Sitting at 660 Home Runs, Albert Pujols Solidified Among First Base Mount Rushmoreby B.J. Martin September 15, 2020 0 comments
First base has been a position manned by some of the game’s premier hitters throughout the history of baseball. Often viewed as a position for players lacking mobility for other positions, history has shown that some of the more impressive athletes to play the game spent their careers at first base. Last weekend, Albert Pujols hit his 660th career home run, tying him for fifth-most all-time with the legendary outfielder Willie Mays.
Having one of the most prolific careers in the history of the game has clearly earned Pujols a position as one of the top four first basemen of all-time. We will examine the other deserving of placement on the Mount Rushmore of MLB first basemen. Three names stand out, leaving the fourth player a cause for some debate.
First, to qualify for the Mount Rushmore of first baseman, we are excluding players that played the majority of their major league games at another position or as a designated hitter. This removes the likes of Pete Rose, Stan Musial, Frank Thomas, and Edgar Martinez from qualifying for this list.
Owner of three Most Valuable Player awards while finishing top-three in the voting in five additional seasons, Albert Pujols’s first eleven seasons in St. Louis were simply dominant. Pujols hit .328 with 445 home runs and over 1,300 RBI before signing a record-breaking 10-year contract with the Angels. Now, in his age-40 season, Pujols has amassed 660 home runs, 669 doubles, and 2,097 runs batted in across 20 major league seasons. Young fans will recall the injury-plagued latter half of Pujols’s career with the Angels but history will ultimately paint a picture of greatness when reviewing his career accomplishments. Pujols will finish his career as one of the most-feared right-handed hitters in baseball history and can comfortably be etched into the stone of Mount Rushmore of first basemen.
The Iron Horse was more than an example of durability and commitment to the game. Gehrig was one of the finest hitters of all-time during his 17 seasons with the New York Yankees. Known more for the 2,130 consecutive games streak and the disease that ultimately cut his playing career and life short, Gehrig’s performance offensively was incredible. Gehrig was a .340 lifetime hitter averaging 40 doubles and 37 home runs across 162 games. He had three straight seasons with 47 or more doubles between 1926 and 1928 while having four seasons finishing with 45 or more home runs. Gehrig played in the shadow of Babe Ruth much of his career but finished with 493 career home runs and a .361 postseason average. We’ll never know how Gehrig’s career numbers may have expanded if not for the ALS disease that ended his career at 37 years old.
Foxx was a contemporary of Babe Ruth and would have tied Ruth’s record 60 home runs in 1932 if two of his home runs were not erased due to them occurring in games that were eventually rained out. Foxx’s career overlapped that of Gehrig but extended into the 1940s as Foxx slugged more than 50 home runs twice in his career on his way to amassing 534 during his career. Like Pujols, Foxx was a three-time Most Valuable Player and drove in more than 150 runs in during four individual seasons. Foxx was an All-Star every season 1933 through 1941 when his career effectively ended at only 34 years old. Still, Foxx would remain second on the all-time home runs list for the next three decades until Aaron, Mays, and Robinson ascended up the list. Foxx stands out above the remaining list of all-time first baseman as a step above the rest and clearly deserving of top three position on this list of the most elite first basemen ever.
The Fourth Man Debate
Eddie Murray, Harmon Killebrew, Jim Thome, Willie McCovey, Cap Anson, George Sisler, Miguel Cabrera, Mark McGwire, and Jeff Bagwell can make compelling cases as the fourth member of this illustrious group.
Anson was a baseball pioneer and has driven in as many runs as anybody except Aaron, Bonds, A-Rod, and Pujols. Sisler’s .340 lifetime average and four seasons of 200 or more hits are worthy for consideration of a player whose career was played before the 1930s.
Jim Thome, Harmon Killebrew, and Willie McCovey were all dominant sluggers who amassed 612, 573, and 521 career home runs, respectively. Eddie Murray makes a lot of sense as a switch-hitter who amassed over 3,000 hits and 500 home runs during his 21-year playing career. Murray and Thome never won MVP awards and were steady performers throughout their long careers while McCovey and Killebrew did win MVPs during their playing careers.
Bagwell’s career fWAR of 80.2 is only greater than Gehrig, Foxx, Pujols, and Anson of the players on the list or in debate for the fourth position. Mark McGwire was the first player to hit 70 home runs in a season and finished his career with 583 bombs but was a one-trick pony, finishing his 16-year career with only 1,626 hits. Miguel Cabrera won a Triple Crown, two Most Valuable Player awards, and will likely join both the 3,000-hit and 500-home run clubs in the next few seasons. Cabrera would be my selection for this list if not for a deeper look into the career of Hank Greenberg.
Greenberg’s first full season in the majors was at age 22 with the Detroit Tigers in 1933. He hit .339 with 63 doubles in his second season. Greenberg would follow that performance with a league-leading 36 home runs and 168 runs batted in during the 1935 campaign, winning his first American League MVP. In 1937, Greenberg would drive in his MLB-record 184 runs while hitting 49 doubles and 40 home runs. Greenberg was a hitting machine, consistently slugging extra-base hits year after year and finishing the 1940 season with a league-leading 50 doubles, 41 home runs, and 150 runs batted in while winning his second Most Valuable Player award.
Following the 1941 season, the Jewish-American Greenberg enlisted into the military draft just eight days after his Tigers lost to the Reds in the World Series. Two months later, the United States declared war on the axis powers, entering World War II. Greenberg’s play was already limited during the 1940 season as he began training for his military service before enlisting. Greenberg would forfeit the next four years of his MLB playing career to the military in defense of our nation’s freedom. Greenberg was a sergeant training soldiers and finished his duty scouting bombing missions for the Army Air Force in military campaigns in Southeast Asia for the allies. His 47 months of military service during World War II would be the longest of any baseball player.
Greenberg would return for a full season with the Tigers at 36 years old in 1946. He would hit an American League-leading 44 home runs and 127 runs batted for Detroit. Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg would retire at 37 years old following the 1947 season with a .313 lifetime batting average, 379 doubles, and 331 home runs. We can only imagine how Greenberg’s career numbers would look if he had played the four full seasons he missed during his career. Based on his average season numbers, we can project Greenberg hitting over 500 career doubles and close to 500 home runs if not for his service in the Army. That doesn’t take into account the possibility of Greenberg challenging Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs during his early-30s seasons that were given up in favor of fighting evil overseas. Greenberg’s sacrifice for country, mankind, and our individual freedoms give him the edge on the Mount Rushmore of MLB first basemen.
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