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Top 10 First Basemen of All Time

Gavin Andrews@@gavin_andrewsCorrespondent IINovember 29, 2009

CHICAGO - AUGUST 12: Derrek Lee #25 of the Chicago Cubs hits a fly ball against the Philadelphia Phillies on August 12, 2009 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Phillies defeated the Cubs 12-5. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It's late November, which means the NFL is in full swing, the college football season is coming down the home stretch, and all I can think about is baseball.

Don't get me wrong; I love football, but the Winter Meetings up ahead are getting me very excited.  However, after the meetings are over, it's back to Bowls, NFL Playoffs, and March Madness until baseball season begins again.  That isn't so bad.

I started this top ten series a couple months ago, did the catchers, and never got around to continuing it.  After doing a ton of research, I have returned with the top 10 first basemen of all time.  I have taken every steroid offender out of consideration for all of my rankings, so no Mark McGwire or Rafael Palmeiro here.

Prototypical first basemen hit fourth, drive in one hundred runs, and are leaders.  Derrek Lee is the epitome of this today, which is why he is the cover picture of this article.

The stories of these players come from Tales from the Ballpark , and More Tales from the Dugout , both by Mike Shannon.

Without further adieu, here are your top ten first basemen of all time.  The stats are their career stat line first, then their 162 game average.

Apologies to:

Jim Thome , Cleveland/Philadelphia/Chicago (AL)/Los Angeles (NL)

1991-present day

Thome was my 11th ranked first baseman, and I desperately wanted to put him in here, but decided that because of the era he played in, the pitchers he faced, and his defense caused him to barely miss this list.

.277, 564 homers, 1565 RBIs, 2138 hits, .404 obp, .557 slg, .961 ops, 4290 tb, 1486 r

.277, 40 homers, 111 RBIs, 152 hits, .404 obp, .557 slg, .961 ops, 304 tb, 105 r

Five ASG, one SS, four Top 10 MVP Finishes

10. Harmon Killebrew , Washington (AL)/Minnesota (AL)/Kansas City (AL)

1954-1975

From his first full season in 1959 until his last season in 1975, Killebrew hit over 40 homers eight times, and over 30 homers 10 times.  Very comparable to Ryan Howard, Killebrew was a stout power hitter that struck out a lot and was a very inconsistent average hitter, hitting anywhere from .240 to .280 in his prime, usually hovering around .270. 

If he had played with Thome, he would've probably had better numbers, which is partially why I put Killebrew in ahead of Thome.

.256, 573 homers, 1584 RBIs, 2086 hits, .376 obp, .509 slg, .884 ops, 4143 tb, 1283 r

.256, 38 homers, 105 RBIs, 139 hits, .376 obp, .509 slg, .884 ops, 276 tb, 85 r

11 ASG, 7 Top Ten MVP Finishes, 1 MVP


9. Hank Greenberg
, Detroit/Pittsburgh

1933-1947, served 1942-1944

Looking back, Greenberg is a very underrated player, as he would've had around 440 homers if he hadn't missed time due to WWII.  He hit over 40 homers four times, and 30 homers six times, but what set him apart during his era was his batting average. 

He hit over .300 nine times, and when he was healthy, he could have a monster year.  He had four absolutely monster seasons, with lines of .328, 36, and 170, .337, 40, and 183, .315, 58, and 146, and lastly .340, 41, and 150. 

He was arguably the best Tiger on those ferocious Tiger teams in the mid to late 1930s.  He was a man of his faith, and as a Jewish man, he never played on the Sabbath.  Greenberg wasn't very athletic, but was very smart, and an extremely hard worker.

.313, 331 homers, 1276 rbis, 1628 hits, .412 obp, .605 slg, 1.017 ops, 3142 tb, 1051 r

.313, 38 homers, 148 rbis, 189 hits, .412 obp, .605 slg, 1.017 ops, 365 tb, 122 r

Four ASG, six MVP Top 10 Finishes, two MVPs


8. Johnny Mize
, St. Louis (NL)/New York (NL)/New York (AL)

1936-1953, served 1942-1944

Another first baseman that took time out of his prime to serve, Johnny Mize was even more underrated than Greenberg, even unknown by many baseball fans.  Mize hit over .300 nine times, but didn't hit for as much power as Greenberg. 

