The Tuesday Discussion: Who Was The Greatest First Baseman Ever?
We’re going to go position-by-position around the diamond asking our writers to tell us the greatest big leaguer at each position.
We’ll start at first base.
We asked or writers, “Who was the greatest first baseman of all-time?”
Cary Greene – As far as the greatest all-time first baseman, that one’s easy as it’s Lou Gherig. Gherig leads all first basemen in MLB history in bWAR, WAR 7, JAWS and offensive WAR. Even on a list littered with Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers, Gehrig is the best, and it’s not especially close.
Paul Semendinger – .340/493/1,995, 2,130 consecutive games played, a Triple Crown, 6 World Series Championships.
It’s not always about WAR, but he’s tops there, by a ton.
1st place – Lou Gehrig, 113.7
2nd place – Albert Pujols, 99.6
It isn’t even close!
It’s good to begin this exercise with a great Yankee.
Ed Botti – Hands down, the Iron Horse, Lou Gehrig. His MLB stats almost look like Sunday Softball stats.
If I had 3 dinner guests from history to choose, he is on my list.
An exceptionally tough and resilient power-hitting first baseman who set a Major League record for consecutive games played until Cal Ripken in 1995 topped him.
Lou drove in at least 100 runs in 13 consecutive seasons (1926-38) and knocked in an American League record 185 RBIs in 1931.
A lifetime batting average of .340 with 493 home runs, two Most Valuable Player Awards (1927, 1936) and the 1934 Triple Crown.
His 2,721 career hits stood as a Yankee record until 2009, when Derek Jeter topped him.
His 163 triples remain a franchise mark.
Next on the list is the “Hitman” Don Mattingly!
Tamar Chalker – The Yankees certainly have had their share of great first basemen, but I think there is no question it is Lou Gehrig. Both his performance on the field and off are why he is one of the greatest.
Ethan Semendinger – Across MLB history there have been 4 first basemen who have collected over 3,000 hits, 11 who have hit over 500 home runs, 20 who have played 20 years (though Miguel Cabrera will make that 21 if and when the 2021 season begins), 29 to win an MVP award, and 150 to have been an All-Star.
Interestingly, though the greatest first baseman of all time did not get to 3,000 hits. Or 500 home runs. Nor did he play 20+ years in the MLB. Though, he did win 2 MVP Awards and was a 7 time All-Star.
That player was Lou Gehrig.
According to Fangraphs, Lou Gehrig has the 6th best career batting average for 1B, the best OBP, the best SLG, and of course the best OPS. He hit 493 home runs, collected 2,721 hits, and ended with a career .340/.447/.632 (1.080 OPS) triple-slash while also fighting ALS at the end of his career. “The Iron Horse” also has the best bWAR and the 2nd best fWAR (though that’s only behind Stan Musial).
Tangent: The case for Stan Musial as a first baseman is an interesting thought. He played in just over 1,000 games as a first baseman (1.016), but over his 22 year career he played the position in just 14 of those seasons while playing in the OF in 19 seasons over 1,890 games. Musial would be an interesting player to compare to Gehrig as another player who failed to reach 500 home runs, though he did collect 3,630 hits, was a 3-time MVP, a 24-time All-Star and finished with a .331/.417/.559 (.976 OPS) triple-slash. However, he is not a first baseman- regardless of what Fangraphs thinks.
Lincoln Mitchell – The best first baseman ever was Lou Gehrig. My criteria for these questions is always to look at each player in the context of their time. In that framework, it is not even close. Gehrig is one of a small handful of players including Yogi Berra and Jackie Robinson whose personal story or place in history overshadows their greatness, but Gehrig was one of the greatest sluggers ever. His career numbers “only” 493 home runs and 1995 RBIs are lower than they would have been if he had not gotten such a devastating disease at such a young age. If he had a normal decline phase of his career, he might have lost a few points of OPS+, and maybe ended up at 170 instead of the 179 where he is now, but he would have probably hit 600 home runs and driven in 2,200.
Mike Whiteman – It’s hard to make a case for anyone besides Gehrig as the best first baseman of all time. If there was a hole in his game, it might be defense, as he certainly wasn’t elite like his contemporaries George Sisler or Bill Terry, but certainly no manager ever considered sitting him on this account.
While it was a different era, Gehrig played fourteen full seasons. His average season was .340/.448/.634.
Just amazing. Best of all time.