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Welcome back to our ongoing series aimed at determining the best of the best at each position in Major League Baseball.
Our goal here is two-fold. First, we determine each current franchise’s best ever player at a position. Then we rank those players 1-30 to determine how they stack up in MLB history.
The only caveat being that the selected player must come from the current incarnation of each franchise in order to be ranked. But don’t worry, we’ll throw in bonus players when warranted as well. To make things more interesting, we also require that no player represents multiple franchises or multiple positions.
As you’ll quickly notice, first base is loaded. Ten Hall of Famers made the list. At least another 10 with Hall of Fame credentials are also included. That led to several tough decisions. Perhaps none tougher than Albert Pujols.
Pujols is no-doubt a top five player based on his career to date. Where he fits in that top five is sure to spark plenty of debate. So why keep the debate waiting? Without further ado, the first basemen.
1. Lou Gehrig — New York Yankees
With Yankees: 17 seasons
Best season: 1927 (11.8 WAR, .373/.474/.765)
The 'Iron Horse' played in a then-record 2,130 consecutive games from 1925-39. He also produced at a Hall of Fame level, finishing with a .340 career batting average, 493 home runs, two MVP awards and an increasingly rare Triple Crown in 1934. About the latter, it wasn’t even Gehrig’s best all-around season. His legacy is among the greatest in sports history.
2. Jimmie Foxx — Boston Red Sox
With Red Sox: 7 seasons
Best season: 1938 (7.6 WAR, .349/.462/.704, 50 homers, 119 walks)
Foxx spent the majority of his career with the Philadelphia Athletics. That's also where most of his big seasons came. He was far from a slouch in Boston, though. Just look at 1938, when he led the AL in batting average, OBP, slugging, RBIs, walks and total bases. In fact, his 92 extra-base hits that season are still a franchise record.
3. Albert Pujols — St. Louis Cardinals
With Cardinals: 11 seasons
Best season: 2009 (9.7 WAR, .327/.443/.658, MVP)
Pujols put up monster season after monster season in St. Louis, topping 32 homers and 99 RBIs in each of his 11 seasons. His battling line during that time was an absurd .328/.420/.617. The future Hall of Famer was a nine-time All-Star, the NL Rookie of the Year in 2001, and he joined Stan Musial — who you’ll see in the outfielder rankings — as the only Cardinals to win three MVPs.
4. Hank Greenberg — Detroit Tigers
With Tigers: 12 seasons
Best season: 1938 (7.7 WAR, .328/.411/.628, 36 homers)
The choice between Greenberg and Miguel Cabrera is nearly impossible to make. That is, until you factor in that Greenberg sacrificed three whole seasons and parts of two more during his prime to serve his country in World War II. Upon his return, Greenberg solidified his Hall of Fame career with one last monster season to end his career with a .313/.412/.605 line, 331 home runs and 1,274 RBIs. Without that missed time, Greenberg could have been in the top three.
5. Willie McCovey — San Francisco Giants
With Giants: 19 seasons
Best season: 1969 (8.1 WAR, .320/.453/.656, 45 homers, MVP)
The body of water beyond the right-field wall at Oracle Park is named McCovey Cove. That tells you how beloved McCovey is in San Francisco. The Hall of Famer leads all San Francisco players in home runs (469) and also holds the NL record for grand slams (18).
6. Harmon Killebrew — Minnesota Twins
With Senators/Twins: 21 seasons
Best season: 1969 (6.2 WAR, .276/.427/.584, 49 homers, MVP)
Killebrew's Hall of Fame career bridged the Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins years. Seven of his eight 40-homer seasons came after the franchise moved to Minnesota, which firmly established him as the greatest player in Twins history.
7. Frank Thomas — Chicago White Sox
With White Sox: 16 seasons
Best season: 1994 (6.4 WAR, .353/.487/.729, 38 homers, MVP)
Paul Konerko and Dick Allen might be sentimental favorites for some, but the "Big Hurt" was a beast. Thomas is the White Sox career leader in home runs (448), RBIs (1,465), walks (1,466), runs (1,327), slugging percentage (.568), on-base percentage (.427), doubles (447) and extra-base hits (906). And, yes, he's a Hall of Famer.
8. Eddie Murray — Baltimore Orioles
With Orioles: 13 seasons
Best season: 1984 (7.1 WAR, .306/.410/.509, 29 homers, 110 RBIs, All-Star)
Murray is arguably the best switch-hitter to play the game. The Hall of Famer won AL Rookie of the Year honors in 1977, was a seven-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner and two-time Silver Slugger ... and that’s just during his time in Baltimore. When he finally retired in 1997, he finished with 3,255 career hits and 504 homers.
