For seemingly all of baseball history, until the mid-1980's, the position of SS was a defensive-first position, usually* manned by all-glove, no-bat types. Then came Cal Ripken and Robin Yount and the mold was broken.
* Ernie Banks sticks out as the main exception. Mantle came up as a SS but was moved to CF. Who am I missing, having only given this a nanosecond's thought?
In the '90's, there was the "holy trinity" of Nomar, ARod and Jeter, eventually expanded to include Tejada. Then Michael Young, sort of. And now? Jeter has little power and never really had that much to begin with. ARod's at 3B. Nomar's body betrayed him. Tejada was named in The Mitchell Report. Michael Young is really not a big power guy (24 HR was his high and only had 100+ RBI once) but was a threat with the bat.
And now, only Hanley Ramirez remains a major offensive threat from that position, while remaining a defensive liability.
So why is that?
Whether it is the onset of drug testing or an MLB-wide shifting of priorities to defense over offense that resulted in power-hitting shortstops being moved to other positions, the difference is there. In the 2008 season, only five shortstops hit 15 or more home runs, and just three had 70 or more RBI. Contrastly, in 2005, 10 shortstops had 15 or more homers and 12 had 70 or more RBI, followed by nine and 10, respectively, in ’06, and seven and eight, respectively, in ’07.After thinking about it for a bit, I am OK with this reversion to the norm. I'm realizing that I am enjoying the game more with the speed element more in play.
“The expectations are a lot different now, with a big question being long term, can (a top talent) remain a shortstop?” one long-time major league scout said. “If he gets strong, inevitably he’s going to have a tougher time carrying that strength at shortstop.”
The value of defense has risen at that position.
“You want plus-defense at that position,” the scout confirmed, “and the most realistic expectations you can have at shortstop is somebody who hits for a high average and hits a lot of doubles. The days of Alex Rodriguez as shortstop are gone.
“The position is a little like catching now, where you are willing to sacrifice offense for defense. Five years ago, you expected both.”