However, Mize was healthier and more consistent than Greenberg.  His year for year stats aren't as good as Greenberg's, but he was more athletic, a better defender, and more consistent.

.312, 359 homers, 1337 rbis, 2011 hits, .397 obp, .562 slg, .959 ops, 3621 tb, 1118 r

.312, 31 homers, 115 rbis, 173 hits, .397 obp, .562 slg, .959 ops, 311 tb, 96 r

10 ASG, six MVP Top 10 Finishes


7. Willie McCovey
, San Francisco

1959-1980

This will be a controversial placing of McCovey, and the stats don't necessarily all back up my high ranking of Stretch, but since these are my rankings, I will place him here.  McCovey was tall and long, with a swooping swing that should've led to a ton of strikeouts, but for some reason, it didn't.

McCovey didn't have the huge years that Greenberg did, but he was much more consistent than Greenberg, and had more big years than Mize did.  He hit over 20 homers 12 times, more than 30 homers seven times, and more than 40 homers twice.  Today, he compares to Adrian Gonzalez, and Mark Texeira with a lesser average.  He could hit 40 homers every year if he played in the last 20 years.

San Francico sportswiters were always impressed with McCovey's ability to hit for power, but didn't believe he could field well.  After a game that McCovey had made an amazing fielding play, the writers surrounded his locker, and tried to get a reason from McCovey for why he was able to make that play.  He simply looked at the writers and said "I never said i couldn't field.  You guys did."l

.270, 521 homers, 1555 rbis, 2211 hits, .374 obp, .515 slg, .889 ops, 4219 tb, 1229 r

.270, 33 homers, 97 rbis, 138 hits, .374 obp, .515 slg, .889 ops, 264 tb, 77 r

Six ASG, ROY, four MVP Top 10 Finishes, one MVP


6. Eddie Murray
, Baltimore/Los Angeles (NL)/New York (NL)/Cleveland/Anaheim

1977-1997

If you haven't noticed, I give a lot of credit to consistent greatness, and Eddie Murray is the model of consistency.  Murray hit more than 20 homers 16 times, better than .290 10 times, and hit more than 90 runs in 12 times. 

He did all of this from both sides of the plate, establishing himself as one of the best switch hitters of all time, grouping himself with Mantle, Rose, and Chipper Jones.  By the way, did I mention that he had over 3,200 hits, and almost 5,400 total bases?

When Murray came up for Baltimore, the veterans were watching him take cuts in the cage, hoping he didn't play their position.  When Murray picked up his first baseman's mitt, Lee May was given looks that said, "You're in trouble now!"  Sure enough, Murray took over for Lee May at first, and went on to win three gold gloves.

.287, 504 homers, 1917 rbis, 3255 hits, .359 obp, .476 slg, .836 ops, 5397 tb, 1627 r

.287, 27 homers, 103 rbis, 174 hits, .359 obp, .476 slg, .836 ops, 289 tb, 87 r


5. Jeff Bagwell
, Houston

1991-2005

One of my favorite players, Bagwell was a hard working, smart ball player, similar to Kevin Youkilis, with more power.  He hit over .300 six times, more than 30 homers nine times, drove in 100 runs eight times, and stole double digit bags 10 times.  Traded from Boston to Houston, he came up as a third baseman, but moved over to first before he hit the bigs. 

.297, 449 homers, 1529 rbis, 2314 hits, .408 obp, .540 slg, .948 ops, 4213 tb, 1517 r, 202 steals

.297, 34 homers, 115 rbis, 174 hits, .408 obp, .540 slg, .948 ops, 317 tb, 114 r, 15 steals

Four ASG, six Top 10 MVP Finishes, ROY, one GG, three SS, one MVP


4. Frank Thomas
, Chicago (AL), Oakland, Toronto

1990-2008

One of my earliest memories of Frank Thomas was watching a White Sox game with my dad, and seeing this gigantic man that made bats look like toothpicks hit three homers in one game.

