The foundation of team defense is a solid, dependable infield. But, finding a quartet of infielders that a manager can pencil in on the lineup card everyday is no easy task.
This post looks at a baseball rarity, four infielders (1B, 2B, 3B and SS) who started at least 300 games together. Three hundred games is less than two seasons worth, so it may not seem like a lot. But, it is a most unusual team that can find such a group.
More after the jump.
I couldn’t devise any systematic way (other than brute force) to identify precisely which set of infielders have started 300 games together, so there may be more than the following 13 clubs. But, I doubt there are many more. My method was to find teams since 1914 with at least one season with each player recording 130 games at one of the infield positions (to find teams that had a set combination playing almost everyday in at least one season). Then, through manual deduction, I investigated likely foursomes and found these thirteen infields, showing the number of games each started.
- 833 games – Dodgers (1973-81) Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Ron Cey, Bill Russell
- 623 games – Cubs (1965-71) Ernie Banks, Glenn Beckert, Ron Santo, Don Kessinger
- 474 games – Tigers (1933-37) Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Marv Owen, Billy Rogell
- 451 games – Orioles (1966-72) Boog Powell, Davey Johnson, Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger
- 430 games – Dodgers (1948-54) Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson, Billy Cox, Pee Wee Reese
- 347 games – Yankees (1934-37) Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Red Rolfe, Frankie Crosetti
- 347 games – Cardinals (1963-65) Bill White, Julian Javier, Ken Boyer, Dick Groat
- 344 games – Astros (1972-74) Lee May, Tommy Helms, Doug Rader, Roger Metzger
- 332 games – Athletics (1947-52) Ferris Fain, Pete Suder, Hank Majeski, Eddie Joost
- 329 games – Yankees (1922-25) Wally Pipp, Aaron Ward, Joe Dugan, Everett Scott
- 323 games – Yankees (1977-79) Chris Chambliss, Willie Randolph, Graig Nettles, Bucky Dent
- 310 games – Senators (1930-34) Joe Kuhel, Buddy Myer, Ossie Bluege, Joe Cronin
- 308 games – Phillies (1979-81) Pete Rose, Manny Trillo, Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa
What’s immediately evident from the list above is that, with a few exceptions, these were very good teams. Only the Cubs, Astros and Athletics failed to win a pennant, and those teams were at least competitive (even the A’s were a winning club for the first half of this group’s tenure). Of the 10 pennant-winning clubs, all but the Senators and the first Dodger group were World Series champs (and those Dodgers remedied that omission the next season, with three of their group still intact).
What’s also notable is that none of these teams played in the past 30 years. With player movement from free agency and the practice of resting regulars at different points during the season, it’s a lot harder to keep an infield together for this many starts. The most games started (that I could find) by an infield since the Dodger and Phillie groups broke up after the 1981 season is the 299 games by the 1981-84 Pirates with Jason Thompson, Johnny Ray, Bill Madlock and Dale Berra. The recent Yankee teams with Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter started 290 games with Mark Teixeira at first base, and another 501 contests with other first sackers.
1973-81 Dodgers (Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Ron Cey, Bill Russell)
All four were drafted and groomed by the Dodgers, although Garvey, Lopes and Cey were all first drafted by other organizations (the Twins, Giants and Mets, respectively) but did not sign with those clubs. Lopes, three years older than the other three, was the last to make it to the majors, debuting at age 27 in 1972. That timing was fortuitous as the Dodgers were transitioning from their 1960s infield of Wes Parker, Jim Lefebvre and Maury Wills, and had not had the same primary third baseman in consecutive seasons since Jim Gilliam retired after the 1966 pennant year.
The new group all played regularly in the 1973 season, with Cey and Lopes everyday players that year, and Garvey and Russell joining them as mainstays in 1974, as Los Angeles claimed its first pennant in 8 seasons. Three more pennants would follow, in 1977, 1978 and 1981, the last the first Dodger world championship since 1965. Lopes missed a good chunk of that 1981 season with injury, and played poorly when healthy (though he played the entire post-season and contributed 10 stolen bases), leading to an off-season trade to Houston. After the 1982 season, Garvey signed as a free agent in San Diego and Cey was traded to the Cubs. Russell stayed with the Dodgers and had a final season as a regular in 1983 before finishing his career with three part-time campaigns.
1965-71 Cubs (Ernie Banks, Glenn Beckert, Ron Santo, Don Kessinger)
Banks and Santo were established stars in the NL when Beckert and Kessinger arrived on the scene in 1965, with Beckert playing everyday that year and the 23 year-old Kessinger doing so in 1966. Beckert replaced Ken Hubbs, the 1962 RoY who was killed tragically while piloting a single-engine Cessna aircraft early in 1964. Kessinger replaced Andre Rogers, who was dealt to Pittsburgh following the 1964 season.
