First base is a fun position to play in baseball. These players need to be ready to see a lot of action and must have the ability to scoop up low throws, snag overthrows, and stretch for wild throws to one side or the other. With this in mind, a lot of teams prefer a taller, bigger athlete with an ideal range for the position. Considering their size and stature, many of the best MLB first basemen of all time are also notoriously big power hitters who bat somewhere around the middle of the lineup, where power is necessary for scoring runs.
Speaking of power hitters, a recent study finds that MLB sluggers should thank climate change for the surge in home runs. Researchers at Dartmouth College suggest that more than 500 home runs hit since 2010 are the result of warmer and thinner air due to climate change and global warming. While the research team attributes only one percent of the sport’s recent home run surge to climate change, they add that rising temperatures could soon account for over 10 percent of the home runs hit by 2100 — especially if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at present rates. Scientists even say that baseball could be in the beginning stages of the new “climate ball” era. Good news for your favorite power hitters, but not so good for the environment.
Climate change aside, MLB fans love home runs, and the longer, the better. And speaking of long home runs, another study found that engineers have figured out a better way to measure home runs. A team of engineers from Washington State University and Delft University of Technology say that they’ve created a technique for measuring home runs using lasers, improving upon the old way that used wind tunnels to determine how baseballs cut through the air. The new laser-guided speed measurement is capable of precisely measuring the speed of a baseball off the bat and then figuring out acceleration, force, and the ball’s lift and drag properties. Great news for statisticians looking to determine the best power hitters in the MLB.
So, who is among the greats in first base history? StudyFinds did the research, consulting 10 sports and baseball-oriented websites in an effort to bring you the best MLB first basemen of all time. Our list is comprised of the five most frequently listed players from across these sites. As always, feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!
The List: Best MLB First Basemen of All Time, According to Experts
1. Lou Gehrig
Lou Gehrig takes the top spot on the list of the best MLB first basemen of all time and for good reason. Gehrig played his entire career with the New York Yankees and is perhaps the greatest Yankees player of all time, but that’s a debate for another time. For now, it’s safe to say that pretty much everyone agrees that Gehrig is one of the best first basemen and best all-around offensive players in the history of baseball. Fans simply can’t ignore Gehrig’s accomplishments on the baseball field.
“I’ll just start going through some of his accomplishments. I’ll have some broken sentences to shorten it up. Second all time in RBI per AB. Over 110 RBI in 13 consecutive seasons. 184 in 1931 is second all time and 175 in 1927 is fourth all time. His career 1,995 RBI is third all time. His career .632 SLG% is in the top five all time. .447 career OB% is fifth all time. Had at least a .410 OB% in 13 consecutive seasons. In top 10 all time in R per AB. Scored at least 115 R in 13 consecutive seasons. Scored 167 R in 1936, fourth all time. His .340 career BA is 15th all time. Had at least a .300 BA in 12 consecutive seasons,” explains Bleacher Report.
And yes, the list of Gehrig’s accomplishments goes on and on. Obviously, Gehrig was one of the purest hitters of all time. But, Gehrig was also known for his longevity. In fact, Gehrig had another famous record that wasn’t broken for decades. “Gehrig broke in with the Yankees in 1923, but it wasn’t until 1925 that his incredible consecutive game streak started. Incumbent first baseman Wally Pipp had to sit out a game due to a headache, and Gehrig took over. Gehrig would not miss another start until he retired in 1939. His 2,130 consecutive game streak lasted until 1995, when Cal Ripken Jr. finally beat it,” writes Pitcher List.
Gehrig’s epic longevity earned him the nickname “The Iron Horse.” Unfortunately, Gehrig’s health failed him later in life, making his name synonymous with the nasty disease ALS. “For his career, Gehrig had a .340 batting average, 493 home runs, 1,995 RBIs and 2,721 hits, while earning 7 All-Star berths and two AL MVP awards. Gehrig was enshrined in the Hall of Fame after retiring in 1939 due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis later called Lou Gehrig’s disease that took his life two years later,” adds Fueled by Sports.
2. Jimmie Foxx
Foxx played during the same era as Gehrig and had similar numbers to go along with him. Like Gehrig and most of the all-time great MLB first basemen, Foxx was known for his offense and his ability to hit the baseball.
