This is the fourth of a nine part series, detailing my personal opinion on the best retired players at each position in the “Modern Era”, or 1960’s – Present. Next, first base.
Ah yes, this is where the numbers start going up. First base has notoriously been the position where you stick your big power hitter, and just hope that he spends most of his time catching easy throws from your infielders. While the position has seen some great fielders, let’s face it, the focus for this group is hitting, so all the superlatives will be offensively related.
The Basher: Jim Thome
- 612 Home Runs most among eligible players
- .554 Slugging percentage highest among eligible players
Jim Thome was bred to do one single thing in his life: Hit a baseball really far, and really hard. Every home run was epic in its size and arc, even routine fly pops took a few extra seconds for someone to realize it wasn’t leaving the yard. He was a patient hitter (to a fault sometimes, with a whopping 2,542 career strikeouts), and when he got his pitch, he usually didn’t miss. While he led the league in homers only one time in his career (2003, he hit 47 with the Phillies), his mark of consistency, in spite of his injuries, makes him the “lumberjack” of any lineup.
- Honorable Mention: Rafael Palmiero
- Closest Active Comparison: Albert Pujols
The On-Base Machine: Todd Helton
- .414 On Base Percentage second highest among qualifiers
- 1,335 walks to 1,175 strikeouts
In the 90’s and early 2000’s, the era of the home run (“Steriod era”, whatever you want to call it), the Colorado Rockies had a first baseman that took a different approach. His goal wasn’t necessarily to hit the ball over the fence (although he still managed to do that 369 times, and lead the league in slugging percentage in 2000, an epic .682!), but rather to help his team by getting on base… and he did. A lot. Helton managed to lead the league in OBP twice (2000 and 2005), and posted an OBP over .400 every year between 2000 and 2007. He would almost always deliver a productive at bat, striking out only 100 times once in his career, and that’s why while not the sexiest superlative on this list, one could argue it might be one of the most important.
- Honorable Mention: Jeff Bagwell
- Closest Active Comparison: Joey Votto
Best Overall: Frank Thomas
- .974 OPS best among qualified players
- 521 Home Runs, more walks than strikeouts over career
This one took me by surprise, if i’m being honest, but “The Big Hurt” may have quietly put together one of the most impressive hitting records in the game. He never led the league in home runs, yet pounded 521 of them. No batting titles, but managed a career .301 average. Where Frank Thomas excelled was his ability to take an extremely disciplined approach at the plate, but merge that with outstanding raw power. He wouldn’t be the first guy to tout it, but Thomas appears to be the very best of what you’d want in a middle of the order hitter, although without the fanfare. His accomplishments did not go totally unnoticed though, and he has two MVP awards, four silver sluggers, and four All-Star appearances to go with it, making him, the best of his time, whether or not we appreciated it as we should have.
- Honorable Mention: Mark McGwire
- Closest Active Comparison: Miguel Cabrera