Before Ozzie Smith, who was best known for his acrobatic defensive play throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s with the St. Louis Cardinals, there was another great Cardinals shortstop who helped define the position and put who put such a great emphasis on defense that fans called him “Mr. Shortstop.”
Marty Marion passed away on March 15 at the age of 93 from natural causes (translation: Heart Attack). Marion played 13 seasons from 1940-53 with the Cardinals and St. Louis Browns. He was an eight-time all-star and was the 1944 National League Most Valuable Player with the Cardinals. The 6-foot,-2- inch, 170 pound Marion practically took the “short” out of “shortstop” proving that even the tall and lanky can play the position and play it well. His height and long arms also earned him the nickname “Slats.” Marion was so great that from 1940-50 he led National League shortstops in fielding percentage four times. In 1941 Marion played in all 154 games, which led the league, and committed only 15 errors for a .961 fielding percentage in 1947.
Unfortunately, the Gold Glove Award, which is given to the best player at each position for their defense, wasn’t established until 1957. It’s safe to say that had it been around during Marion’s peak years he would have won several. Marion helped the Cardinals win three World Series in 1942, 1944 and 1946, but was only a marginal hitter, which might have kept him out of the Hall of Fame. In 1,572 games played, Marion had a career batting average of just .263 with 1,448 hits, 36 home runs and 624 runs batted in, and never once batted over .300. He did lead the league in doubles in 1942 with 38.
In his MVP season Marion batted only .267 with six home runs and 63 RBI. But it was his defense and his ability to lead a team that won him the award over teammate and hall of famer, Stan Musial. Musial was far more impressive at the plate batting .347 with 12 home runs and 94 RBI.
Marion was plagued with nagging back injuries that eventually forced him to retire as a player. He continued in baseball as a manager with the Cardinals in 1951, the Browns from 1952-53 where he was the franchise’s last manager before they became the Baltimore Orioles. Marion also managed the Chicago White Sox for part of the 1954 season through 1956. He had a managerial record of 356-372.
Today when we think of some of the greatest shortstops of all time the usual names pop up like Smith, Derek Jeter, Ernie Banks, Honus Wagner, Luis Aparicio and Cal Ripken Jr. (my personal favorite). All great shortstops, but they were also known for their great bats.
But if you’re looking for someone who never met a ground ball that he didn’t like and who could lead a team to the ultimate prize (three times), then Marion has to be in the discussion of greatest shortstops of all time.