Today, we have stats like defensive runs saved, outs above average, range runs above average, and ultimate zone rating to give us an accurate reading of how good a player is defensively. These were created to solve one issue: the amount of errors in errors.
There is no concrete definition as to what an error is in baseball. An error is decided by a scorer, so it’s definiton can change from play to play. Errors are extremely inaccurate anymore to identify good and bad fielders. Good fielders actually make more errors as they make more difficult plays more often than average/below average fielders. Bill Mazeroski has the 4th most errors by a second baseman, Ozzie Smith has the 11th most errors by any shortstop, and Brooks Robinson has the 4th most errors by any third baseman (all since 1950), yet the three are regarded as the best defensively at each position.
Because of the lack of a real definition for an error, many good fielders have put up awful error totals, like Honus Wagner having 5, 50+ error seasons. But the highest single season error total of all time Pirates history belongs to Frank Shugart of the 1892 Pittsburgh Pirates. Shugart was a decent batter for the Pirates, hitting .267/.329/.352 with 28 stolen bases. For the era, this was actually pretty good as he registered a 105 OPS+ and wRC+.
Shugart’s primary position with the Pirates was shortstop. He had seen a little bit of time in the outfield, and even a few innings behind the dish. But in 1892, Shugart committed 99 errors. Now granted, overall he wasn’t a bad fielder with +0.9 defensive WAR.
In Pirates’ history, it’s by far the highest number of errors recorded in a single season. Shugart played in 1170 innings at short, and 134 games. The next highest total is Monte Cross in 1895 who recorded 77 errors at short as well. He averaged an error nearly every .738 games that year. It’s not the highest total ever, as that title belongs to Billy Shindel of the 1890 Philadelphia Athletics at 119, but Shugart’s total ranks as the 14th most in a single season. In all fairness though, most baseball gloves during this time didn’t have webbing in between each finger. Some didn’t even have the webbing between the thumb and forefinger, or even leather covering the fingers for that matter, and looked more like a glove you’d find on a construction site today.