The Greatest First Basemen of All-Time

hitting
Best with The Lumber
  • 1. Lou Gehrig
  • 2. Albert Pujols
  • 3. Jimmie Foxx
  • 4. Frank Thomas
  • 5. Hank Greenberg
fielding
Best with The Leather
  • 1. Keith Hernandez
  • 2. George Scott
  • 3. Vic Power
  • 4. Mark Teixeira
  • 5. Rafael Palmeiro
Most Underrated First Basemen
  • 1. John Olerud
  • 2. Dick Allen
  • 3. Norm Cash
  • 4. Mark Teixeira
  • 5. Adrian Gonzalez

The Top 100 First Basemen

Lou Gehrig

1923—1939
HALL OF FAME

1

Babe Ruth indulged his appetites. Lou Gehrig suppressed his. The Babe entered every situation looking for the spotlight, his sole purpose was to entertain. The shy Gehrig trained his eyes on the nearest exit. To Ruth, Lou’s consecutive games played streak was folly, a meaningless stunt. To Gehrig, playing every game was his sacred duty.

Albert Pujols

2001—

2

Pujols actually outperformed Gehrig before the age of thirty. But in their thirties, Gehrig maintained his level of production, while Albert had his last truly great season at the age of thirty-one.

Jimmie Foxx

1925—1945
HALL OF FAME

3

The man they called “Double-X” was very strong, probably the strongest man in baseball prior to the Second World War (outside of maybe Josh Gibson). Foxx once hit a home run over the roof and out of the original Comiskey Park. He hit a ball out of Shibe Park straight down the left line. He reportedly hit a ball deep into the upper deck(!) in left field at old Yankee Stadium.

Jeff Bagwell

1991—2005
HALL OF FAME

4

Growing up in the northeast, Bagwell’s boyhood idol was Carl Yastrzemski. He retired with 449 homers, three fewer than Yaz… Only two sets of teammates played in as many as 2,000 games together: Ron Santo and Billy Williams; and Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio.

Johnny Mize

1936—1953

5

Mize had a round face, narrow hazel eyes, and a prominent chin. He must have eaten a lot of peaches in his native Georgia, because Mize grew into a strong, sturdy figure. There was some sort of trouble in his house when he was a toddler, and Johnny went to live with his grandmother, who raised him. He was described by sportswriter Dick Farrington as a “quiet, pleasant, easy-going giant.”

Hank Greenberg

1930—1947
HALL OF FAME

6

“He was one of the truly great hitters, and when I first saw him at bat, he made my eyes pop out.” — Joe DiMaggio

Frank Thomas

1990—2008
HALL OF FAME

7

He probably should have won the award when he was 23 in 1991, and in 1997 when he had his best season. Thomas won the MVP in his fourth and fifth best seasons, but not in any of his three greatest seasons. It’s unlikely that has happened to any other player. Maybe Ted Williams?

Miguel Cabrera

2003—

8

Cabrera’s OPS against RHP is the sixth-highest in baseball history by a righthanded batter. He trails Mike Trout, Manny Ramirez, Mark McGwire, Frank Thomas, and Albert Pujols. His career batting average against RHP (.317), is the second-highest by a RH hitter in history, trailing only Roberto Clemente.

Todd Helton

1997—2013

9

The Tennessee Volunteers awarded a football scholarship to Helton as a quarterback out of high school in Knoxville. With the Vols, as a junior, Helton was the backup QB and ahead of freshman Peyton Manning on the depth chart. Helton started a few games, but a knee injury essentially squashed any idea of him being the next John Elway in the NFL.

Willie McCovey

1959—1980
HALL OF FAME

10

“If you pitch to him, he’ll ruin baseball. He’d hit 80 home runs. There’s no comparison between McCovey and anybody else in the league.” — Reds manager Sparky Anderson

Joey Votto

2007—

11

Great baseball players don’t come from Toronto, Ontario. Votto had to play on a travel team because most Canadian high schools don’t have a baseball program. He was slow and never really took to playing catcher, which was his position in high school. Votto had to take hours of batting practice inside a gym during the cold months, hitting off a tee. Still, Votto developed into a great hitter with a near-perfect concept of the strike zone.

Jim Thome

1991—2012
HALL OF FAME

12

Thome pairs well with Killebrew: both were tremendously powerful sluggers known for hitting high, towering home runs. Both Killer and Thome were likable “Everyday Joe” type of guys.

