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10 Greatest First Basemen in Major League Baseball History

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Some of the greatest players in baseball history have played first base. However, it’s difficult to rank the 10 best of all-time because, as one of the least physically demanding defensive positions in the game, there is a long history of players beginning their careers elsewhere before shifting to first base later.

For example, Rod Carew split his career nearly down the middle between second and first base, and won the 1977 AL MVP after making the switch to first. Jim Thome, who began his career as a third baseman and ended as a designated hitter, had his best years as a first baseman – including eight straight seasons with at least 30 home runs. Frank Thomas actually spent most of his career as a DH, and Stan Musial, who played more than 1,000 career games at first and won one of his three NL MVPs as an everyday first baseman, played nearly twice as many games in the outfield.

Also, Miguel Cabrera could go down as one of the greatest first basemen ever, but he has played nearly 700 games at third base (including both AL MVP seasons) and more than 300 in the outfield. Similarly, some of Hall of Famer Tony Perez’s greatest seasons (1967-70 in particular) came when he played third base on an everyday basis.

Because their time was split so much between other positions, none made our list of the top 10 first basemen in baseball history. Others like George Sisler, a Hall of Famer whose single-season hit record of 257 stood from 1920 until 2004, and won the 1922 AL MVP when he hit .420/.467/.594, narrowly missed the cut. The same can be said for Mark McGwire, who broke Roger Maris’ single-season home run record with 70 in 1998, and though tainted by the steroid era, played a big role in helping baseball recover from a damaging player strike in 1994.

So, who did make our list? We present the top 10 first basemen in MLB history.

10. Jeff Bagwell

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Houston Astros, 1991-2005
4-time All-Star; 3-time Silver Slugger
1994 Gold Glove recipient
1991 NL Rookie of the Year
1994 NL MVP
Key stats: .297/.408/.540, 2,314 hits, 1,517 runs, 449 home runs, 1,529 RBIs
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 2017

One of the most consistent and productive first basemen in recent history, Bagwell shifted across the infield from third base after he was acquired by the Houston Astros in 1990 in a trade with the Boston Red Sox. Across 15 years in Houston, Bagwell posted 79.6 career WAR that ranks No. 38 among position players. More athletic than most at his position, Bagwell also hit 30 home runs and stole 30 bases in the same season twice (1997, ‘99), making him the only first baseman in MLB history to join the 30-30 club more than once. Bagwell received 86.2 percent of the vote in his seventh year of Hall of Fame eligibility in 2017, securing his place in Cooperstown.

9. Harmon Killebrew

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Washington Senators, 1954-60; Minnesota Twins, 1961-74, Kansas City Athletics, 1975
1969 AL MVP
Key stats: .256/.376/.509, 2,086 hits, 1,283 runs, 573 home runs, 1,584 RBIs
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 1984

Killebrew was one of the most fearsome power hitters of his generation, and his 573 career home runs rank No. 11 on the all-time list. In fact, Killebrew held the American League record for home runs by a right-handed hitter from his retirement in 1975 until Alex Rodriguez passed him in 2008. Killebrew led the AL in homers six times and launched 40 or more in eight separate seasons. In 1969, Killebrew put together his best season, tying a career-high and leading the majors with 49 home runs, driving in a personal-best 140 runs while drawing an AL-leading 145 walks and posting a league-best .427 on-base percentage on his way to his lone MVP.

8. Hank Greenberg

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Detroit Tigers, 1930-41; ‘45-46; Pittsburgh Pirates, 1947
4-time All-Star
1935, ‘40 AL MVP
1935, ’40 World Series champion
Key stats: .301/.419/.555, 2,468 hits, 1,494 runs, 521 home runs, 1,704 RBIs
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 1956

Had he not missed nearly four full seasons to military service during the prime of his career, Greenberg might have made a strong case to be the greatest first baseman in baseball history. Prior to his 47-month stint in the U.S. Army (the longest for any big leaguer) in World War II, Greenberg won two AL MVPs and led the AL in home runs and RBIs three times apiece. His 184 RBIs in 1937 still stands as the third most in a single season. Greenberg also helped Detroit win two World Series. After he returned from the war, Greenberg played three more seasons, leading the AL in both home runs (44) and RBIs (127) in 1946.

