5 Best First Basemen All-Time

The second installment in my All-Time Greatest rankings is the list of top 5 first basemen. These men all manned the power position with copious amounts of it, and without further ado:

1.     Lou Gehrig

NYY 1923-1939

162-game average during prime:

.353/.452/.663  43HR  171RBI  111BB  49K

Lou Gehrig is quite simply one of the top 5 position players ever. Picking his 5-year statistical prime is nearly impossible, because his entire career was unbelievably consistent. From his 2nd full season to his 2nd to last full season (a period of 11 years), his 162-game average looks like this: .350/.459/.659  41HR  162RBI  120BB  57K. Rarely does a player’s prime so accurately represent his entire career (much less an elite player like Lou). Seeing no seasons below 110 RBI just mesmerizes me when I read his stat page. It seems like he just toyed with the opposition; later in his career, he hit fewer triples and compensated with more homers. Also, he lowered his batting average slightly but ticked his walks up, actually increasing his OBP. Again, Lou Gehrig is quite simply one of the top 5 position players ever.

2.     Jimmie Foxx

PHA 1925-1935 BOS 36-42 CHC 44 PHI 45

162-game average during prime:

.348/.454/.675  49HR  155RBI  117BB  104K

Jimmie Foxx doesn’t get nearly the attention he deserves. He has both the extended period of dominance and the single season freakshow feats that usually highlight any historic debate. For 12 consecutive seasons, he hit at least 30 home runs with 100+ RBI. In that stretch, he hit 40+ HR five times, peaking at 58. He also had 160+RBI three times, peaking at 175. He won a triple crown in 1933 with gaudy 48/163/.356 numbers, despite all three of those being lower than what he did in 1932. He was so formidable, his peers gave him one of the greatest nicknames: “The Beast.” Arguably the best right-handed hitter in history, it is embarrassing how few people really recognize his greatness.

3.     Hank Greenberg

DET 1930, 33-41, 45-46 PIT 47

162-game average during prime:

.330/.423/.644  42HR  170RBI  99BB  100K

Hank Greenberg unfortunately had several obstacles to overcome for his Major League career. Most notably, he had one MVP stolen from him that history has attributed to anti-Semitism and he missed 3 full seasons (and the majority of 2 others) because of World War II when he was 30. That detracts from his total numbers, obviously, and also it might have prevented him from putting up his best individual seasons. He led the league in HRs and RBIs in the same season three times, including his last year before going to war and his first year back from it. It’s hard to imagine what he could’ve done with those seasons. He earned this ranking based on what he actually did do, though These are his single-season highs in some key stats: 63 doubles, 58 home runs, 183 runs batted in, 119 walks, .348 average. Each of those is impressive, some bordering on absurd. What makes this even more noteworthy-  these happened in 5 separate seasons, meaning he achieved new and different levels of dominance throughout his career.

4.     Dan Brouthers

Various Non-ML teams 1879-1896, NYG 04

162-game average during prime:

.360/.408/.562  14HR  121RBI  56BB  23K

Dan Brouthers is not exactly a household name, that’s for sure. However, he could easily be considered one of the best hitters of the 19th century. When looked at in context, his career truly shines. The leagues only played in 120-130 games throughout his career, so many of his numbers aren’t aesthetically pleasing, but his rate categories speak for themselves. In fact, he topped the league in slugging for six consecutive seasons. Only the legendary Babe Ruth has done that for longer (7).

5.     Albert Pujols

STL 2001-

162-game average during prime:

.336/.429/.634  45HR  127RBI  95BB  61K

I hate to make such a bold statement with putting him here, but it’s important not to overthink this one. He has done in 10 years what very few people have accomplished in their entire careers, and he has done it without any years of subpar production. I’m adopting the policy of the minimum plate appearances required to qualify for the batting title. If you have the highest average but don’t meet the plate appearance threshold, but would still lead if hitless at-bats were tacked on until you hit the minimum, then you deserve the title. In this case, if Albert Pujols added 10 sucky years (aka hitless at-bats), he would still be on this list, so he deserves it now. In the last 8 years, he has never finished outside of the top ten in the league in home runs, average, on-base, slugging, or RBI. In an era where many great single-season performances are never repeated, Albert Pujols hasn’t always been at the top of the league. He has, though, always been among the leaders. Always.

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