There have been many great first basemen in Major League history. Lou Gehrig stands out above all others followed by Jimmie Foxx and Albert Pujols. The position requires quick reflexes, amazing flexibility, and good hands. Keith Hernandez did this better than any man in history but did not have the overall offensive numbers to impress Hall of Fame voters. First base is also an offensive position. As a result, first basemen must not only catch and stretch, but hit and drive in runs as well. The following are the greatest in big league history at first base.
1. Lou Gehrig (1923-1939): Lou Gehrig joined the New York Yankees at age 20 and remained for 17 seasons. Along the way, he won two MVP awards, the 1934 Triple Crown, set the record for career grand slams, set the AL record for RBI in a season (184), knocked in nearly 2000 runs (1,992), hit 493 home runs, and played in 2,130 consecutive games. The Yankees won eight World Series in that time span. Gehrig’s overall numbers are incredible. He batted .340 for his career and finished with a 1.080 OPS. The Iron Horse led the league in runs four times, hits in 1931, doubles twice, triples in 1920, home runs three times, RBI five times, and total bases four times. He had over 200 hits eight times, topped 40 doubles seven times, hit over 30 home runs 10 times, drove in 100 runs 13 times, knocked in over 150 runs six times, scored over 100 runs 13 times, and hit .300 12 times. Gehrig saved his best for the postseason. In seven World Series, the first baseman hit .361 with 10 home runs, 35 RBI, and 1.208 OPS. The Yankees won six of those series. Gehrig might have played his final couple seasons under the influence of the disease which bears his name. If that is the case, then his 1938 season was simply incredible despite the drop off in batting to .295 and a .932 OPS.
2. Albert Pujols (2001-present): Albert Pujols was baseball's best player in the 2000s. He dominated the decade, won the 2001 Rookie of the Year and three MVPs. Pujols led the Cardinals to world titles in 2006 and 2011. In his thirteen year career, he has led the league in a major offensive category 26 times including the 2003 batting title (.359), 2010 RBI crown (118), and led twice in home runs. Phat Albert has topped 300 total bases in 12 of his 13 campaigns and posted a .900 OPS or better in 11 of 13 seasons. As of the end of the 2013 season, he's a .321 career hitter with 492 home runs, 1498 RBI, and 1.008 OPS. The 2004 NLCS MVP's postseason numbers are even better at .330 with 18 home runs, 52 RBI, and 1.046 OPS in 15 series.
3. Jimmie Foxx (1925-1942, 1944-45): Jimmie Foxx won player of the decade accolades for his work in the 1930s. He is the greatest first baseman in the history of both the A's and Red Sox. The slugger belted 30 or more home runs 12 straight years and became the second man in history after Babe Ruth to blast 500. He remains the youngest steroid free player to reach the 500 home run club. Foxx led the league in long balls on four occasions with a high of 58 in 1932. The "Beast" also topped 100 RBI in 13 consecutive years, led the league three times, and knocked in 150 or more four times. The three-time MVP dramatically declined after 1940 when alcoholism curtailed his production. Overall, Foxx finished with a .325 average, 534 home runs, 1922 RBI, 1.038 OPS, and two world championships.
4. Hank Greenberg (1930, 1933-1947): Greenberg is one the big-ifs of World War II. He missed 4 1/2 years to military service during his prime and still managed 331 home runs and 1276 RBI. If he maintained his career averages, Greenberg would have surpassed 500 home runs and 1900 RBI. Hammerin' Hank led the league in home runs and RBI four times, won two MVP awards, led the Tigers to four pennants and two world championships. The Tiger great challenged Babe Ruth's home run record in 1938, but fell short with 58 and came within one RBI of the AL record when he posted 183 in 1937. When he returned from World War II, he batted .311 and hit the game winning grand slam to win the pennant despite not playing since early 1941. Detroit traded their star to Pittsburgh after the 1946 campaign and Greenberg emerged one of Jackie Robinson's strongest supporters. Greenberg understood Robinson's plight since he was the first Jewish superstar in sports and experienced many of the same indignities as the Dodger rookie.