With just one winning season (an 82-80 mark in 1963) since 1946, Chicago continued to struggle in 1965 and 1966, before turning things around with 6 consecutive winning campaigns from 1967 to 1972, and a 2nd or 3rd place finish each of those years. Banks’ last season as a regular came in 1969 when the Cubs were in first place as late as September 9th but couldn’t match the Mets’ torrid 18-5 pace the rest of the way. Banks retired following the 1971 season, Beckert and Santo were traded after the 1973 campaign, and Kessinger was dealt two years after that.
1933-37 Tigers (Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Marv Owen, Billy Rogell)
Gehringer was already established as the premier AL second baseman when rookie first baseman Hank Greenberg appeared on the scene in 1933 to fill the void created when Dale Alexander was traded to Boston the previous season. Owen, sent back to the minors after his 1931 rookie season, returned to succeed Marty McManus (dealt to the Red Sox in 1931) at third after the tandem of Heinie Schuble and Nolen Richardson managed only a .255/.301/.368 slash and 0.6 WAR in 1932. Rogell was in his second season as the regular shortstop in 1933, taking over from Mark Koenig after his purchase by the Mission, Calif. Reds of the PCL early in the 1932 season.
After six straight losing years, Detroit won 101 games in 1934 to take the AL pennant and followed that with a world championship season in 1935. The Tigers finished second the next two years, unable to match the Yankee juggernaut that would claim four straight world titles from 1936 to 1939. Owen was the first to depart, traded after the 1937 season in a six-player swap with the White Sox. Rogell went to the Cubs two years after that, while Gehringer and Greenberg (now in the outfield) remained to pilot the Tigers to the 1940 AL pennant. Gehringer retired after the 1942 season while the 34 year-old Greenberg, after missing 3 full seasons to military service, returned midway in the 1945 season to lead Detroit to a world championship with 20 home runs, 60 RBI and a .311/.404/.544 slash in a dominating half-season of work.
1966-72 Orioles (Boog Powell, Davey Johnson, Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger)
Brooks Robinson was the established All-Star and 1964 AL MVP as this infield gradually started to take shape with Boog Powell’s move from the outfield to first base in 1965 to replace a fading Norm Siebern (who was dealt to the Angels in the off-season). The next year, Davey Johnson displaced incumbent Jerry Adair at second base and placed 3rd in RoY voting as the Orioles claimed the franchise’s first world championship (in a season that included the first of this group’s 451 starts, after Mark Belanger got a September call-up). Belanger played only intermittently in 1967 behind All-Star shortstop Luis Aparicio, but his (Belanger’s) path became clear after Aparicio was dealt in the off-season to the White Sox.
In the 5 full seasons this infield was intact, the Orioles claimed three successive pennants, including a second world title in 1970. Johnson was the first to depart, traded after the 1972 season to Atlanta (where the friendly confines of Fulton County Stadium allowed him to increase his home run total from 5 to 43, still the most by a second baseman). Powell was dealt to Cleveland two years later, while Robinson remained an Oriole until his retirement in 1977 after 23 seasons. That 1977 season was Belanger’s last as an everyday shortstop, though he remained as a part-time player until 1981 before signing with the Dodgers as a free agent for his final season in 1982.
1948-54 Dodgers (Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson, Billy Cox, Pee Wee Reese)
Despite a pennant in 1947, the Dodgers were a team in flux in 1948, with only 3-time NL All-Star shortstop Pee Wee Reese remaining in the same infield position. Jackie Robinson, after his famous debut he year before, took over at second in place of the departed Eddie Stanky, dealt to the Braves during spring training. That move opened Robinson’s first base spot for rookie Gil Hodges to fill. The last piece of the puzzle was the off-season acquisition of Cox from Pittsburgh to assume the third base spot filled in 1947 by the tandem of light-hitting rookie Spider Jorgensen and fading veteran Cookie Lavagetto.
In the seven years this infield remained intact, Brooklyn would claim three pennants, and then add a world championship in 1955 and another pennant in 1956 with only Cox no longer in the lineup. Even when they didn’t claim top spot, the Dodgers came agonizingly close, losing a winner-take-all game to the Phillies on the final day of the 1950 season (after failing to score the winning run from third base with one out in the home 9th), and famously losing to the Giants in a pennant playoff the next year after leading by three in the 9th inning of the deciding game.