9. Jeff Bagwell — Houston Astros
With Astros: 15 seasons
Best season: 1994 (8.2 WAR, .368/.451/.750, 39 homers, MVP)
The Red Sox traded Bagwell to Houston on Aug. 30, 1990. The rest was history. The Astros great is yet another Hall of Famer on this list after posting a franchise-best 449 home runs and 1,529 RBIs. He was also a Rookie of the Year, MVP and four-time All-Star.
10. Willie Stargell — Pittsburgh Pirates
With Pirates: 21
Best season: 1971 (7.9 WAR, .295/.398/.628, 48 homers)
Granted, Stargell spent most of his prime in the outfield. But he was still a dominant force after moving to first base late in his career. In fact, he won his lone MVP as a 39-year-old first baseman in 1979. "Pops" hit 475 career homers, slashed .282/.360/.529 and helped bring two World Series titles to Pittsburgh.
11. Jim Thome — Cleveland Indians
With Indians: 13 seasons
Best season: 2002 (7.4 WAR, .304/.445/.677, 52 homers, 197 OPS+)
There's a reason Jim Thome has a statue outside Progressive Field. The foundation for his Hall of Fame resume was built in Cleveland. In 13 seasons with the Indians, Thome hit 337 of his 612 career home runs, while becoming one of the franchise's most popular players.
12. Joey Votto — Cincinnati Reds
With Reds: 13 seasons
Best season: 2010 (7.0 WAR, .324/.424/.600, 37 homers, MVP)
If you side with Tony Perez here, we can't say you're wrong. He's a Hall of Famer for many valid reasons. Votto probably should be, too. Entering his age-36 season, Votto has a .307/.421/.519 lifetime slash line. That's better across the board than Perez's .283/.346/.474. On a better team, Votto would get more love on a national scale.
13. Mark McGwire — Oakland Athletics
With A's: 12 seasons
Best season: 1987 (5.1 WAR, .289/.370/.618, 49 homers, Rookie of the Year)
Jimmie Foxx was a more obvious choice with Boston, so we'll make room here for "Big Mac." Of course, McGwire's then record 70-homer season in 1998 came with the Cardinals, but he also set the MLB rookie home run record with 49 homers for Oakland in 1987 before Aaron Judge and then Pete Alonso shattered it. Simply put, McGwire hit a lot of dingers.
14. Ryan Howard — Philadelphia Phillies
With Phillies: 13 seasons
Best season: 2006 (5.2 WAR, .313/.425/.659, 58 homers, MVP)
Howard's overall value is often debated because of the five-year, $125 million extension he signed in 2010. There's absolutely no debating his place in Phillies history. Howard led MLB in home runs twice, won Rookie of the Year and MVP in back-to-back seasons, and then added three top-five MVP finishes. He was a beast at his peak.
15. Steve Garvey — Los Angeles Dodgers
With Dodgers: 14 seasons
Best season: 1974 (4.4 WAR, .312/.342/.469, MVP)
During his peak years in Los Angeles, Garvey was selected to eight straight All-Star games, finished top ten in MVP voting five times, and won four Gold Gloves. When it mattered most, Garvey hit .346/.571/.942 in 45 postseason games as a Dodger.
16. Todd Helton — Colorado Rockies
With Rockies: 17
Best season: 2000 (8.9 WAR, .372/.463/.698)
The Coors Field factor will hurt Helton's Hall of Fame case, but it won't dampen his place in Rockies history. He's the best player they've ever had since their inaugural season in 1993. Over 17 seasons, Helton posted a robust .316/.414/.539 batting line while earning five All-Star selections and three Gold Gloves.
17. Carlos Delgado — Toronto Blue Jays
With Blue Jays: 12 seasons
Best season: 2000 (7.3 WAR, .344/.470/.664, 41 homers, 57 doubles, 137 RBIs)
Delgado’s peak was incredible. Over his last eight seasons in Toronto, he hit at least 30 home runs and drove in no less than 90 runs in each season. Somehow, he was only a two-time All-Star, which might make him the most underrated player on this list.
18. Rafael Palmeiro — Texas Rangers
With Rangers: 10 seasons
Best season: 1993 (6.9 WAR, .295/.371/.554, 37 homers)
Palmeiro won't be the most popular choice due to his past failed PED test and his time spent at designated hitter late in his career. Still, he's the clear choice after posting a .290/.378/.519 career batting line and hitting 321 of his 544 career home runs in Texas.
19. Freddie Freeman — Atlanta Braves
With Braves: 10 seasons
Best season: 2016 (6.3 WAR, .302/.400/.569, 34 homers)
This will be Freeman's 11th season in MLB, and he's still only 30. That's pretty crazy to think about. So is his consistency. The four-time All-Star has hit between .295 and .309 over the last four seasons, while also adding a Gold Glove to his resume.
