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History of Baseball: Greatest Players Series–First Basemen

The following post starts a three part presentation on the best First Basemen of All-Time. Part One will show Total Player Rating on the top 13. Part Two will cover the best offensive players at the position. And, Part Three will list the best defensive performers at First Base.

Lou Gehrig, one of the great American icons, heads our list. Jimmie Foxx is a close second.

A note regarding players, such as Todd Helton, whose  body of work has been largely based on a majority of games played at Coors Field: we have a formula that compensates Coors Field performances against the “norm.”

Joe Start is on our defensive list. He is largely responsible for defining what to do on defense while playing first base. Also, Frank Thomas, the great Chicago White Sox slugger, is generally regarded as a DH (designated hitter), but since he played enough games at 1B to qualify as a first baseman, he is included on our first base list.

Ten of our 16 top offensive first basemen are left-handed hitters. On our offensive list, 2 are nineteenth century players and one performed in the Negro Leagues. On our defensive ratings, one is a nineteenth century player, and one played in the Negro Leagues.

 

Total Player Rating #11 through 13:

 

Will Clark

William Nuschler Clark, Jr. (born 1964) was a six time all star, the owner of two silver slugger awards. He retired with 2,176 career hits and 1,205 RBIs. Clark homered off of Greg Maddux in the '89 NLCS after reading Joe Girardi's lips about pitch selection--from the on-deck circle. Pundits point to this incident when Billy Beane quips, "I've never known a single lip-reader in baseball. What, has there been a rash of lip-reading I don't know about?"

William Nuschler Clark, Jr. (born 1964) was a six time all star, the owner of two silver slugger awards. He retired with 2,176 career hits and 1,205 RBIs. Clark homered off of Greg Maddux in the '89 NLCS after reading Joe Girardi's lips about pitch selection--from the on-deck circle. Pundits point to this incident when Billy Beane quips, "I've never known a single lip-reader in baseball. What, has there been a rash of lip-reading I don't know about?"

 

Gil Hodges
Gilbert Ray Hodges (1924-1972) had a higher lifetime BA (.273) than Willie McCovey and Harmon Killebrew. In 1950, he joined Lou Gehrig as the second player since the turn of the century to hit 4 home runs in a game (no extra innings). The American League went forty-three years without such a game (from 1959 to 2002).

Gilbert Ray Hodges (1924-1972) had a higher lifetime BA (.273) than Willie McCovey and Harmon Killebrew. In 1950, he joined Lou Gehrig as the second player since the turn of the century to hit 4 home runs in a game (no extra innings). The American League went forty-three years without such a game (from 1959 to 2002).

 

George Sisler
George Harold Sisler (1893-1973) had an astonishing 1922 season. He batted .420, hit safely in a then-record 41 consecutive games, and led the American League in hits (246), stolen bases (51), and triples (18).

George Harold Sisler (1893-1973) had an astonishing 1922 season. He batted .420, hit safely in a then-record 41 consecutive games, and led the American League in hits (246), stolen bases (51), and triples (18).

 

#10: Roger Connor
Roger Connor (1857-1931) had a career BA of .316, and he slugged a nineteenth century record 138 home runs. Connor also led the League in fielding percentage for first basemen 4 times. He is a member of Cooperstown.

Roger Connor (1857-1931) had a career BA of .316, and he slugged a nineteenth century record 138 home runs. Connor also led the League in fielding percentage for first basemen 4 times. He is a member of Cooperstown.

 

#8 & 9:

Dan Brouthers

Dennis Joseph Brouthers (1858-1932) started in baseball as a semi-pro pitcher, but came to the majors at age 21 primarily as a first baseman. He won 5 batting titles, and won 7 slugging percentage crowns. He posted a .349 career average as a left-handed hitter, and is a member of the Hall Of Fame.

Dennis Joseph Brouthers (1858-1932) started in baseball as a semi-pro pitcher, but came to the majors at age 21 primarily as a first baseman. He won 5 batting titles, and won 7 slugging percentage crowns. He posted a .349 career average as a left-handed hitter, and is a member of the Hall Of Fame.

 

Johnny Mize

John Robert Mize (1913-1993) played 15 seasons, losing 3 years to his military service in WWII. He won 4 home run crowns, and won the NL batting title in 1939, recording .312 for his career average.

John Robert Mize (1913-1993) played 15 seasons, losing 3 years to his military service in WWII. He won 4 home run crowns, and won the NL batting title in 1939, recording .312 for his career average.

 

#5 through 7:

Hank Greenberg

Henry Benjamin Greenberg (1911-1986) played all but one year of thirteen with the Detroit Tigers. He was a career .313 hitter, and won 2 MVP Awards. He was a 4-time All-Star, and helped power the Tigers to 4 World Series’ appearances. Greenberg also won 4 RBI crowns.

