Why Shortstop is the 6th Position

In one of my recent baseball games, I was in charge of keeping track of the book for an inning. As I was marking down a “6-3” out for the last play of the inning I got to thinking, why is shortstop considered the 6th position in the infield? It didn’t seem to make sense – the positions in the infield were numbered from first base to third base, except shortstop was number 6 while third base was number 5. I pulled out my phone and started doing some research.

Why is shortstop number 6? The shortstop is the sixth position because they were originally a shallow outfielder. With how light the baseballs were, outfielders needed a cut-off man between the outfield and the infield. When the quality of baseballs improved, the shortstop became an infielder and remained as the 6th position.

San Francisco Giants preparing to field a batted ball

Now when you’re marking down a 6-4-3 double play in the books you’ll know why this sequence of numbers begins with a 6 instead of another number, but let’s take a deeper look into the history of the shortstop position.

Shortstop Began as a Fourth Outfielder

The shortstop position is not played in the same spot today as it was when it was first created. According to the Official Historian for Major League Baseball, John Thorn, Doc Adams created the shortstop position when playing for the Knickerbockers in 1849 or 1850.

When baseball was first being played, the ball was extremely light and outfielders were not able to throw the ball very far. The solution to the Knickerbockers problem was to position another player, Doc Adams, in between the outfielder and the players positioned at the bases. This allowed Doc Adams to be a type of cut-off man for the players in the outfield.

As the game of baseball improved, so did the baseball itself. As both the quality of the baseball and the weight of the baseball increased, the distance that players could throw the ball also increased.

This increase in throwing distance allowed that shortstop to move from being a shallow outfielder to playing somewhere in-between second and third base, which is what we know as the shortstop position today.

Playing in the location between second and third base allows the player to field any ground balls that would most likely get hit through the large hole that would be here.

After both the quality and the weight of the baseballs improved, ground balls could travel a lot further, which created more of an opportunity for batters to hit the ball in between second and third. In fact, the shortstop position now receives the most ground balls out of any position on the field. This is why a team’s best fielder will traditionally play shortstop.

Official Baseball Scorers Only Look at the Position You Are Assigned

Because the position of the original shortstop was already numbered “6” the number of this position did not change, even though there was a big change to where the player himself was standing. This statement is still true today.

When scoring the play, official baseball scorers do not care where on the field the position is played – only what position the player is assigned.

So if during an at-bat the defense decides to “play the shift” on a batter and the third baseman moves from his traditional third-base spot to somewhere between first and second, he is still considered position 5.

In order for baseball stats to be as accurate as possible, official baseball scorers all need to evaluate each play by a certain set of rules. In order to keep consistency, official scorers need to mark down the numbered position as the position the player was assigned – not by where he is standing on the field.

And when you think about it, this rule makes sense. If official scorers had to judge each player’s position number by the location they were playing, then it would be possible to have two number 6 positions at the same time if the third baseman played over far enough!

Due to the official scorers needing to keep consistency when managing the official scoring, the original shortstop position that was a number 6 while in the short outfield is still considered position number 6 while in the infield.

Why is it Called Shortstop?

When looking up the reasoning behind the name “shortstop”, there is some ambiguity out there.

Some folks believe the name comes from the position the fielder takes on the field while others believe it stems from how the location of this position is designed to stop ground balls short of the outfield.

Another reason is due to this player originally being a cut-off man between the outfield and the bases.

Simply put, there are three potential reasons why a shortstop is called a shortstop:

  1. The location of the fielder. Being positioned between second and third is what classifies someone as a shortstop.
  2. Being located in between second and third helps the player stop ground balls that would otherwise roll to the “short” field of the outfield
  3. This player was originally a fourth outfielder and acted as a cut-off man between the outfielder and the base. So it was a shorter throw for the outfielder to make.

Steve Nelson

I'm the owner of Baseball Training World. I live in Denver, Colorado and I enjoy playing baseball on two different adult baseball teams in the surrounding area.

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