20. Cecil Cooper — Milwaukee Brewers
With Brewers: 11 seasons
Best season: 1980 (6.8 WAR .352/.387/.539, 25 homers, All-Star, Gold Glove)
Had Prince Fielder stayed in Milwaukee another season or two, this spot might be his. As is, it's impossible to overlook Cooper's productive run. The left-handed slugger led "Harvey's Wallbangers" during the late 1970s and early 1980s, posting a .316/.354/.504 batting line with 156 homers from 1977-83.
21. Paul Goldschmidt — Arizona Diamondbacks
With D-backs: 8 seasons
Best season: 2015 (8.3 WAR, .321/.435/.570, 33 homers)
Goldschmidt was Arizona's franchise player for most of the last decade. During that time, he slugged 246 home runs, earned three top-three finishes in the NL MVP balloting, six All-Star selections and three Gold Gloves.
22. Adrián González — San Diego Padres
With Padres: 5 seasons
Best season: 2009 (6.9 WAR, .277/.407/.551, 40 homers, All-Star)
Though his time in San Diego was brief, González was the most productive and best all-around first baseman the Padres have ever had. In five seasons, he hit .288 with 161 home runs. He also won two Gold Glove awards.
23. Keith Hernandez — New York Mets
With Mets: 7 seasons
Best season: 1984 (6.3 WAR, .311/.409/.449, 15 homers, MVP runner up)
If you prefer longevity, Ed Kranepool's 17-year Mets career would get the nod. For impact, though, it's clearly Hernandez. After arriving in 1983, he won six straight Gold Gloves for New York while posting a .299/.385/.448 batting line over seven seasons.
24. Anthony Rizzo — Chicago Cubs
With Cubs: 8 seasons
Best season: 2015 (6.4 WAR, .278/.387/.512, 31 homers, All-Star)
We're sure there are some Cap Anson fans in the house. Unfortunately, he doesn't qualify because his incredible career actually predates the Cubs moniker. We're sure there are some Frank Chance, Ernie Banks and Mark Grace supporters out there, too. To the Banks backers, stay tuned. To everyone else, Rizzo is a three-time All-Star who starred during the most important season in franchise history.
25. Ryan Zimmerman — Washington Nationals
With Nationals: 15 seasons
Best season: 2009 (7.3 WAR, .292/.364/.525, 33 homers, All-Star)
Zimmerman spent most his career at third base, but his path to that position was blocked by Anthony Rendon's strong final three seasons in Washington. Then we looked at first base and realized that Zimmerman qualifies and Adam LaRoche wasn’t the right answer. Zimmerman has been with Washington since the beginning. He's the franchise leader in hits (1,784) and home runs (270), and he owns the team's first ever World Series home run. He's earned this spot.
26. Alvin Davis — Seattle Mariners
With Mariners: 8 seasons
Best season: 1984 (6.0 WAR, .284/.391/.497, 27 homers, Rookie of the Year)
A tough call between Alvin Davis and John Olerud. Overall, Olerud had more longevity and a better all-around career. But Davis did all of his damage with Seattle, which earned him a spot in the franchise's Hall of Fame. This 1997 endorsement from Ken Griffey Jr. doesn't hurt, either.
27. Eric Hosmer — Kansas City Royals
With Royals: 7 seasons
Best season: 2017 (4.4 WAR, .318/.385/.498, 25 homers)
This might not be a popular call in Kansas City. After all, Mike Sweeney is second on the franchise's all-time home run list, and then Hosmer recently left in free agency. Nonetheless, we give the edge to Hosmer due to his all-around game — which includes four Gold Glove Awards — and his role in the 2015 World Series championship.
28. Derrek Lee — Miami Marlins
With Marlins: 6 seasons.
Best season: 2005 with Cubs (.335/.418/.662, 46 homers)
Lee's best seasons were with the Cubs, but since Miguel Cabrera’s Marlins days were spent in the outfield the only other viable option is sentimental favorite. Lee’s multiple Gold Gloves tip the scales completely in his favor.
29. Wally Joyner — Los Angeles Angels
With Angels: 7 seasons
Best season: 1987 (4.1 WAR, .285/.366/.528, 34 homers)
With Albert Pujols checked off the list and Rod Carew's best seasons coming in Minnesota, we’re left here with Wally Joyner. He’s not a bad third option. He actually earned MVP votes in 1986 and 1987. He’s just not a spectacular one, either, after posting an 18.9 bWAR with the Angels.
30. Carlos Peña — Tampa Bay Rays
With Rays: 5 seasons
Best season: 2007 (7.2 WAR, .282/.411/.627, 46 homers)
Peña's best season was also the best individual season in Rays history. Peña hit 46 homers during that 2007 season and 163 overall with the Rays, which is second only to Evan Longoria (261). Those numbers give him the edge over Fred McGriff.
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