Dick Allen

1963—1977

13

From his rookie season through 1974, a span of 11 seasons, Allen ranked second in baseball in slugging to Henry Aaron. Only six players scored more runs or drove in more runs than Allen, and all of them are in the Hall of Fame. He out-slugged ten future Hall of Famers who were his contemporaries, including Frank Robinson, Carl Yastrzemski, Willie McCovey, Harmon Killebrew, and Roberto Clemente. He’s probably the best hitter not in the Hall of Fame, who hasn’t bee banned or stained by steroids.

Eddie Murray

1977—1997
HALL OF FAME

14

The highest-ranked switch-hitters at each position: Ted Simmons (C), Eddie Murray (1B), Frankie Frisch (2B), Chipper Jones (3B), Ozzie Smith (SS), Pete Rose (LF), Mickey Mantle (CF), and Reggie Smith (RF). Murray and Ozzie played on the same high school baseball team, and Reggie Smith also played high school ball in Los Angeles.

Keith Hernandez

1974—1990

15

“I won’t say that women belong in the kitchen, but they don’t belong in the dugout.” — Keith Hernandez

“Well so what? I mean you played first base. I mean they always put the worst player on first base. That’s where they put me and I stunk.” — Elaine Benes to Keith Hernandez in an episode of “Seinfield”

George Sisler

1915—1930
HALL OF FAME

16

The same way middle-aged people today talk about Keith Hernandez’s defense, that’s how people years ago gushed over “Gorgeous George” Sisler. He was quick and his footwork was legendary, but Sisler was also daring. He was not afraid to throw the ball across the diamond to nab a runner, and he was an expert at charging bunts. Frankie Frisch observed that Sisler was “truly poetry in motion, the perfect player.”

John Olerud

1989—2005

17

Olerud is the best player since 1980 to bypass the minors (Bryce Harper will have something to say about that). He went from Washington State University to the Blue Jays and was their starting first baseman at 21. Three years later he flirted with .400 and had one of the best seasons by a first baseman in the last half century.

Will Clark

1986—2000

18

Clark had a shrill voice and his mouth was flapping every second he was on the diamond. One teammate said, “Will is the biggest reason I stayed in the big leagues, his intensity every day raised my game.” When a pitcher tricked Clark with a pitch, Will would sometimes scream back at the hurler in his squeaky chirp: “You’ll never do that to me again!”

Harmon Killebrew

1954—1975
HALL OF FAME

19

Had they measured exit velocity, launch angle, and home run distance in his day, Killebrew would have taken all the awards for such things. He was famous for towering home runs. He is one of only two righthanded batters to hit a ball out of Tiger Stadium in Detroit. If a ballpark is still standing that Killer played in, there’s a story floating around about a gigantic blast he hit there.

Bill Terry

1923—1936
HALL OF FAME

20

He was the first player whose relationship with the media negatively impacted his Hall of Fame chances. Terry frequently banned reporters from his office or refused to give interviews. The baseball writers pondered his name on 14 ballots before they elected Terry, 18 years after his last game as a player. When the phone call came to inform him of his election, Terry coldly told a reporter, “I have nothing to say.”

Tony Perez

1964—1986
HALL OF FAME

21

Perez was the glue that kept the Big Red Machine together, the man who bridged the divide between Pete Rose and Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench. And Perez (or “Doggie” as his teammates affectionately called him), was a great hitter who had a knack for rising to the occasion.

Fred McGriff

1986—2004

22

There’s not much difference between Tony Perez and Fred McGriff. Both were key players on successful teams: Perez’s teams were in the playoffs six times and won five pennants; McGriff’s teams were in the playoffs five times and won two pennants. Both were extremely popular and drove in lots of runs. They had similar nicknames: Big Dog (Perez) and Crime Dog (McGriff). Perez is in the Hall of Fame, though it took him nine years on the ballot. McGriff has yet to reach 40 percent.

Mark Teixeira

2003—2016

23

The big first baseman was just the fifth batter to hit 100 homers in his first three seasons, joining Joe DiMaggio, Ralph Kiner, Eddie Mathews, and Albert Pujols. He became the sixth player to have four 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons in his first five years. The others were Chuck Klein, DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Kiner, and Pujols. “Tex” was the fifth switch-hitter to reach 400 homers, and he holds the record for most games with home runs from both sides of the plate. He did all of that, and also set the Rangers’ franchise record for most consecutive games played (with 507) despite playing with pain for much of his career.

Rafael Palmeiro

1986—2005

24

Which is worse? Admitting that you used performance-enhancing drugs and acknowledging the mistake, or steadfastly refusing to admit that you cheated despite evidence to the contrary? The answer lies somewhere between Palmeiro and a man lower on this list: Jason Giambi.