5. Willie McCovey (1959-1980): Willie McCovey tortured the baseball for 22 seasons. Along the way, he totaled 521 home runs, 1555 RBI, .889 OPS, and hit .270 in a pitching dominant era. In his prime, teams intentionally walked the slugger 40 plus times a season. The man downright frightened the opposition. He even intimidated Bob Gibson who declared him "the scariest hitter." McCovey led the league in home runs three times, RBI twice, made six All Star teams, won the 1959 Rookie of the Year, 1969 NL All Star Game MVP, 1969 NL MVP, and 1977 Comeback Player of the Year. Stretch became a part of pop culture history when a Peanuts cartoon strip lamented the placement of his line drive to end the 1962 World Series. The Giants threatened in Game 7 with McCovey at bat. He scorched a ball to Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson, who made the catch to end the series.
6. Eddie Murray (1977-1997): Eddie Murray might be underrated on this list. He only accumulated 3,255 hits, 504 home runs, 1,917 RBI, 1,627 runs, .287 average, 5,397 total bases, and .836 OPS. Amazingly, Murray never won a league MVP award, but he did win 1977 Rookie of the Year. The first baseman also tallied three Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers, and eight All Star appearances. Murray led the league in home runs (22) and RBI (78) in the strike-shortened 1981 season and led the Orioles to two Pennants and the 1983 World Series championship. Murray was amazingly consistent in his career leading to the moniker “Steady Eddie.”
7. George Sisler (1915-1930): George Sisler’s career spanned two eras. He began playing in the Dead Ball Era and transitioned with baseball into the Live Ball. Sisler batted .340 for his career, won two batting titles, and topped .400 twice. Gorgeous George set the record for hits in a season with 257 in 1920. Ichiro has since surpassed that total. Sisler also had seasons with 216, 246, 224, and 201 hits. In 1922, he hit .420, won the MVP award, and hit in an American League record 41 consecutive games. Joe DiMaggio broke this in 1941. On top of this, he led the league in stolen bases four times. As a result, Sisler was an all-around offensive threat.
8. Harmon Killebrew (1954-1975): Harmon Killebrew was one of the nicest men in baseball except when at bat. He earned the nickname “Killer” because he mashed the ball like few ever in history. Killebrew slugged 573 home runs when that meant something. He topped the league six times and hit 40 or more long balls on eight occasions. Killebrew’s blasts were rarely fence scrapers. Instead, his home runs were Ruthian. Killer recorded the longest home runs in the history of Metropolitan Stadium (520 feet) and Memorial Stadium (471 feet). He also cleared Tiger Stadium’s left field roof, which was exceedingly difficult to reach. Overall, Killebrew batted .256, drove in 1,584 runs, posted .884 OPS, and won the 1969 AL MVP.
9. Jim Thome (1991-2012): Jim Thome was the modern Harmon Killebrew. He was a player everyone liked and pitchers feared. He topped 100 walks on nine occasions and led the league three times. The respect came from Thome’s eye for pitches, but also from pitchers respect. The slugger averaged 39 home runs a year and exceeded 30 in a season a dozen times. Thome finished with 612 career home runs, 1,699 RBI, .276 average, .402 OBP, and .956 OPS. Although the damage came during the steroid era, Thome was one of the few sluggers that did not become embroiled in the scandal either directly or through whispers.
10. Jeff Bagwell (1991-2005): Mo Vaughn blocked Jeff Bagwell’s ascension to Boston. As a result, the Red Sox shipped the youngster to Houston. It was a monumental blunder for the Red Sox. Bagwell won the 1991 Rookie of the Year and 1994 NL MVP awards en route to a probable Hall of Fame career. Bagwell hit .297 for his career with 449 home runs, 1,529 RBI, .408 OBP, .540 slugging, and .948 OPS. The first baseman hit 30 or more home runs on nine occasions, topped 100 RBI eight times, and walked over 100 times in seven seasons. In 1994, he led the league with 104 runs, 116 RBI, .750 slugging, 300 total bases, and a ridiculous 1.201 OPS. The four time All Star won the 1994 Gold Glove and three Silver Sluggers. On top of this, Bagwell was a gamer having played in over 150 games in eleven seasons.