Jimmie Foxx – that’s one all-time great uniform pic.twitter.com/NqPhvf8pPp
— BaseballHistoryNut (@nut_history) November 3, 2022
“Foxx was a fantastic hitter. Over his 20-year career, he won two batting titles and led the league in HRs four times and SLG and OPS five times. ‘The Beast’ hit 30 or more HRs for 12 consecutive seasons and drove in 100+ for thirteen in a row. Foxx won back-to-back MVPs in 1932 and 1933 and was the triple crown winner for the second one. He added a third MVP in 1938 as a member of the Red Sox, to whom he was traded to in December 1935. You can add to his accolades nine consecutive All-Star appearances from 1933 to 1941,” writes Pitcher List.
Back-to-back MVPs and a triple crown, which is when a player leads his league in batting average, home runs, and RBIs, are stunning accomplishments. However, Foxx also played a big role in his team’s success, and his Philadelphia Athletics were able to beat some of the best Yankees teams of all time.
“Ready to rake before he turned 19, Foxx was the offensive star of the ’29-31 A’s team that blew by the Ruth/Gehrig Yankees for three straight pennants, and also the youngest, just 23 in ’31. That was his last postseason appearance, but he went on to win three MVPs, set the right-handed HR record (later tied by Greenberg and topped by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa). The only first baseman not named Gehrig with a 10-WAR season, and the only one who comes close to Gehrig and Pujols for career value or peak value,” explains ESPN.
Jimmie Foxx’s numbers clearly suggest he’s worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence as Gehrig and Pujols. Not many first basemen are lauded for their defense. However, Foxx played defense at a level that lends him serious consideration as the best MLB first baseman of all time.
“He was a great hitter, feared, with a good eye. He had a .325 career BA and his .428 career OB% ranks in the top 15 all time. He is also in the top 20 all time in R per AB, scoring over 105 R in nine consecutive seasons. Cherry on top, extremely good defensive first baseman,” adds Bleacher Report.
3. Albert Pujols
Speaking of great hitters, the third spot on the list is for none other than the legendary Albert Pujols. The Cardinals legend deserves to be mentioned with some of MLB’s all-time great players, not just first basemen. “Pujols started his career in 2001 with a bang. En route to winning Rookie-of-the-Year, he hit 37 HRs, drove in 130 runs, and hit .329. He won his first of six Silver Sluggers that season and attended his first of ten All-Star games. Pujols terrorized the NL for the next decade, leading the league in runs five times, SLG and OPS three times, HRs twice, and RBI once. In addition, he took home the batting title in 2003, hitting a cool .359. Prince Albert won three MVPs that decade as well – in 2005, 2008, and 2009 – and established himself as the best hitter in the game,” explains Pitcher List.
Pujols won a staggering three MVPs in five years. Furthermore, Pujols is the all-time home runs and RBI leader for the first base position. “His production in recent years affects our current view of him, but I’ll take Pujols over Lou Gehrig as the greatest first baseman of all time. Pujols put up monster numbers in a tougher era, was an outstanding defensive first baseman and, while not fast, was one of the smartest baserunners I’ve ever seen. He led NL position players in WAR six straight seasons from 2005 to 2010. I’ll take that,” writes ESPN.
For the record, Pujols finally retired after the 2022 MLB season and finished his career with a whopping 703 home runs and more than 3,300 hits. Overall, Pujols played 22 years for the Cardinals, Angels, and Dodgers.
“Even if he closed his career primarily playing at DH, he put together one of the most impressive careers of any player in baseball history. Keep in mind Pujols began his career with arguably the greatest rookie season of all time… Even in the last of his 22 seasons in the majors, Pujols was producing, which is why he was able to finish his career with 703 home runs. He also got to over 3,300 hits with a career average of .296. His swing was close to perfect and his production was almost mind-blowingly consistent. There have been a few first basemen almost as good as Pujols, but he surely deserves a place at the top,” furthers Franchise Sports.
