It’s called “The Hot Corner” because it is the quintessential reaction position on the diamond. The third baseman often plays in a crouch reminiscent of a hockey goalie, only without a stick and padding for protection. At 90 feet from the plate, he is often called on to stop and make plays on the hardest-hit balls, bullets that blast off the bats of right-handed hitters, never more so than when they face a soft-tossing left-handed pitcher. There is scarcely time to respond, and many who play the position look to knock the ball down and keep it in front of them whence they may pounce and use their strong arm to throw out the runner.
His left-hand side team-mate at shortstop is usually a whiz at lateral movement, going deep in the hole or behind second base to stop sharply-hit grounders that are scheduled for the outfield then using their non-pareil throwing skills to nab the batter. The third baseman moves up and back at his position, sometimes, in bunting situations, moving perilously close to the batter as he seeks to make a quick apprehension of the ball. He often makes bare¬-handed pickups while charging the plate, throwing off-balance behind himself to first base. This is the signature play of the third-sacker.
The third baseman is expected to go deep behind the bag, guarding the line and frequently being carried by his momentum into foul territory, pivoting off his left foot and making a long, accurate throw to get the runner at first. Two archetypal plays that come to my mind are by Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles in the 19 70 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, and just last season when future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves tried to make a very similar play, landing badly on his leg, wrecking his knee and ending his season. The reactions are split-second, and don’t always end well.
Fifteen third basemen are in the Hall of Fame, including three Negro League stars (Ray Dandridge, Judy Johnson and Jud Wilson) and John McGraw, legendary manager of the New York Giants, who played the position well albeit not extensively, 782 games over 12 seasons; he’s in for managing. Some lists have Cal Ripken, Jr. on them and while he did play 675 games at third over eight years, he played 2302 at shortstop over seventeen so I’m not going to count him as a third baseman. If you’re wondering about Alex Rodriguez, and yes he will be elected to the Hall of Fame although perhaps not on the first ballot, by the time his career is over he will have played more games at third than at short.
The offensive expectations of the position have varied over the years; the charter third base member of the Hall of Fame, Frank Baker of Connie Mack’s Athletics, was known as “Home Run”; but more frequently it has been the one corner position where leather has been valued over wood. That began to change during the 1950’s when the Braves’ Eddie Mathews emerged and peaked during the era that produced Mike Schmidt of the Phillies and George Brett of the Kansas City Royals, known for their hitting prowess. The current generation’s leading proponents of the position, Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays and Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals, are both known for Golden Gloves while wielding Silver Sluggers.