Ranking the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Top 10 third basemen of the past 50 years | The Cheap Seats | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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Ranking the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Top 10 third basemen of the past 50 years

Bobby Bonilla was so bad at third that Jim Leyland moved him after witnessing 67 errors in two seasons

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Josh Harrison - CP PHOTO BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
  • CP photo by Luke Thor Travis
  • Josh Harrison

With Jung Ho Kang currently unable to get a U.S. work visa on the heels of a DUI conviction in South Korea, the Pirates’ hot corner is missing its defender. If Kang can straighten himself out, maybe one day he’ll be talked about as one of the best Pirates third basemen in history. 

The all-time honor goes to Hall of Famer Pie Traynor, but who’s been the best in more recent times? It’s an important position; no matter what the situation, it’s always fun to get to third base.

Looking at statistics since 1967, including batting average, homers, RBI, on-base plus slugging percentage, wins above replacement level, fielding, batting average on balls in play (BABiP), and the always-popular weighted runs created, we crunched the numbers to learn who has been the hottest Bucco at the hot corner. Like all rankings, there’s bound to be some controversy and heated debate.

10. Jim Morrison played with the Bucs from 1982-1987. His big year was 1986, when he was the team MVP, batting .274 and amassing 88 RBI. He came to Pittsburgh when the team got bad, and left right before it got good.

9. Nicknamed “Scrap Iron,” Phil Garner’s Pirates highlight was his clutch postseason performance in 1979. Scrap Iron hit .417 in the NLCS to beat the hated Reds. He was even better in the World Series, getting 12 hits in 24 at-bats. He was upstaged only by “Pops” Stargell.

8 & 7. These positions are shared by Josh Harrison and Freddy Sanchez for a number of reasons. They both played around 200 games at third for the Pirates. Sanchez won a batting title at third in 2006, and Harrison came in second to stupid Justin Morneau in 2014. After their breakout years at third, both players were moved to new positions. The weird part is, of all the Pirates third basemen in the past 50 years, Harrison and Sanchez had the first- and second-best defensive ratings at that position.

6. In 2003, Aramis Ramirez was traded by the Pirates for several players, including a guy who struck out so much that his nickname was “The Windmill.” The Pirates didn’t get the best of that deal, but Ramirez made the most of his time while he was here. Aramis’ hot year was 2001, when he clubbed 34 dingers and knocked in 112 runs.

5. Jeffrey Wayne King sounds like somebody the police are searching for in a domestic-terror incident. Unrealistically high expectations dogged the first-round draft pick during his stay in Pittsburgh; that and a nagging back. But in retrospect, Jeff King had a pretty solid career. King strolled around the bases 99 times as a Pirate and even hit two home runs in an inning — twice.

4. Pedro Alvarez was part Aramis Ramirez, part Bobby Bonilla, and part Jose Hernandez. He had a powerhouse swing that helped lead the Pirates to a winning season in 2013. That year he was the co-winner of the National League home-run title and an All Star, knocked in 100 runs, and led the league by striking out 186 times. 

3. Bill Madlock won two batting titles with the Pirates after winning two with the Cubs. He would’ve won another in 1982 if former Pirate-turned-Expo Al Oliver hadn’t edged him out. Madlock was a relentless hitter who produced almost every year he was in Three Rivers Stadium. He’s the only player in the history of baseball with four batting crowns who is not in Cooperstown.

2. Richie Hebner always seemed to leave on bad terms. The liberal media clashed with Hebner when he was mired in a slump. It became so uncomfortable here that he signed with the rival Phillies for the same amount of money the Bucs offered. The Phillies then signed Pete Rose, and Hebner complained about it so much they traded him to the Mets. He ingloriously ended his Mets tenure by giving the finger to the Shea Stadium faithful. But the guy could play. 

1. Bobby Bonilla was so bad at third defensively that Jim Leyland moved him after witnessing 67 errors in two seasons. But from 1986-1991, Bobby Bo put together one of the best six-year offensive tears the city has ever seen. When the numbers are tallied, Bonilla is the best. In this span, he hit .284 and had 868 hits, 191 doubles, 114 homers, 500 RBI and an OPS of .838. Not all at third, but enough to qualify him for the top spot.


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