5 Best Third Basemen All-Time

The next list of all-time greats examines the hot corner and the men who stood by it:

1. Mike Schmidt

PHI 1972-1989

162-game average during prime:

.275/.398/.576  46HR  119RBI  118BB  133K

Mike Schmidt is by anyone’s measurement the greatest third baseman in Major League history. He leads all third basemen in HR, RBI, and OPS+. In an era of depressed offense, he hit 35+ HR in 11 different seasons, 90+ RBI in 12 seasons, 100+ walks in 7 seasons, and he even stole 10 bases in 8 seasons. In the 1981 strike season, he would’ve had a shot at the Triple Crown, leading in HR (31 to second place’s 24), RBI, and 4th in average. He was in the top 3 in AB per HR in 11 seasons, tied for 3rd-most all-time (behind Babe Ruth and Mel Ott, tied with Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Ted Williams…good company).  His 8 home run titles are second to only Ruth. Clearly Mike Schmidt’s only peers are found by navigating through history and around the diamond, not among his contemporaries or other third basemen.

2. Eddie Mathews

MIL 1952-1966  HOU 67  DET 67-68

162-game average during prime:

.289/.400/.577  44HR  117RBI  111BB  90K

MVP-less, it is by no means Eddie Mathews’ fault. He finished 2nd twice: once to Roy Campanella and once to Ernie Banks. Then, in arguably his best season, he was outside of the top 15 in voting, behind 3 different players who had .300+AVG, 40+HR, 110+RBI. Among third basemen, his OPS+ is 2nd, his RBIs are 2nd, his BBs are 4th, and his SLG is 4th. Despite the star-studded era he played in, he finished in the top 5 in AB per HR in 9 seasons. His lack of league-leading numbers doesn’t disappoint, considering he was rarely even the best player on his own team (Hank Aaron), but he was a perennial on the leaderboards nonetheless.

3. Chipper Jones

ATL 1993, 95-

162-game average during prime:

.320/.422/.578  37HR  109RBI  108BB  87K

Chipper Jones’ career seems to have been underrated by many. As with many recent players, Chipper has stuck around, still useful but past his prime, and that has clouded the memory of just how great he was. For 8 full seasons, he averaged .313/.410/.551 with 34 homers and 111 RBI. So, for almost a decade, he was just as likely to perform better than those numbers as he was to go under. In response to anyone who would argue that since he wasn’t a regular league leader, his numbers were just a product of the offensive era in which he played, I offer this: his career OPS+, which adjusts for the league and ballpark the player plays in, ranks 3rd at the position. This suggests he dominated the league offensively like only the two men above him on this list did.

4. George Brett

KCR 1973-1993

162-game average during prime:

.328/.391/.557  26HR  115RBI  69BB  45K

George Brett was a quality hitter for 20 seasons, routinely spraying the field with sharp line drives. He led the league in hits 3 times, twice topping 200. He has more doubles than any other third baseman in history, his 665 marking one of just two players with even 500. He sported 5 averages of at least .329 and another 6 that were above .300. In three seasons, he paced the league in both OBP and SLG. Most notable was his 1980 campaign. He hit 24 home runs and 118 RBI, accompanied by an unbelievable .390 average. That average has only been bested twice since 1930 (Tony Gwynn hit .394 in strike-shortened 1994, and of course, Ted Williams’ .406 in 1941). Brett was the face of the Royals for 20 of the team’s first 25 years, and will always be the Royal of the 20th century.

5. Wade Boggs

BOS 1982-1992  NYY 93-97  TB 98-99

162-game average during prime:

.357/.454/.496  11HR  74RBI  114BB  51K  48 2B

Wade Boggs was a fearsome hitter, which is noteworthy considering the type of hitter he was. He hit above .349 in 6 of his first 7 seasons, also leading the league in OBP in 6 of his first 8 seasons. He once topped the league in hits with 240. His line-drive stroke keeping his average up and his amazing plate discipline keeping his walk rate up, he was always on base. He scored at least 100 runs in his first 7 full seasons. As alluded to in Brett’s portion above, Wade is one of just two third basemen with 500 career doubles. He hit 40+ in 8 of his first 9 full seasons. Despite hitting either first or second at the time, he led the league in intentional walks for 6 consecutive seasons. That provides a nice microcosm of Boggs’ career; his primary goal was to be a table-setter, and yet he was still so feared that teams would rather have faced the middle of the order than him.

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