Cox departed for Baltimore following the 1954 season (again traded with Preacher Roe, who had also accompanied Cox from Pittsburgh seven years earlier). Robinson retired after the 1956 campaign and Reese did likewise two years later. Before finishing his career as a part-time player with the Mets, Hodges contributed 25 home runs and 80 RBI in his final season as a regular for the 1959 world championship team, the Dodgers’ first pennant winning season on the west coast.
1934-37 Yankees (Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Red Rolfe, Frankie Crosetti)
Gehrig and Lazzeri were the established stars from the 1920s Yankee championship clubs and Crosetti had two seasons under his belt as the Yankee shortstop. But, there was a hole at third base after the Yankees released incumbent Joe Sewell before the 1934 season. Enter rookie Red Rolfe, who shared third base duties that season with another rookie, 31 year-old Jack Saltzgaver. Though there wasn’t much to choose between their rookie season stats, the Yankees wisely went with the younger Rolfe as their everyday third-sacker starting in 1935.
After second-place finishes to the the Tigers in 1934 and 1935, the arrival of Joe DiMaggio in 1936 provided the final piece for the Yankees for a run of four consecutive world titles, the first two with this infield. Lazzeri was the first to go, released after the 1937 season. The other three would remain Yankees for the rest of their careers, Gehrig’s cut tragically short in 1939, with Rolfe lasting until 1942 and Crosetti until 1948.
1963-65 Cardinals (Bill White, Julian Javier, Ken Boyer, Dick Groat)
White, Javier and Boyer were all established incumbents on a Cardinals team that was showing signs of revival in the early 1960s, after finishing no better than 8 games out since 1949 (their last pennant-contending season when a 1-4 finish left the Redbirds one game short of the Dodgers for the NL pennant). In 1962, St. Louis used 23 year-old Julio Gotay at short, with the rookie showing a decent glove but only .255/.316/.309 in over 400 PAs. Thus, when the opportunity arose to acquire All-Star shortstop and 1960 NL MVP Dick Groat from the Pirates, the Cardinals probably didn’t hesitate too long before sacrificing Gotay to snare the 32 year-old Groat.
Groat had a career best 7.1 WAR season in 1963, leading the majors with 43 doubles and placing second in MVP voting behind Sandy Koufax, whose Dodgers edged the Cards for the NL title, despite 93 wins by the Redbirds (St. Louis went on a 19-1 run starting August 30th to close to within a game of LA, but the Dodgers ended that hot streak by sweeping three from the Cards in St. Louis as the Redbirds stumbled to a 2-8 finish). Boyer’s MVP season in 1964 led the Cardinals, who again went on a September hot streak, winning 8 straight, the last three over Philadelphia to move past the Phillies in a pennant chase that was finally secured with a win over the Mets on the last day of the season. In its first World Series in 18 years, St. Louis bested the Yankees in a memorable 7 game set.
After a .500 season in 1965, St. Louis cleaned house, trading White and Groat to Philadelphia, and Boyer to the Mets. Javier would remain with the Cardinals until a 1972 trade to Cincinnati, where he played his final season.
1972-74 Astros (Lee May, Tommy Helms, Doug Rader, Roger Metzger)
Doug Rader was the established incumbent in this infield, and had been joined the previous season by the rookie Metzger (who is the only live ball era player with triples totaling more than 70% of doubles in a 3000 PA career). With Dennis Menke at first and Joe Morgan at second, that 1971 team already had a very capable infield, but one that was destined to be around just that one year as a block-buster off-season trade sent the latter two to Cincinnati to acquire May and Helms.
In this infield’s three seasons together, Houston made modest improvements in its fortunes, including its first winning season (1972) and the only three-peat of .500 or better seasons in the franchise’s first three decades. May was traded to the Orioles after the 1974 season, Helms and Rader were dealt a year later, and Metzger departed for San Francisco in 1978.
1947-52 Athletics (Ferris Fain, Pete Suder, Hank Majeski, Eddie Joost)
Pete Suder was the established incumbent in this infield that materialized with transactions in 1946 to acquire Joost and Majeski (replacing a young George Kell, dealt to Detroit), and the 1947 arrival of rookie Ferris Fain, (replacing George McQuinn, the Browns star who struggled mightily in his lone 1946 season with the A’s but rebounded nicely with a “last hurrah” season for the 1947 world champion Yankees).
With its new infield in place, the Athletics reeled off three straight winning seasons, their first since the 1930s powerhouse teams and, alas, the last until the franchise relocated to Oakland in 1968. Majeski departed for Chicago after the 1949 season but returned midway into the 1951 campaign to briefly reunite the quartet. Majeski left again (for Cleveland) during the following season and Fain moved to the White Sox at the end of that year. Joost was released following the 1954 season and finished his career the next year in Boston. Suder relocated with the team to Kansas City but was released early in the A’s first season in its new city.