Mark McGwire

1986—2001

25

McGwire’s best five seasons are a virtual match (in value) for the best five seasons by Keith Hernandez. Mac’s best three seasons rate the same as those by Will Clark, a clean player who deserves Hall of Fame consideration far more than the man who climbed to the top on a pile of lies to become the hero of The Great Home Run Chase.

Paul Goldschmidt

2011—

26

Goldschmidt’s first big league manager was Kirk Gibson, who taught Goldschmidt the art of “visualization”, a practice where an athlete imagines a positive outcome in specific detail. “I think a good bit of my success early in my career goes to him,” Goldschmidt said.

Jason Giambi

1995—2014

27

He was a dangerous power hitter with a good eye even when he was clean, but never indistinguishable from Norm Cash or Don Mattingly on his best day.

Norm Cash

1958—1974

28

Don Mattingly

1982—1995

29

Like another legend from Indiana (Larry Bird), Mattingly suffered from degenerative discs in his lower back that caused him terrible pain and curtailed his career. Through the age of 28, Mattingly posted a 144 OPS+, a figure surpassed by only five first basemen in history (Gehrig, Foxx, Mize, Greenberg, and Sisler). Through 28, he won an MVP, a batting title, five Gold Gloves, and was the highest-paid player in baseball. Then his back started to bark and his for-sure Hall of Fame career came off the rails.

Dolph Camilli

1933—1945

30

While playing with Brooklyn, Camilli came to hate the Giants so much that when the Dodgers traded him to the G-Men in 1943, Camilli retired and went back to California instead of wearing the New York uniform. Though his major league career only lasted a dozen seasons, Camilli averaged 102 runs, 26 homers, 103 RBIs, and 103 walks per season.

David Ortiz

1997—2016

31

Ortiz hit eleven percent of his home runs before the age of 27, the lowest total among the members of the 500-home run club.

Orlando Cepeda

1958—1974
HALL OF FAME

32

Cepeda is the only member of the Hall of Fame whose father was a better player than he was. Pedro Cepeda was the greatest baseball player to ever swing a bat on the island of Puerto Rico, and he starred in professional leagues there for nearly a quarter of a century.

Gil Hodges

1943—1963

33

“If you had a son, it would be a great thing to have him grow up to be just like Gil Hodges.” — Pee Wee Reese

Carlos Delgado

1993—2009

34

Adrian Gonzalez

2004—2018

35

Frank Chance

1898—1914
HALL OF FAME

36

“Chance is of prepossessing appearance and decidedly of athletic build, of more than medium height with square shoulders, and weighs 188 pounds. In manner he is unassuming but speaks with a quiet confidence of his own ability to keep up with the fast company in the National league. There is not braggadocio.” — Harvey T. Woodruff

Mark Grace

1988—2003

37

Grace had a little bit of George Brett in him. He was a throwback and a “guy’s guy” in the clubhouse, always having a good time, but between the lines a tough competitor. Both Brett and Grace liked to pound some beers after games. Like Brett, Grace shunned batting gloves and hit a lot of doubles.

Jack Fournier

1912—1927

38

In four years of service for Brooklyn, Fournier was loved and hated at Ebbets Field. Fans enjoyed his slugging, but they also booed him for his deficiencies with the glove. In an early season game in 1925, when Fournier was playing for the Dodgers, he punched out the first base coach for the Phillies, a violent episode that earned him a five-game suspension. According to Fournier, the coach had been riding him the entire game, “calling me names I can’t repeat and criticizing my work at the bag.”

Pedro Guerrero

1978—1992

39

Had he been on an American League club when he came up, Guerrero could have possibly been one of the game’s greatest DH’s, but he never had that opportunity.

Elbie Fletcher

1934—1949

40

When he was an 18-year old high school ballplayer in the Boston area, Fletcher entered a newspaper contest with the prize a trip to spring training with the Braves. He was one of three young Massachusetts players to win the contest and go south to Florida for a tryout. Fletcher impressed the lowly Braves and was offered a professional contract. The tall, lean left-hander was the Braves’ starting first baseman three years later.

Cecil Cooper

1971—1987

41

Coop altered the trajectory of his career when he changed his batting stance to emulate perennial batting champion Rod Carew. Cooper opened his front foot, lowered the bat, and increased the depth of his crouch. He hit as high as .352 and won two RBI titles while frequently driving in teammates Paul Molitor and Robin Yount.

Freddie Freeman

2010—

42

He’s going to have a more valuable career than Anthony Rizzo, and has a chance to win a batting title and also move into the top 25 all-time at his position.

