw-Dropping and Gut-Wrenching Moments from Philadelphia Phillies history.” “When I say that, I’m not putting down Tony Perez. I’m not putting down Joe Morgan. I’m not putting down Johnny Bench. I’m not putting down Tom Seaver or Steve Carlton. Those are all Hall of Famers that I’ve played with. But Mike had the overall ability. Now, am I going to say he’s better than Willie Mays or Hank Aaron or Roberto Clemente or Stan Musial? No, I’m not going to say he’s better than those guys. But he’s right in the same category as those guys.”

Schmidt ranks first among third basemen in baseball history in home runs (548); tied for third (with George Brett) in RBIs (1,595); fourth in walks (1,507); sixth in runs (1,506); tied for 13th (Bobby Bonilla) in doubles (408) and 14th in hits (2,234). Among third basemen with 7,500 or more plate appearances, he ranks second in slugging percentage (.527) and OPS (.908) and fifth in on-base percentage (.380). He won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1980, ’81 and ’86. He made 12 NL All-Star teams. He won 10 Gold Gloves. He won six Silver Slugger Awards. He won World Series MVP honors in '80, helping the Phillies win their first title in franchise history.

It makes Schmidt the greatest player in Phillies history, and one of the greatest players in baseball history.

Rose isn’t the only one that feels that way, either.

2) Dick Allen, 1963-69, '75-76
Key stat: 156 OPS+ is tied for sixth all time among right-handed hitters (modern era)

We wrote last week about why Allen should finally make the Hall of Fame in December, when the Golden Days Committee reconvenes for another vote. But in case you missed it: Allen slashed .292/.378/.534 with 351 home runs, 1,119 RBIs and a .912 OPS in a 15-year career with the Phillies, Cardinals, Dodgers, White Sox and A’s. He won the 1972 American League Most Valuable Player Award while with the White Sox. He earned MVP Award votes in six other seasons. He won the '64 National League Rookie of the Year Award. He made seven All-Star teams, including three with the Phillies. From '64-74, he posted a 58.3 WAR, according to Baseball Reference. It tied Willie Mays for sixth place among position players in that 11-year span, behind Hank Aaron (68.8), Carl Yastrzemski (68.1), Roberto Clemente (64.7), Ron Santo (60.1) and Brooks Robinson (59.3).

But this is about his Phillies career. Allen’s 35.4 bWAR is second among franchise third basemen and 12th among all position players.

“He’s the greatest player I’ve ever seen play in my life,” Hall of Fame closer Goose Gossage told USA Today in 2014. “He had the most amazing season [1972] I’ve ever seen. He’s the smartest baseball man I’ve ever been around in my life. He taught me how to pitch from a hitter’s perspective, and taught me how to play the game, and how to play the game right. There’s no telling the numbers this guy could have put up if all he worried about was stats.

“The guy belongs in the Hall of Fame.”

3) Scott Rolen, 1996-2002
Key stat: 1997 NL Rookie of the Year

Rolen could make the Hall of Fame, too. If he makes it, however, he almost certainly will not have a Phillies logo on his cap.

Could you blame him? Rolen left the club on bad terms, and Phils fans booed him every single time he stepped into the batter’s box in Philadelphia for the remainder of his career. But it does not change the fact that Rolen was an incredible third baseman with the Phillies. His 29.2 bWAR ranks third among Phils third basemen and 17th among all position players. He made his first All-Star team with Philadelphia in 2002. He won three Gold Gloves with the Phillies -- four, if you count the one in '02, after Philadelphia traded him to St. Louis.

4) Willie Jones, 1947-59
Key stat: NL All-Star in 1950 and ‘51

“Puddin’ Head” might be one of the greatest nicknames in Phillies history. He got the nickname, not because of his physical appearance, but because of the 1930s tune “Wooden Head Puddin’ Head Jones.”

Jones slashed .258/.343/.413 with 180 home runs and 753 RBIs for the Phillies, helping the Whiz Kids win the 1950 National League pennant. Hall of Fame third baseman Pie Traynor, according to The Phillies Encyclopedia, once said, “He’s better than I was.” Jones, like every player back in those days, was not paid handsomely. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Frank Fitzpatrick wrote a cool story in Dec. 2015 about one Christmas Eve in the late ‘50s, when Fitzpatrick and his father drove to the Lawrence Park Shopping Center in Broomall, Pa., to pick out a Christmas tree.

The remaining trees were pretty Charlie Brown-ish by that point.

“Y’all got the best tree here,” the salesman said with a chuckle.

Fitzpatrick recoiled at the man’s thick Southern drawl. His father told him afterward that the man was Jones, who grew up in South Carolina. We bet Jones is the last everyday big league third baseman to sell Christmas trees on Christmas Eve.

5) Placido Polanco, 2002-05, '10-12
Key stat: NL All-Star and Gold Glove winner in 2011

The Phillies got Polanco from St. Louis in the Rolen trade in 2002. He put up solid numbers before the Phillies traded him to Detroit in '05 for Ugueth Urbina and Ramon Martinez. Polanco returned in '10 and played solid defense at third base for a couple of seasons, although back injuries sidelined him much of the time.

Honorable mentions
Dave Hollins (1990-95, 2002) made the NL All-Star team in 1993. … Pinky Whitney (1928-33, 1936-39) earned NL MVP votes in three separate seasons for the Phillies. He also made the '36 All-Star team. … Pinky May (1939-43) made the '40 All-Star team. He got MVP votes that year, too. His five seasons with the Phillies were the only five seasons he played in the big leagues. He enlisted in the Navy in '44. According to SABR.org, May was stationed on the island of Tinian. He watched the Enola Gay take off on Aug. 6, 1945. The Phillies released May upon his return in '46. The Pirates offered him a job in '47, but he pursued a managerial career instead. May’s son Milt played in the big leagues for 15 years.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook .