Twenty years after he established the gold standard for consistency and durability at his position, Ozzie Smith still holds the National League record for most games played at shortstop.
On May 22, 1993, when the Cardinals took the field at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium against the Pirates, Smith set the National League record of 2,223 games played at shortstop, breaking the mark held for eight years by Larry Bowa. Before Bowa, the National League record had been held for more than 50 years by Rabbit Maranville. Boxscore
Afterward, Smith told Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “It’s a record that’s been there a long time. You have no idea when you start out that you’ll be able to achieve it. It’s an honor.”
Smith achieved the record by overcoming a serious shoulder injury in 1985 that restricted his throwing. Smith chose to let the injury heal naturally rather than undergo surgery. Remarkably, he led National League shortstops in games played in 1985, with 158.
“I had a torn rotator cuff (in 1985),” Smith told Hummel in May 1993. “People don’t talk about that much. I’m proud of (overcoming) that. I thought Mother Nature was the best way to handle it.
“For a while, I knew that I was going to have only one long throw a day. You had to kind of position yourself so you could get the ball over there, but at the same time not make it so far that you were going to hurt yourself for the rest of the day. I battled around that pretty well.”
Smith also topped National League shortstops in games played in 1980 (158), strike-shortened 1981 (110), 1987 (158) and 1989 (153).
Smith played in the major leagues from 1978-96 for two National League clubs: Padres (four years) and Cardinals (15 years).
He finished his career with 2,511 games played at shortstop, ranking him fourth in big-league history. The three ahead of him played either exclusively or primarily in the American League.
The only National League shortstop who might be a threat to challenge Smith’s record is the Phillies’ Jimmy Rollins, 34. But he still hasn’t reached 2,000 games played.
The top 10 in big-league games played at shortstop:
_ 1. Omar Vizquel, 2,709 games. Vizquel performed in the major leagues from 1989-2012. Just four of those years were spent in the National League (with the Giants).
_ 2. Luis Aparicio, 2,581. Like Vizquel, Aparicio is a Venezuelan. In 18 seasons in the big leagues, all in the American League (with the White Sox, Orioles and Red Sox), Aparicio never played a position other than shortstop.
_ 3. Derek Jeter, 2,531. Of the shortstops in the top 10, Jeter is the only one who played even one game for the Yankees. Jeter has been with them since 1995. He once appeared a cinch to overtake Aparicio and Vizquel to become the all-time leader in games played at shortstop. But an ankle injury has kept him from playing this season. The Yankees have said they expect Jeter, 38, to return after the 2013 All-Star Game.
_ 4. Ozzie Smith, 2,511. Like Aparicio, Smith never played a position other than shortstop in the major leagues. He won a Gold Glove Award in 13 consecutive years (1980-92) and led National League shortstops in fielding percentage eight times.
_ 5. Cal Ripken, 2,302. He spent his entire big-league career with the Orioles (1981-2001). Ripken led American League shortstops in fielding percentage four times. After shifting to third base, he led the league in fielding percentage at the hot corner in 1998.
_ 6. Larry Bowa, 2,222. Bowa played his whole career in the National League, with the Phillies, Cubs and Mets (1970-85).
_ 7. Luke Appling, 2,218. He spent his entire big-league career (1930-50) with the White Sox. When he retired, Appling held the major-league record for most games played at shortstop. Six years later, Aparicio became the White Sox starter. It was Aparicio who supplanted Appling atop the career games played list at shortstop.
_ 8. Dave Concepcion, 2,178. Another Venezuelan, Concepcion played his entire career with the Reds (1970-88).
_ 9. Rabbit Maranville, 2,153. A National League shortstop from 1912-35, Maranville was the starter for the 1928 Cardinals pennant winners. He also played for the Braves, Pirates, Dodgers and Cubs.
_ 10 Alan Trammell, 2,139. He spent his entire major-league career with the Tigers (1977-96). Though his prime years overlapped with Ripken, Trammell won twice as many American League Gold Glove awards at shortstop (four) as Ripken (two) did.
Royce Clayton, who replaced Smith as the Cardinals’ starting shortstop, ranks 16th on the career big-league list for games played at shortstop, with 2,053.
Garry Templeton, whom the Cardinals traded to the Padres for Smith in February 1982, ranks 20th on the career list for games played at shortstop, with 1,964.
Edgar Renteria, the starting shortstop for the Cardinals’ 2004 pennant winners, ranks 12th on the career list for games played at shortstop, with 2,114.