Steve Garvey

1969—1987

43

“It says in your contract you must be physically and mentally prepared to play 162 games, and I believe in living up to my contract.” — Steve Garvey, who set the National League record for most consecutive games played.

Ed Konetchy

1907—1921

44

In contrast to Jack Fournier, the well-respected Konetchy was one of the best defensive first baseman in the National League during the deadball era. His career was basically split between seven years with the Cardinals and three years each with the Braves and Dodgers. Because those teams were terrible at that time, Konetchy was often the subject of trade rumors.

Boog Powell

1961—1977

45

“Huckleberry Finn has nothing on me. What mischief did he do that I’m not capable of? Everything’s got to be for laughs, that’s the only way I live.” — Boog Powell

In his rookie season, Powell hit a towering home run into the hedge beyond the left field wall at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. Previously the only hitter to reach that spot was Mickey Mantle.

Kevin Youkilis

2004—2013

46

Youkilis was an unlikely star. He was drafted by Boston in the eighth round and did not have a defensive position. They tried to teach him to play third base and the outfield. He wasn’t very good at that. Boston couldn’t play him at DH because they had David Ortiz. Youkilis settled at first base and ended up a three-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner. Like Lu Blue, who ranks just a few notches below him on this list, Youk’s specialty was drawing walks. He finished in the top ten in on-base percentage three times. He was dubbed “Euclis: The Greek God of Walks.”

Anthony Rizzo

2011—

47

Rizzo was born about one month before Freddie Freeman, a superior offensive player who also plays first base in a favorable National League ballpark. Both have a decent chance at 500 home runs and other milestones, as well as the Hall of Fame, but only time will tell. If I was betting on which one gets a plaque in Cooperstown, I’d choose Freeman.

Jose Abreu

2014—

48

George Scott

1966—1979

49

The big lefty hit 27 taters for the Red Sox as a rookie in 1966 and 271 in his 14-year career. Few players came from more impoverished backgrounds: Scott quit school when he was 15 to support his mother. He was only a few weeks past his 18th birthday when he played his first professional game. Though he was a large man, he was agile and athletic, and he impressed Red Sox coaches immediately with his work around the bag at first base. Scott won eight Gold Gloves and led the AL in assists three times.

Bill White

1956—1969

50

If you wanted to create a timeline of the best fielding first basemen since World War II, it would look like this: Mickey Vernon, Vic Power, Bill White, George Scott, Keith Hernandez, Mark Grace, J.T. Snow, Adrian Gonzalez.

Ted Kluszewski

1947—1961

51

Though he was larger than most football players of his era, Ted Kluszewski was a good all-around ballplayer, not just a simple slugger. He used his famous 15-inch biceps to hit a lot of home runs, topping 40 three times and accumulating 171 in a four-year stretch. But even though he turned heads with high-flying, long home runs, Klu rarely struck out. He was a big man who was also a good percentage baseball player, like Miguel Cabrera.

Kent Hrbek

1981—1994

52

THE REST OF THE 100

  • 53. Mickey Vernon
  • 54. Joe Harris
  • 55. Joe Judge
  • 56. Jim Bottomley (HOF)
  • 57. Derrek Lee
  • 58. Harry Davis
  • 59. Frank McCormick
  • 60. Rudy York
  • 61. Phil Cavarretta
  • 62. Ferris Fain
  • 63. Hal Trosky
  • 64. Lu Blue
  • 65. Jake Daubert
  • 66. Andres Galaragga
  • 67. Ron Fairly
  • 68. Mike Hargrove
  • 69. Stuffy McInnis
  • 70. Carlos Santana
  • 71. George Burns
  • 72. Justin Morneau
  • 73. John Mayberry
  • 74. Joe Adcock
  • 75. Travis Hafner
  • 76. Carlos Pena
  • 77. Earl Torgeson
  • 78. Mo Vaughn
  • 79. Prince Fielder
  • 80. Wally Pipp
  • 81. Tino Martinez
  • 82. Bob Watson
  • 83. John Kruk
  • 84. Lee May
  • 85. Earl Sheely
  • 86. Wally Joyner
  • 87. Mike Sweeney
  • 88. George Kelly (HOF)
  • 89. Jason Thompson
  • 90. Roy Sievers
  • 91. Bill Skowron
  • 92. Zeke Bonura
  • 93. Ripper Collins
  • 94. Chris Chambliss
  • 95. Brandon Belt
  • 96. George McQuinn
  • 97. Paul Konerko
  • 98. Andre Thornton
  • 99. Wes Parker
  • 100. Cecil Fielder