As I got older, I realized just how great Frank Thomas was.  Not only was he one of the best power hitters of all time, but he was one of the best hitters of all time.  He hit over 30 homers nine times, 40 homers five times, over .300 nine times, and drove in 100 runs eleven times.  He had an ops of over 1.000 seven years.  The Big Hurt was just raked year, after year, after year.

.301, 521 homers, 1704 rbis, 2468 hits, .419 obp, .555 slg, .974 ops, 4550 tb, 1494 r

.301, 36 homers, 119 rbis, 172 hits, .419 obp, .555 slg, .974 ops, 317 tb, 104 r


3. Jimmie Foxx , Philadelphia (AL)/Boston (AL)/Chicago (NL)/Pittsburgh

1925-1945 (not in baseball 1943)

Double X was known as the right handed Babe Ruth.  He was an extremely feared power hitter that continued to hit for a ton of power despite hitting in the massive Shibe Park.  In a previous draft of this article, I had Foxx ahead of Pujols, but looking back at the numbers, I changed my mind. 

He dominated the AL pitching for 12 years, so if Pujols can continue to dominate for longer than 12, Foxx is in trouble, but until then, Foxx remains here.  He struck out more than Pujols, but he still lead the league in average twice, and homers four times. 

.325, 534 homers, 1922 rbis, 2646 hits, .428 obp, .609 slg, 1.038 ops, 4956 tb, 1751 r, 87 steals

.325, 37 homers, 134 rbis, 185 hits, .428 obp, .609 slg, 1.038 ops, 347 tb, 122 r, 6 steals

Nine ASG, six MVP Top 10 Finishes, three MVPs


2. Albert Pujols , St. Louis

2001-present day

Through nine seasons of his young career, Pujols has already propelled himself to number three on the greatest first basemen of all time.  In the first draft of this article, I almost put him ahead of Foxx, but decided that Pujols would still need to show me more seasons of dominating National League pitching before I put him ahead of Double X. 

After a comment by a reader that got me back to this list, I discovered that Pujols is in my mind, the number two first baseman of all time.  He has 366 homers at the age of 30, which extrapolates to 813 homers if he continued his pace until age 40.  Pujols is a machine that will continue to play like he has for a good long while to come.  By the time he's 35, he'll easily pass Gehrig as number one.  The great thing about these lists is the revisions that can be made with some time away from the numbers.

.334, 366 homers, 1112 rbis, 1717 hits, .427 obp, .628 slg, 1.055 ops, 3230 tb, 1071 r, 61 steals

.334, 42 homers, 129 rbis, 199 hits, .427 obp, .628 slg, 1.055 ops, 374 tb, 124 r, 7 steals

Eight ASG, nine MVP Top 10 Finishes, ROY, five SS, one GG, three MVPs

1. Lou Gehrig , New York (AL)

1923-1939

Pujols will eventually take this spot over, if he doesn't get caught up in the steroid mess.  Gehrig actually could've taken a death grip on this spot had he not been stricken with the disease he became the namesake for.  Gehrig's numbers were better than Pujols', but Pujols will be able to do it for longer than Gehrig, and unthrone Gehrig. 

Gehrig hit over .300 12 of his 14 full years, more than 30 homers ten years, and put up an ops higher than 1.000 eleven years.  Gehrig was a quiet man, and loved the fact he got to play with Ruth, who took the spotlight.  Because of an injury to Wally Pipp, baseball gave us its best first baseman of all time.

.340, 493 homers, 1995 rbis, 2721 hits, .447 obp, .632 slg, 1.080 ops, 5060 tb, 1888 r, 102 steals

.340, 37 homers, 149 rbis, 204 hits, .447 obp, .632 slg, 1.080 ops, 379 tb, 141 r, 8 steals

Seven ASG, nine MVP Top 10 Finishes, two MVPs

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