Henry Benjamin Greenberg (1911-1986) played all but one year of thirteen with the Detroit Tigers. He was a career .313 hitter, and won 2 MVP Awards. He was a 4-time All-Star, and helped power the Tigers to 4 World Series’ appearances. Greenberg also won 4 RBI crowns.

 

Todd Helton

Todd Lynn Helton (born 1973) has a career batting average of .323. He has won a batting title and 4 Silver Slugger crowns. He also has been an All-Star 5 times, and was awarded 3 Gold Gloves. Helton has led all NL first basemen in fielding percentage 4 times, and is 6th all-time in the history of baseball.

Todd Lynn Helton (born 1973) has a career batting average of .323. He has won a batting title and 4 Silver Slugger crowns. He also has been an All-Star 5 times, and was awarded 3 Gold Gloves. Helton has led all NL first basemen in fielding percentage 4 times, and is 6th all-time in the history of baseball.

 

Buck Leonard

Walter Fenner Leonard (1907-1997) played for the fabled Homestead Grays from 1934 to 1950, a record for continuous service with one team in the history of the Negro Leagues. He was a slick-fielding, clutch-hitting first baseman who played in a record 11 East-West All-Star games in the Negro Leagues. His play was often compared defensively to George Sisler and his offensive prowess to Lou Gehrig. He is a member of the Hall Of Fame.

Walter Fenner Leonard (1907-1997) played for the fabled Homestead Grays from 1934 to 1950, a record for continuous service with one team in the history of the Negro Leagues. He was a slick-fielding, clutch-hitting first baseman who played in a record 11 East-West All-Star games in the Negro Leagues. His play was often compared defensively to George Sisler and his offensive prowess to Lou Gehrig. He is a member of the Hall Of Fame.

 

#4: Jeff Bagwell

Jeffrey Robert Bagwell (born 1968) was the first National Leaguer to finish first or second in batting average, home runs, RBI, and runs scored since Willie Mays in 1955. His career batting average was .297, and he slugged 449 home runs. He was selected for 4 All-Star games, and won the NL MVP in 1994. Bagwell also won a Gold Glove, and won 5 Silver Slugger Awards. He also led the NL in runs scored 3 times.

Jeffrey Robert Bagwell (born 1968) was the first National Leaguer to finish first or second in batting average, home runs, RBI, and runs scored since Willie Mays in 1955. His career batting average was .297, and he slugged 449 home runs. He was selected for 4 All-Star games, and won the NL MVP in 1994. Bagwell also won a Gold Glove, and won 5 Silver Slugger Awards. He also led the NL in runs scored 3 times.

 

#3: Stan Musial

Stanley Frank Musial (born 1920) won 7 batting titles, and 3 NL MVP Awards. He was selected to play in 24 All-Star contests, and retired with the 4th highest career hit total in baseball history (3,630). He is a Hall Of Famer.

Stanley Frank Musial (born 1920) won 7 batting titles, and 3 NL MVP Awards. He was selected to play in 24 All-Star contests, and retired with the 4th highest career hit total in baseball history (3,630). He is a Hall Of Famer.

 

#2: Jimmie Foxx

James Emory Foxx (1907-1967) slugged 534 home runs, and won 4 home run crowns. He also won 2 batting titles, and 3 MVP Awards (1932,1933 and 1938). In 1933, he also claimed the Triple Crown. He was selected for 9 All-Star games, and batted .325 for his career. He is a member of Cooperstown.

James Emory Foxx (1907-1967) slugged 534 home runs, and won 4 home run crowns. He also won 2 batting titles, and 3 MVP Awards (1932,1933 and 1938). In 1933, he also claimed the Triple Crown. He was selected for 9 All-Star games, and batted .325 for his career. He is a member of Cooperstown.

 

#1: Lou Gehrig

Heinrich Ludwig Gehrig (1903-1941)  This Hall Of Famer batted .340 for his career, and won MVP Awards in 1927 and 1936. In 1934, Gehrig also won the Triple Crown, and garnered 7 straight All-Star selections. He was a feared clutch-hitter and won 5 RBI crowns, including an AL record 184 in 1931.

Heinrich Ludwig Gehrig (1903-1941) This Hall Of Famer batted .340 for his career, and won MVP Awards in 1927 and 1936. In 1934, Gehrig also won the Triple Crown, and garnered 7 straight All-Star selections. He was a feared clutch-hitter and won 5 RBI crowns, including an AL record 184 in 1931.

 

Stay tuned for Part Two of the greatest first basemen of all-time series which will rank the top players based on their career offensive ratings.

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