This is one of the few positions where you could make a good case for a current player making the final ballot - if I hadn’t already said the active players are not eligible. That player is, of course, Albert Pujols. Depending on what happens in the rest of his career, he could end up as only the second player at 1B (50% or more of games there) to be worth more than a hundred bWAR. He currently sits at 99.6. However, it’s far from a sure thing: if he had retired five years ago, he would have been there already, since Pujols was worth 101.4 bWAR through the end of 2016. But he hasn’t so much declined as plummeted off a cliff. He hasn’t been worth 0.4 bWAR in any of the five years since, and the total is -1.8 bWAR.
He turns 42 on Sunday - and that’s presuming he was telling the truth about his age when he was signed, which some people doubt. But presuming that is legit, only two players aged 42 or higher have put up seasons worth 0.4 bWAR or higher since 1985: Andres Galarraga in 2003, and the evergreen Julio Franco, who did so on three occasions, including being worth 1.1 bWAR in 2004, at age 45. Pujols does not currently even have a club for 2022, having been released by the Angels mid-way through the final year of his contract with them, then finishing out the year on the Dodgers. I think he’ll end up below the 100 bWAR total for his career, though still is an easy first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Putting Pujols to one side, the chart below lists the ten best 1B by bWAR. The names go to the player’s pages on Baseball-Reference.com, and this chart gives you the numbers beyond the top ten.
Best 1B ever
The obvious candidate is #1 Gehrig, not least because his career tragically all but ended after his age 35 season. He was dead before he was 38, due to the disease which now bears his name. While Father Time would have played its part, another 10-15 wins would have been possible (seven first-basemen were worth ten or more wins from age 36 on). But even discounting that entirely, Gehrig still put up almost 20 wins more than anyone else on the list. Over the eleven years from 1927-37, his WORST year was 7.2 bWAR. In case you’re wondering why he didn’t get a single MVP mention from 1928-30, despite being worth 26.6 bWAR, up until 1930 previous winners were ineligible, and Gehrig had won in 1927.
So, basically, I’m going to take Gehrig’s nomination as a given, and not require anyone to go to the trouble of stating the bleedin’ obvious. But the other names will be interesting. Some I’ve heard of, but don’t really know much about, e,g, Cap Anson, Jimmie Foxx, Eddie Murray - looks like I just missed the latter overlapping with my interest in baseball. The recent trio of Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire are obviously a bit more familiar, though not necessarily for good reasons. The other three? Roger Connor, Dan Brothers and Johnnie Mize? Nope, I’ve got nothing: though at least the first two were basically 19th-century players, which is before even my time.
As usual, we need to narrow the candidates down to five or thereabouts, for the final poll. This will be done largely on the basis of recs in the comments, though the decision of the judging committee i.e. me, will be final in this regard. Just identify the player in the subject line, and make your case in the body of the comment. If you agree with a choice already made, give it a rec. If you don’t see your choice, post a new comment. I will delete subsequent top-level comments about the same game. Poll to follow on Friday!