Reds' Top 5 shortstops: Sheldon's take

April 21st, 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. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Mark Sheldon’s ranking of the top 5 shortstops in Reds history. Next week: Left fielders.

Reds' Top 5 rankings: C | 1B | 2B | 3B

1. , 1986-2004
Key fact: Was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012

A Cincinnati native, Larkin played his entire career -- 19 seasons -- for his hometown team and was a 12-time All-Star, the 1995 NL MVP, and the winner of three Gold Glove Awards and nine Silver Slugger Awards. All of it came while batting in many spots of the lineup.

Larkin was playing behind incumbent shortstop Kurt Stillwell when he broke into the big leagues in 1986. Despite playing only 41 games, he still finished seventh in NL Rookie of the Year voting. By 1988, Larkin was on his way to becoming a perennial All-Star and in 1990, he became a World Series champion while batting .301 during the regular season and .353 in the four-game sweep of Oakland. During his ’95 MVP season as he led Cincinnati to the NL Championship Series, he batted .319 with an .886 OPS and did even better in ’96, when he slugged a career-high 33 home runs with 36 steals and became the first shortstop and second Red to ever have a 30/30 season.

Overall, Larkin slashed .295/.371/.444 for his career with 2,340 hits, 1,329 runs scored, 379 stolen bases and a 70.5 bWAR that ranks third in franchise history. He walked more (939) than he struck out (817) and scored at least 80 runs in a season seven times. During the year of his Hall of Fame induction, the Reds also retired Larkin’s No. 11.

2. Davey Concepcion, 1970-88
Key fact: Was named MVP of the 1982 All-Star Game in Montreal

Before the Reds shortstop torch was passed to Larkin, it belonged to Concepcion for the previous 18 years, and his era was part of the best in Reds history. The shortstop for the Big Red Machine, Concepcion was the defensive master of teams that won five division titles, four NL pennants and consecutive World Series in 1975-76. He was a nine-time All-Star and won five Gold Gloves, second-most ever for the club behind Johnny Bench’s 10.

But Concepcion wasn’t all glove, no offense. A two-time Silver Slugger winner, he is third on the club all-time in hits (2,326), doubles (389) and steals (321) and fifth in runs scored (993). He was also the team captain and later was elected to the Reds Hall of Fame in 2000 and had his No. 13 retired in 2007.

Concepcion remained on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for 15 years but came up empty -- due in part to his being overshadowed by teammates like Bench, Pete Rose and Tony Perez and by some of his peers in the game, like Ozzie Smith. However, Concepcion was one of the best of his era and his numbers are on par or eclipse those of other Hall of Fame shortstops like Smith, Pee Wee Reese and Phil Rizzuto.

3. Roy McMillian, 1951-1960
Key fact: Was part of fielding a then-record 129 double plays in 1954

Dubbed “Mr. Shortstop” because he was one of the best at the position during the 1950s, McMillian won the first three Gold Glove Awards ever given to shortstops (1957-59).

A two-time All-Star, McMillian was durable and played 150 or more games each season from 1952-57. Unfortunately for him, the Reds recorded only two winning seasons during his tenure. He was elected to the Reds Hall of Fame in 1971.

4. Leo Cárdenas, 1960-68
Key fact: Compiled 14.8 bWAR, fifth best among Reds shortstops

A four-time All-Star and a Gold Glove Award winner in 1965, Cárdenas also notched 1,058 hits during his nine seasons in Cincinnati. Nicknamed “Mr. Automatic” for his slick fielding skills, Cárdenas was part of the NL pennant-winning Reds in 1961 as a 22-year-old role player before becoming a lineup fixture the following season.

Cárdenas was elected to the Reds Hall of Fame in 1981.

5. , 2011-17
Key fact: His 15.7 bWAR is ranked fourth among Reds shortstops

Unlike 1951-2004, when the Reds mostly had four mainstays, the years preceding Cozart’s tenure was a revolving door. Second baseman Brandon Phillips had over 20 double play partners from 2006-11 until Cozart cemented his place in the lineup during the 2012 season, when Cincinnati won 97 games and the NL Central division.

A popular player on the field for his ability to make plays -- both challenging and routine -- and off the field because of his leadership and dependability, Cozart had 67.1 dWAR according to Fangraphs. His lone All-Star season came in 2017, when he batted .297 with a .933 OPS and career-high 24 home runs. Injuries, including a grisly one to his knee in 2015, prevented Cozart from having similarly robust seasons.

Honorable mentions

Billy Myers (1935-40) hit the game-winning sacrifice fly in Game 7 of the 1940 World Series and was elected to the Reds Hall of Fame in 1966. … Felipe López (2003-06) was a 2005 All-Star and Silver Slugger winner.