I spent a good bit of time compiling a ranking of the best 100 second basemen of all time. I primarily used Baseball Prospectus' DT Cards and translations to compare players across eras. One thing worth noting is that I presented a HEAVY bias toward players who had one or more seasons where they could reasonably have been considered excellent (worth 7-8 or more wins above a replacement player).
I am not quite sure why I started with second base. I think it has to do with the fact that there are 4 people with entirely legitimate claims to the top spot, and I wanted to sort them out. But, as with all good countdowns, we begin in reverse order.
100. Horace Clarke, Yankees 1965-74, Padres 1974
Career WARP3 33.3, Career EqA .238, 1 season 7+ WARP3, 1 season 6+ WARP3
Clarke, a St. Croix native, was the second baseman on the mostly-forgettable old-Mickey-Mantle, young-Joe-Pepitone Yankees of the late 1960s, and then the Thurman Munson/Bobby Murcer teams of the early 1970s. The double-play partner of the unspectacular Gene Michael among others, Clarke had two quite good years in 1967 and 1969. An average fielder, Clarke was primarily valuable in those seasons (and others) because of his decent speed (33 steals in 1969) and his singles hitting. Clarke probably should not have hit leadoff; modern lineup-makers would realize that his lifetime OBP of .308 (.339 as a high) was killing the team with huge numbers of outs. He led the league in outs in 1970.
99. Sparky Adams, Cubs 1922-27, Pirates 1928-29, Cardinals 1930-33, Reds 1933-34
Career WARP3 39.9, Career EqA .242, 2 seasons 5+ WARP3, 9th MVP 1931
Sparky Adams was 5'4", the smallest major league player during much of his career. An average fielder (12 runs above average, career) and a generally below-average hitter, his best seasons were those where he hit and fielded fairly well. Adams had basically no power whatsoever, slugging .353 on top of a reasonable average (.283) and on-base (.343). Adams just barely played more second than third, and played third on the 1930 and 1931 Cards World Series teams, making way for Frankie Frisch at second. He is probably best remembered on those Cardinals teams, but his best years were on Pete Alexander's Cubs teams in the 20s, which finished above .500 consistently but never made a World Series. Is it insulting to name little guys "Sparky"?
98. Tommy Helms, Reds 1964-71, Astros 1972-75, Pirates 1976-77, Red Sox 77
Career WARP3 38.7, Career EqA .235, 2 seasons 6+ WARP3, Rookie of the Year, 2-time All-Star
Tommy Helms was traded with Lee May to the Astros in the trade that brought Joe Morgan to the Reds. The Reds did win the pennant in 1970 with Bench, Perez, Rose, Carbo, and Concepcion, with Helms at second, but it wasn't until Morgan showed up that the Big Red Machine was born. Helms simply was a bad offensive player most of his career, but he had several highly-valuable defensive seasons of 14 or more runs above average, which gets him onto the list. His 1966 Rookie of the Year award was actually a perfectly acceptable choice; the other options didn't do any better than his .284/.315/.380, and he had a career high 9 home runs that season. After 1968, his batting average--his only offensive asset--dropped off a cliff and he became essentially a solid defensive performer who couldn't hit. In another interesting liaison with history, Tommy Helms replaced Pete Rose as the Reds manager at the height of the gambling scandal in 1988, though he did not last long.
97. Billy Goodman, Red Sox 1947-1957, White Sox 1958-1961, Colt .45s 1962
Career WARP3 44.6, Career EqA .261, 2 seasons 5+ WARP3, 2-time All-Star, 2nd MVP 1950
Truly this was a different era. Goodman started his career at FIRST base, because of the entrenched Bobby Doerr (who appears a lot higher on our list); it's hard to imagine a player today moving from first to second instead of the other way around. This is especially true when one considers that Billy Goodman hit a sum total of 19 home runs in his entire career, which today would be more like...46! He could hit for average, though, and that 1950 season (in which he only played 110 games) was proof positive as he hit .354. Goodman's career value is almost entirely from his batting average (.300) and OBP (.376); he wasn't too fast and could only muster doubles (SLG .378). Goodman was a league-average fielder at second and third, which he played with the White Sox alongside Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio before transitioning into a bench role and finally retirement.
96. Bucky Harris, Senators 1919-1928, Tigers 1929-1931
Career WARP3 39.7, Career EqA .248, 4 seasons 5+ WARP3, Hall of Fame as Manager
Bucky Harris gets a few brownie points for having been a player-manager for the Senators from 1924-1928, which means his managerial career began at the ripe old age of 28. A pretty good fielder (23 career runs above average), and a below-average hitter (73 career runs below average), Harris was pretty good at knocking doubles and stealing bases. His career comparables include other light-hitting infielders of his era, Buck Weaver and Kid Elberfeld among them. The most interesting though is his #9 comparable, Tony Womack, of whom his career statistics are quite reminiscent: steals and doubles, but very little in the way of real power or getting on base. Being about league average for about 8 years is enough to get you into the top 100 on the list. Harris never had an outstanding season.