4. Hank Greenberg
Not only is Hank Greenberg one of the best MLB players of his era, but he’s also an American hero having sacrificed some of his prime years to fight in World War II. “The Hebrew Hammer as he was affectionately called, was a dominating hitter during the ‘30s and knocked in 168 runs during the 1935 season, and followed that up with an even more impressive 184 RBIs during 1937. In 1938 Greenberg belted 58 home runs which were second to Babe Ruth at the time. World War II cut short Greenberg’s career when he left only 19 games into his 1941 campaign and missed all of the 1942, 1943, 1944 seasons and over half of the 1945 season,” writes Fueled by Sports.
That’s essentially four and a half years of MLB playing time that Greenberg sacrificed to fight for his country, something that would be unheard of in today’s MLB. Regardless, Hank Greenberg was a power hitter who could light up the scoreboard with runs in a hurry.
“Hank Greenberg is the only player in the history of MLB that is in the top 10 all time in SLG%, RBI per AB and 2B per AB. His .312 career BA is great and he had over a .300 BA in eight consecutive seasons. He had a .412 OB% for his career and he had over a .400 OB% in nine consecutive seasons. One of the best and most feared hitters in history,” writes Bleacher Report.
With the way Hank Greenberg put up numbers, it’s heartbreaking to think what his career stats could have looked like had he not had to fight in a war. Still, Greenberg smashed more than 330 home runs during his time in MLB and won two World Series titles.
“During his career, Greenberg won MVP honors twice while leading the American League in home runs and RBIs four times each. He was also a five-time all-star and helped the Tigers win two World Series titles. Of course, his career numbers, including 331 home runs could have been far better if Greenberg had kept playing baseball rather than serving in the military during World War II. He put his country first, joining the Army in 1941, and didn’t return to the majors until the summer of 1945, making him a great player and an American icon,” furthers Franchise Sports.
5. Miguel Cabrera
Cabrera is the only player on this list who is still currently playing in MLB, so his story is far from complete. But, to this point, Cabrera is already widely considered to be one of the best MLB first basemen of all time and certainly deserves inclusion.
“Miguel Cabrera is the first of two active players on our list; thus, his career statistical line is still in progress. Though he hasn’t retired yet, Cabrera still belongs among the greatest first baseman of all time due to his myriad accomplishments. Cabrera has already eclipsed 3,000 hits and 500 HRs and is one of the greatest right-handed hitters of his generation,” writes Pitcher List.
Cabrera has played for only two teams over the course of his career – the Florida Marlins and the Detroit Tigers. Cabrera started with Florida before eventually moving to Detroit where he has played the majority of his career. In an era where MLB players change teams without blinking an eye, Cabrera has stayed loyal to the Tigers.
“The modern game‘s answer to Jimmie Foxx: a child prodigy at the plate who won big early, gifted with remarkable plate coverage with power. That 2010-13 run was good for an average of 8 WAR per season, or right around what Albert Pujols averaged for his 11 years with the Cardinals, to put that into perspective,” explains ESPN.
For the record, Cabrera has played a variety of positions during the course of his prolific career in MLB. From left field to third base to first base, Cabrera played them all at one point, debuting in left field. However, similar to many of the best MLB first basemen of all time, Cabrera is lauded for his offense, not his defense. In fact, Cabrera won MLB’s triple crown in 2012 after he led the league in batting average, home runs, and RBIs.
“Defensively, he never did much to stand out. However, Cabrera did hit over .300 11 times, including a run of eight consecutive seasons. That’s how he won back-to-back MVP honors in 2012 and 2013 while also winning the Triple Crown in 2012. He did win seven Silver Slugger awards, although only three came as a first baseman. Nevertheless, Cabrera’s longevity helped him to eclipse 3,000 hits and 500 homers while also batting over .300 in his career, numbers that will surely give him a one-way ticket to Cooperstown one day. Even if he didn’t do all of it as a first baseman, Cabrera’s accomplishments are too much to ignore,” adds Franchise Sports.
You might also be interested in:
- Best MLB Catchers
- Best MLB Players of All Time
- Best MLB Pitchers of All Time
- Best MLB Managers of All Time
- Bleacher Report
- Franchise Sports
- Fueled by Sports
- At The Buzzer
- Baseball Spotlight
- MLB Run
- Rookie Road
- Pitcher List
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