In 1982, Cal Ripken stormed onto the big league scene hitting 28 home runs and winning the American League Rookie of the Year award. He followed that up by hitting .318 with 27 home runs in 1983, winning the AL MVP and leading the Baltimore Orioles to a World Series championship.
In addition to his impact on the Orioles, many believed Ripken would have a bigger impact on the game of baseball. Ripken was something baseball had rarely seen previously, a shortstop with a big bat. And at 6′ 4″ and 200 pounds, his was built unlike any big-time shortstop that came before.
There was little doubt that Ripken was on his way to a Hall-of-Fame career, and many believed that his all-around play would open the door for more big, slugging shortstops. But while Alex Rodriguez (6′ 3″) took the position to even bigger heights for a few years and Hanley Ramirez (6′ 3″) is now posting big numbers for the Marlins, little has changed among big league shortstops.
As we can see, the average height of the big shortstop (green bars) in the last 30 years hasn’t grown. In fact, when Ripken stopped playing shortstop in 1997, the average height dropped considerably and only recently started to rise again.
If we look at offensive production of shortstops over the last 30 years (blue line), we do see that shortstops have become better hitters. But that rise in production is almost identical to the rise in OPS of all big leaguers (red line). And in this post-steroid era of Major League Baseball (2008-present) the OPS of both the average big leaguer and the average shortstop has fallen dramatically.
Ripken was a great baseball player. And while teams may have wanted to find other players like him, Ripken has not had a lasting impact on the shortstop position.
All data via Baseball-Reference.com. Players that qualified for the batting title and played at least half of their games at shortstop were included in this analysis.
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