Recording and keeping track of every baseball play would be very difficult if each of them were described using players’ full names and positions.
Certainly, the job of scorekeepers would be nearly impossible.
So, to make things easier and simplify scorekeeping, each player in the lineup is represented by the number or acronym corresponding to his position.
This also makes it easier for announcers to convey what’s going on the field and for the fans to better understand events during a ballgame.
Position numbering is pretty straightforward and follows the initial positioning of the players on the field.
However, there’s one exception that often causes confusion among the fans that don’t follow baseball that closely.
Many of them wonder why is shortstop 6 as it breaks the pattern where infielders are numbered from right to left according to the base closest to the area of the field they cover.
Let’s find out together.
Why Is Shortstop 6?
Starting with the first base, infielders are numbered from right to left, starting with the first baseman who is number 3.
However, the right-most infield position, the third baseman, is number 5, while the shortstop who normally covers the area between second and third is assigned the number 6.
The main reason for this inconsistency in numbering lies in the history of the shortstop position.
Originally, the shortstop was the fourth outfield position, or more precisely, played as a shallow outfielder.
In the early days of the game, with balls lighter than today, they served as the cut-off man between the outfield and the infield.
Only later, with the improved quality of baseballs and development, the shortstop moved to the infield.
As the original three infielders were already assigned numbers 3, 4, and 5, it was easier to have the shortstop remain number 6 than to renumber all infield positions.
Why Is The Position Called Shortstop?
The reason why the shortstop has that name again has to do with the history and the development of this position in baseball.
As I already mentioned, the shortstop originally played as a shallow outfielder or “short fielder.”
As they moved closer to the infield, shortstops served as cut-off men between the center and left fielders, making the throws to each base shorter.
Plus, playing between second and third base allows players to stop ground balls that would, without shortstops, likely roll to the “short” field of the outfield.
Shortstop effectively serves to stop the ball before it’s relayed to another field position.
So the mix of words “short” and “stop” was created to best indicate the job players at this position perform on defense in the short field.
Some baseball historians also claim that the term was created as an adaptation of the long stop, a position in cricket.
When Did Shortstop Become A Position?
The position of shortstop first appeared in the mid-19 century. In those days, the game itself was not exactly the same as modern baseball.
The ball was deader and didn’t fly as fast as it does today. The outfielders were not able to throw the ball as far as the modern players do.
Plus, there could be anywhere between 8 and 11 players. Of those players, only three played infield, covering each of the bases.
As most batters were right-handed, this created a large gap between the third and the second base.
The New York Knickerbockers solved this problem by introducing the shortstop position, placing one outfielder closer to the players on the bases.
His role was to field the throws from the outfielders and throw the ball to the infielders.
With time, as the higher quality was introduced, shortstops moved to the infield, assuming the responsibilities they have today.
Who Was The First Shortstop?
According to baseball historians and researchers John Thorn and Freddy Berowski, the first player to play the shortstop position was Doc Adams of the New York Knickerbockers.
This likely happened at some point between 1849 and 1850.
Adams is recognized as the first player, as an outfielder, to move closer to the infield and fill the gap between the bases.
With baseballs much lighter than today, outfielders couldn’t throw very far and Adams fielded their throws before relaying them to the first, second, or third baseman.
Adams’ success in preventing base hits soon convinced other teams to introduce the new role and start using similar tactics.
While Adams was the first player to play as a shallow outfielder, earning credit for creating the shortstop position, the first player to play the role the way it’s played today is Dickey Pierce, who spent most of his career with Brooklyn Atlantics.
Why Are Left-Handed Shortstops So Rare?
If you’ve been closely following baseball, you’ve probably noticed that lefties among shortstops are extremely rare.
While at some other positions, left-handedness can be an advantage, for shortstops, similar to catchers, it limits their mobility.
This is because a shortstop typically occupies the space on the left side of the baseball diamond.
For righties at this position, it’s easy to scoop the ball and, in a continuous motion, make an immediate throw.
If a shortstop was left-handed, he would have to field the ball first, turn his entire body, and only then make a throw.
As baseball is a game where every detail and every split second can be extremely important, this puts left-handed shortstops at a serious disadvantage.
For this reason, lefties mostly play other positions.
Shortstop is one of the most important and definitely one of the hardest positions in baseball.
It’s a very demanding role that requires players with great throwing hand and supreme athletic ability, in addition to great field vision and high baseball IQ.
However, while shortstops are probably the most active and involved players in the modern game, that wasn’t always the case.
The position evolved over the years, switching from being an extra player in the outfield to the key position in the infield.
The outfield origins are also the reason why shortstops are assigned the number 6 in the lineup, even though they mostly play between the second (4) and third baseman (5).