Hall of Fame Index: First Base Tiers

As we continue through our journey of looking at the top 50 players at each position we discover the importance of looking at tiers instead of looking at simple rankings of players. Of course, we also might find your favorite first baseman in here as well. However, the most important reason to go through this exercise is to definitively determine the tier one players not yet in the Hall of Fame.

Players in the Hall of Fame will be bolded with a “B” and “V to show how they made it into the Hall of Fame. As we saw last time, the tier one players were almost universally Hall of Famers. Tier two guys were mixed with those in the Hall of Fame often having compelling cases based on external factors that limited their ability to enter tier one. Some will make arguments for other tier two guys and they aren’t without merit, but it also serves to water down the Hall of Fame.

Tiers three and four have some Hall of Famers in them, but none are qualified for the Hall of Fame. They are in because the Veterans Committee devolved into cronyism rather than electing players on merit. Some of our favorite players are here and they are still good players, but have flaws that limit their fitness.

Tier One

 CareerPeakTotal
Lou Gehrig (B)326.5259.6586.1
Albert Pujols 283.4228.1507.5
Jimmie Foxx (B)285.8221.2507.0
Roger Conner (V)293.1182.2425.3
Jeff Bagwell (B)237.5186.1423.6
Cap Anson (V)261.5147.2408.7
Frank Thomas (B)227.0174.8401.8
Dan Brouthers (V)224.2169.6393.8
Miguel Cabrera 219.3173.3392.6
Johnny Mize (V)207.1184.7391.8
Eddie Murray (B)228.1153.4381.5
Jim Thome (B)218.6154.9373.5
Rafael Palmeiro220.7149.4370.1
Willie McCovey (B)213.5150.9364.4
Harmon Killebrew (B)202.7154.3357.0
Dick Allen 188.4168.4356.8

So, four players on the above list are not in the Hall of Fame and two of them are currently active. That leaves Palmeiro and Allen. As we know, Palmeiro has extenuating circumstances that are keeping him from the Hall of Fame. Interestingly enough, he has been playing in the Atlantic League for the past couple of years and even posted a 900+ OPS last year. There has been talk of him getting back into organized baseball. Maybe that will start the clock over with the BBWAA.

Either way, that leaves Allen as the only viable candidate left. There is some question of where he should be categorized. He played more games at first base than third base, but arguably had his best seasons as a third baseman. All that being said, he should be in the Hall of Fame and should be one of the players that gets the attention of the new Veterans Committee.

Tier Two

 CareerPeakTotal
Keith Hernandez182.0160.0342.0
Mark McGwire196.9141.4338.3
Joey Votto173.8162.6336.4
Todd Helton179.6155.7333.3
Hank Greenberg (B)172.1154.5326.6
Tony Perez (B)182.7141.9324.6
Bill Terry (V)166.8152.7319.5
John Olerud175.9139.5315.4
George Sisler (B)166.6147.6314.2
Jason Giambi165.3143.1308.4
Will Clark 174.7133.3308.0
Fred McGriff177.9127.8305.7
Norm Cash169.6133.7303.3

I should say a word or two about Keith Hernandez. Brian Kenney from the MLB Network is just one of the significant baseball journalists that champion his cause. Yes, he is usually regarded as the best fielding first baseman ever and he got on base with great proficiency. He is close to being a tier one guy, but just isn’t quite there. This isn’t to say that he shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame, but he shouldn’t be the priority.

Officially, Votto is the only active player, but there are some that have not been exposed to the BBWAA ballot yet. Jason Giambi and Todd Helton are not on the ballot yet, so we don’t know how the BBWAA will respond to their candidacies, but since Helton played in Colorado and Giambi was implicated in the steroids scandal, neither figures to get a ton of support when they do get on the ballot.

In terms of the Hall of Famers here, we know Greenberg’s story (missed seasons due to World War II) but the other three are all questionable Hall of Famers. I hashed the cases of Perez and Sisler in an earlier article. Terry was the last National League player to hit over .400. Is that fact alone enough to throw a borderline career over the top? That’s hard to say, but there is a case to be made I guess.

Tier Three

 CareerPeakTotal
Jake Beckley (V)186.1104.0290.1
David Ortiz169.5115.0284.5
Orlando Cepeda (V)162.5122.1284.6
Mark Teixeira149.8130.4280.2
Carlos Delgado149.1130.7279.8
Gil Hodges139.5137.0276.5
Ed Konetchy153.2123.3276.5
Frank Chance (V)141.2128.3269.5
Adrian Gonzalez135.7132.0267.7
Mark Grace150.7116.1266.8
Dave Foutz133.0132.0265.0

There are stronger feelings around tier three then there are around tier two. Ortiz and Hodges have fierce defenders, but when you see them surrounded by the guys they are surrounded with you get a tequila shot of where they actually stand in the history of the game. However, to illustrate the case for Ortiz we compare him to his three contemporaries here, but we will do it with the A,B,C, and D test.

 OPS+RbaserOW%wRC+wOBA
Player A138-25.678135.391
Player B129-34.620127.359
Player C141-39.688140.392
Player D126-8.639127.371

Which one is Ortiz? If you guessed Player C you would be right and Player C is the best hitter on the board. However, he is the best hitter on the board. He spent nearly all of his time as a designated hitter, so while Adrian Gonzalez (B) and Mark Teixeira (D) may not have been brilliant first basemen, they were decent enough to play their full-time. Delgado (A) also spent time at designated hitter, but spent enough time at first to mitigate the difference on the offensive end.

The point being that when we get attached to a player good or bad we sometimes lost objectivity. Ortiz has a stellar postseason reputation that is likely well-deserved. How much should that count towards his Hall of Fame case? Well, that is debatable, but for me it is hard to take a guy from tier three and bypass a guy that is in tier one.

Tier Four

 CareerPeakTotal
Don Mattingly135.7125.1260.8
Dolph Camilli131.6128.6260.2
Boog Powell139.5113.0252.5
Fred Tenney139.2105.5244.7
Joe Judge146.597.4243.9
Steve Garvey131.7108.4240.1
Harry Davis125.8112.7238.5
Jim Bottomley (V)124.5110.6235.2
Jake Daubert135.0100.0235.0
Kent Hrbek122.2108.3230.5

Tier four is a treasure chest full of interesting characters. Mattingly was the best player in baseball for five or six seasons before back injuries wrecked his career. With all of the excitement over guys like Mookie Betts and Mike Trout, he is a great reminder of why we wait ten seasons before we profile any player. Meanwhile, Powell and Garvey were on some great teams and were prominent players on those teams.

Bottomley is not the worst Hall of Famer at first base. George Kelly didn’t even crack the top 50 and played in the same era as Bottomley. Both were dubious selections by the Veterans Committee at a time with numerous dubious selections. Simply put, the numbers he put up might look special to some but came at a time when everyone was putting up numbers. This is why we utilize something like the index to distill out the effects of time and place.

Like with the catchers, you see some prominent players on prominent teams here. Number 50 on the list played a key role in two World Series championships in Minnesota. It might be overstating it, but those two titles might be the reason why there is still baseball in Minnesota. Powell and Garvey had their moments as well. There just weren’t enough of them to push them into the higher three tiers. 

Author: sbarzilla

I have written three books about baseball including The Hall of Fame Index. I also write for thefantatasyfix.com. You can follow me on twitter @sbarzilla.

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