A scrappy, hard-nosed second baseman who played his entire career with the Milwaukee Brewers, Jim Gantner never got the respect he deserved because he was a shadow-player. Not only did he play in the shadow of such star teammates as Paul Molitor and Robin Yount, but as a second baseman in the 1980s, he had to play in the shadow of guys like Ryne Sandberg, Lou Whitaker and Frank White. Despite his shadow-player status, Gantner has the 30th best fielding percentage among second basemen of all-time and in the new-fangled stat of Range Factor, he is the 16th best second baseman of all-time.
Drafted by his hometown Brewers in 1974, Jim was originally groomed as a third baseman but with Sal Bando and Don Money in the organization, there was little opportunity for him to crack the lineup. The Brewers gave him his first look in 1976 but when he hit .284 as a utilityman in 1979, they knew they needed to give him regular reps. An opening presented itself in 1980 when both Don Money and Paul Molitor missed time to injury. Gantner took full advantage of their time on the shelf and hit .282 with 21 doubles. He appeared in over 60 games at both second and third base.
Milwaukee gave Jim the everyday second base job in 1981 and Jim responded by walking as much as he struck out in the strike shortened campaign. He enjoyed a breakout year in 1982, both with the bat and the leather, as Jim hit a career high .295 and began a three-year string of turning 100 or more double plays. The Brewers won the AL flag that year and Jim shined in his only World Series appearance. Against the Cardinals Jim hit a robust .333 with four doubles, but in a losing cause.
One of the best second basemen of the 1980s, Jim had plenty of competition in the American League with Whitaker, White and Willie Randolph manning the position as well. Although Jim finished second to White in RBI among American League second basemen in 1983, his 512 assists topped the circuit. He also clubbed a career high eleven homeruns that year.
Steady if not spectacular, Gantner was a reliable performer. He hit .282 in 1983 and followed that season up with an identical batting average of .282 in ’84. In 1985 and ’86 he finished third in the league in fielding percentage among second basemen before losing time to injury in 1987. He came back in 1988 to pilfer 20 bags–a new career high–which he duplicated in 1989. Never much of a speed threat before his injury in ’87, Gantner showed solid wheels when he was taken off the shelf. In 1990, he tied for the most triples by an AL second baseman.
When the Brewers brought in Willie Randolph in 1991, Jim shifted to third base and hit .283 as a 38-year-old dog trying to relearn an old trick. Although his fielding at the hot corner was well below average as a youngster, Jim took to the position as a veteran. He posted a .976 fielding percentage at the position–good for 22 points above league average. He played one final year with the Brewers before calling it a career.
G 1,801/R 726/H 1,696/2B 262/3B 38/HR 47/RBI 568/SB 137/BB 383/SO 501/BA .274/SA .351/OBP .319