7. Johnny Mize

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St. Louis Cardinals, 1936-41; New York Giants, 1942, ‘46-49; New York Yankees, 1949-53
10-time All-Star
1949-53 (Yankees) World Series champion
Key stats: .312/.397/.562, 2,011 hits, 1,118 runs, 359 home runs, 1,337 RBIs
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 1981

Like Hank Greenberg, Mize missed a big chunk of his prime to World War II, including the entirety of the 1943-45 seasons. A two-time runner-up in the NL MVP voting, Mize won the 1939 batting title, led the NL in home runs and RBIs twice each and paced the league in slugging percentage four times before he left for the war. After his return, Mize posted arguably his best single season in 1947, in which he led the majors in home runs (51), RBIs (138) and runs scored (137), all of which were career highs. Mize ended his career as a part-time player with the New York Yankees, and was part of five consecutive World Series-winning teams from 1949-53.

(Photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame Web site, baseballhall.org)

6. Eddie Murray

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Baltimore Orioles, 1977-88, ‘96; Los Angeles Dodgers, 1989-91, ‘97; New York Mets, 1992-93; Cleveland Indians, 1994-96; Anaheim Angels, 1997
8-time All-Star; 3-time Silver Slugger
3-time Gold Glove recipient
1977 AL Rookie of the Year
1983 (Orioles) World Series champion
Key stats: .287/.359/.476, 3,255 hits, 1,627 runs, 504 home runs, 1,914 RBIs
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 2003

One of the most underrated sluggers of all-time; Murray also was one of the most consistent hitters during the final quarter of the 20th century. Though he never won MVP honors or hit more than 33 home runs in a single season (making him the only member of the 500-homer club to never hit 40), Murray ranks 10th in baseball history in total bases (5,397), is No. 13 on the all-time hits list with 3,255 and posted 68.3 career WAR that ranks No. 77 among position players. And, as a fun piece of trivia, Murray holds the big league record with 128 career sacrifice flies.

5. Roger Connor

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Troy Trojans, 1880-82; New York Gothams/Giants, 1883-91, ‘93-94; Philadelphia Phillies, 1892; St. Louis Browns, 1894-97
Key stats: .316/.397/.486, 2,467 hits, 1,620 runs, 138 home runs, 1,323 RBIs
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 1976

Baseball’s first home run king, Connor hit 138 homers from 1880-97, including a career-high 17 for the New York Gothams in 1887 and a league-leading 14 in ‘90. It was Connor that Babe Ruth passed on the all-time home run list 23 years later.

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A true star in his day, Connor still ranks among the top 100 players to ever play in several categories, including WAR (84.1), triples (233), runs scored (1,620), runs created (1,497), batting average (.316), on-base percentage (.397) and OPS (.883).

(Photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame Web site, baseballhall.org)

4. Cap Anson

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Rockford Forest Citys, 1871; Philadelphia Athletics, 1872-75; Chicago White Stockings/Colts, 1876-97
Key stats: .334/.394/.447, 3,435 hits, 1,999 runs, 97 home runs, 2,075 RBIs
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 1939

In many ways, baseball was a very different game prior to the turn of the 20th century. However, thanks to its long history of meticulous record-keeping, we can still compare players from nearly every era – including those that predate the birth of the American League in 1901, which is generally considered the beginning of baseball’s modern era.

Anson, who played in the National Association from 1871-75 and in the National League from 1876-97, was one of the first great players – and the greatest first baseman of his time. Anson won four NL batting titles, including a career-high .399 average in 1881, and led the league in RBIs eight times, helping him to place third all-time with 2,075. Anson was the first player in history to accumulate more than 3,000 hits, and his 3,435 career hits rank No. 7 on the all-time list. His 1,999 runs rank ninth.

(Photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame Web site, baseballhall.org)

3. Albert Pujols

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St. Louis Cardinals, 2001-11; Los Angeles Angels, 2012-Present
10-time All-Star; 6-time Silver Slugger
2-time Gold Glove recipient
2001 NL Rookie of the Year
2005, ’08-09 NL MVP
2006, ’09 (Cardinals) World Series champion
Key stats (through 2016 season): .309/.392/.573, 2,825 hits, 1,670 runs, 591 home runs, 1,817 RBIs

Few players in history have exploded onto the scene like Pujols, who had played just three games above Class A prior to making the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster out of spring training in 2001. He immediately proved to be one of the best players in the game as a 21-year-old rookie by hitting .329/.403/.610 with 37 home runs and 130 RBIs, winning Rookie of the Year honors in a landslide, earning a spot on the NL All-Star squad and a Silver Slugger award, and finishing fourth in the voting for NL MVP. While he played outfield primarily across his first three seasons, Pujols did play a combined 125 games at first base over that time before moving there permanently in 2004.

Since making first his primary position, Pujols has won three MVPs and has finished in the top three of the voting on three other occasions, while leading the Cardinals to two World Series titles. He also won two Gold Gloves as a first baseman. After seeing his production decline since leaving the Cardinals as a free agent following the 2011 season, Pujols hit 31 home runs and drove in 119 runs in 2016 – a personal best since signing with the Angels.

Overall, Pujols has put together an incredible offensive career in which he ranks ninth in home runs (591), is 11th all-time in slugging percentage (.573), 15th in OPS (.965), and No. 20 in both RBIs (1,817) and WAR (101.1).

2. Jimmie Foxx

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Philadelphia Athletics, 1925-35; Boston Red Sox, 1936-42; Chicago Cubs, 1942, ‘44; Philadelphia Phillies, 1945
9-time All-Star
1932-33, ‘38 AL MVP
1929-30 (Athletics) World Series champion
Key stats: .325/.428/.609, 2,646 hits, 1,751 runs, 534 home runs, 1,922 RBIs
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 1951

While the New York Yankees were growing into baseball’s most dominant franchise in the late 1920s and ‘30s, the Philadelphia Athletics made life very difficult for their rivals by winning three straight pennants from 1929-31, including the World Series 1929 and ‘30.

One of the stars of those heavy-hitting A’s teams was Foxx, who hit 30 or more home runs and drove in 118 or more in all three seasons, then blossomed into one of the greatest hitters in history. Foxx won the AL MVP in 1932 after leading the majors with 58 home runs and 169 RBIs, as well as a .749 slugging percentage and 1.218 OPS. The following season, Foxx won the AL Triple Crown with a .356 batting average, 48 home runs and 163 RBIs to win the MVP a second time. His third came in 1938 as a member of the Boston Red Sox, when Foxx led the league in average (.349), on-base-percentage (.462), slugging (.704), and RBIs (175) and ranked second with 50 home runs.

Foxx was just the second player in big league history to record 500 career home runs, and did so roughly a month shy of his 33rd birthday – making him the youngest to accomplish the feat until Alex Rodriguez in 2007. He posted 97.4 career WAR, which ranks No. 22 all-time among position players, and he is fourth on the all-time list in slugging (.609), fifth in OPS (1.038), ninth in RBIs (1,922) and No. 18 in home runs (534).

(Photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame Web site, baseballhall.org)

1. Lou Gehrig

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New York Yankees, 1923-39
7-time All-Star
1927, ‘36 AL MVP
1927-28, ‘32, ’36-38 World Series champion
Key stats: .340/.447/.632, 2,721 hits, 1,888 runs, 493 home runs, 1,995 RBIs
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 1939

Gehrig made his first appearance as a member of the Yankees as a 20-year old in 1923. However, the Hall of Fame legend who was to become the “Iron Horse” didn’t become an everyday player until 1925, when he began an incredible streak of 2,130 consecutive games played that stood as the record until Cal Ripken broke it in 1995.

Gehrig won two AL MVPs, including 1927 in which he was a member of arguably the greatest lineup of all-time and set a single-season record with 175 RBIs. In 1931, Gehrig drove in 185 runs, which still stands as an AL record and has only been topped by Hack Wilson’s 191 in 1930.

Across his 17-year career, Gehrig led all of baseball in home runs three times, and led the majors in RBIs on four occasions. He finished his career third in slugging percentage (.632) and OPS (1.080), fifth in on-base percentage (.447), and sixth in RBIs (1,995). Gehrig leads all players that played the majority of their careers at first base with 112.4 WAR, which ranks No. 13 among all position players.

— Rankings by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Allen's work can also be found on FanSided.com. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.