1922-25 Yankees (Wally Pipp, Aaron Ward, Joe Dugan, Everett Scott)
Pipp and Ward were the incumbents on the defending AL champs, who were looking to repeat and avenge their World Series defeat at the hands of the cross-town Giants. The acquisition of Babe Ruth from the Red Sox had propelled the Yankees to top spot so, to stay there, New York again turned to Boston for assistance, swapping incumbent shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh for Scott, and snagging Dugan for a package of bench players.
Those moves produced another pennant in 1922 and the coveted World Series crown in 1923. The Yankees slipped to second in 1924, and in 1925, with Ruth missing a third of the season, crashed to a 7th place finish. Pipp was the first casualty of that calamitous season, giving way to Lou Gehrig at the beginning of June. Two weeks later, Scott was claimed off waivers by the Senators. Ward lost his job to Tony Lazzeri in 1926 and was dealt to the White Sox. Dugan survived for the second Yankee three-peat in 1926-28 but shared the third base job with Gene Robertson on the last of those teams before he (Dugan), too, got plucked off waivers.
1977-79 Yankees (Chris Chambliss, Willie Randolph, Graig Nettles, Bucky Dent)
This infield was assembled gradually, with a new piece added year by year, starting with Nettles’ arrival from Minnesota (1973), Chambliss from Cleveland (1974), Randolph from Pittsburgh (1976) and, finally, Dent from Chicago (1977).
More than decade removed from its last pennant (an eternity by Yankee standards), New York were league champions the previous season but were soundly spanked by the powerhouse Reds in the World Series. Dent’s arrival from the White Sox moved incumbent shortstop Fred Stanley to the bench and, with Oscar Gamble going the other way, freed up an outfield spot for the much heralded free agent acquisition of Reggie Jackson. Jackson didn’t disappoint, assuming a larger-than-life persona in the Big Apple and leading New York to back-to-back World Series triumphs over the Dodgers.
After the Yankees skidded to a fourth place finish (albeit with a respectable 89 wins) in a 1979 season notable for the tragic passing of catcher Thurman Munson, Chambliss was sent packing to Toronto to acquire replacement backstop Rick Cerone. Dent moved on to Texas during the 1982 season and Nettles to San Diego just before the 1984 campaign. Randolph stayed until the 1988 season before finishing his career with a succession of free agent signings with various teams (including the 1990 AL champion A’s).
1930-34 Senators (Joe Kuhel, Buddy Myer, Ossie Bluege, Joe Cronin)
Ossie Bluege was the longtime incumbent in this infield that, like the 1977-79 Yankee quartet, was assembled one piece and season at a time. After cups of coffee with the Pirates, Joe Cronin was a part-time player in his 1928 rookie season and a regular the next year when Buddy Myer was reacquired from Boston. The rookie Kuhel completed the group with a cup of coffee in 1930 and a regular turn in 1931.
After a 71-81 low point in 1929, the retooled AL champions from 1924-25 reeled off four straight 90 win seasons culminating with another league championship in 1933, their last for more than 30 years. When the Senators slumped badly in 1934, Cronin was shipped to Boston for Lyn Larry and the then very sizable sum of $225,000 (still one of the Red Sox better trades). Kuhel moved on to the White Sox before the 1938 season (but was reacquired by the Senators near the end of his career) while Bluege and Myer finished their careers in Washington, in 1939 and 1941 respectively.
1979-81 Phillies (Pete Rose, Manny Trillo, Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa)
Schmidt and Bowa were the long-time incumbents on a Phillies team that had lost three successive NLCS series. Searching for the pieces that would get them over the hump, Philadelphia dispensed with a couple of very capable infielders, sending second baseman Ted Sizemore to the Cubs to acquire Trillo (an unusual “challenge” trade), and letting first baseman Richie Hebner go to the Mets to make room for the free agent signing of the 38 year-old Rose.
The Phillies’ tinkering proved (at first) to be a flop as the 1979 club slumped to a fourth place finish, fourteen games in arrears of the world champion Pirates. But, club management stuck with their group and were rewarded with a world championship team in 1980, the franchise’s first in almost a century of operation. Philadelphia were the first-half NL East winners in the interrupted 1981 season and extended the second-half winning Expos to 5 games in the first NLDS.
After the 1981 season, Bowa and a young infielder (Ryne Sandberg) were traded to the Cubs, while Trillo was dealt to the Indians a year later. Rose stuck around for a second NL title in 1983 before finishing his career in Montreal (briefly) and then back in Cincinnati. Schmidt would remain with the Phillies his entire HOF career, retiring after the 1989 season.