95. Eric Young, Dodgers 1992, Rockies 1993-97, Dodgers 1997-99, Cubs 2000-01, Brewers 2002-03, Giants 2003, Rangers 2004, Padres 2005-06, Rangers 06
Career WARP3 46.3, Career EqA .260, 2 seasons 5+ WARP3, All-Star, Silver Slugger
Eric Young hit a home run in the first ever Rockies at-bat at Coors. It was one of only 79 he would hit in his career. Because of those 4+ seasons in the early days of Coors, Young's career numbers are a little inflated; in reality he was .269/.346/.377, which is not awe-inspiring or even enough to get him on the list with his below-average defense. What gets him on the list is his speed; 465 steals to 168 caughts is a solid amount of production, even if 168 caughts is good for 15th all-time. You may not know that Young was very, very good at avoiding strikeouts, finishing in the top 10 in at-bats per strikeout 9 times in his career. In terms of real value, though, Young was a pure speed merchant with little else to offer; Juan Pierre with a smidge more power at a scarcer position.
94. Hughie Critz, Reds 1924-30, Giants 1930-1935
Career WARP3 44.6, Career EqA .229, 2 seasons 6+ WARP3, 2nd and 4th in MVP 1926/1928
Hughie Critz was a very good fielder (115 runs above average) and a really, really bad hitter (217 runs below average, 9 runs below *replacement* level). His 2nd-place appearance in the MVP voting in 1926 was almost certainly due to the one-time-per-player rule that made the awards of that era very hard to read on a historical basis. Critz was, like most keystoners in history, barely capable of hitting home runs, though he did manage four seasons of double-digit triples that might be homers in modern ballparks. Critz's real historical achievement was probably helping Carl Hubbell, Freddie Fitzsimmons, Hal Schumacher, Roy Parmelee, Hi Bell, et. al. to a staff ERA+ of 118 in the Giants' 1933 World Championship season; he had 35 fielding runs above average that season, which is remarkable for a 33-year-old second baseman. His double-play partner, Blondy Ryan, was also offensively inept in '33, and their average OPS+ of 63 may make them one of the worst offensive 2B-SS combos on a World Series winner. I'd have to look that up.
93. Tito Fuentes, Giants 1965-74, Padres 1975-76, Tigers 1977, A's 1978
Career WARP3 40.3, Career EqA .241, 1 season 7+ WARP3, 1 season 6+ WARP3
Yet another ok-fielding, light-hitting fellow down here at the bottom of the list, Rigoberto "Tito" Fuentes of Havana, Cuba was an inconsistent fielder who put up some very good seasons (+17) and some very bad (-15). Fuentes' career OBP of .307 is abysmal; even against the all-time average it would only be .315. He played alongside greatness: Mays, McCovey, Marichal, Bobby Bonds. Perhaps this makes him the Mark Lemke of his era.
92. George Cutshaw, Dodgers 1912-17, Pirates 1918-21, Tigers 1922-23
Career WARP3 44.6, Career EqA .240, 1 season 6+ WARP3, 2 seasons 5+ WARP3
Cutshaw was a good fielder for the Brooklyn whatchamacallums (Robins?) of the teens, stringing together some very good fielding years while hitting pretty badly for a 2B. Cutshaw was pretty good at stealing bases and good at avoiding strikeouts, and had a fair bit of pop in his bat, hitting 7, 5, and 4 home runs plus a fair number of triples during the dead-ball era. He'd have hit 20 HR twice in an average historical season, and his career numbers would have looked like a slugging, OBP-less infielder of today like Juan Uribe. One wonders if he'd have turned more double plays if he'd played with the same shortstop for more than two years in a row ever in his career.
91. Mike Lansing, Expos 1993-1997, Rockies 1998-2000, Red Sox 2000-2001
Career WARP3 34.8, Career EqA .246, 1 season 7+ WARP3, 1 season 6+ WARP3
A great fielder during the early part of his career, Lansing had a great year for a second baseman in 1997, hitting .281/.338/.472 with 45 doubles and 20 HR. He never played remotely that well again, yet the Expos still lost the trade when they sent him to the Rockies for Jake Westbrook, John Nicholson, and Mark Hamlin. Better to remember Lansing as the underrated double play partner of Wil Cordero on the 1994 Expos team that might just have won the whole darn thing, and might have saved the Expos. Lansing the best hitter, if not the best player, ever born in Wyoming. The only two players even on that list other than Lansing are Tom Browning and Mike Devereaux.