Best of the Best: First Basemen
By Mike Franz
Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
With the off-season being at an essential standstill for the Orioles as far as the news goes, I thought I would bring you, the reader, a weekly list of the top five Orioles of all time for each position (second base, catcher, etc). Last week, I ranked the top five center fielders with the late Paul Blair taking the number one spot. Today, I saw the temperature was 33 degrees when I woke up. So in honor of the immortal “number 33,” I am going to rank the top five first basemen in Orioles history.
The most important quality a player must have at the first base position is great flexibility. With the pitcher and the other infielders fielding ground balls, it falls on the first baseman to complete the play and catch their throws. This is easier said than done with some of these throws varying from being at their feet to being high above their head. First basemen make the other infielders look good more often than not. Brooks Robinson attested to this fact when reflecting on his and Boog Powell‘s relationship on the field, “I’m here to tell you, this guy could field.” He continued in saying, “You know, every time I’d make a bad throw to Boog he’d have to scoop it out of the dirt.”
Along with flexibility, a successful first baseman must also have quick reflexes, as well, to snag hard hit balls down the first base side. They can be considered the unsung heroes of the game from a defensive aspect. That can be the case when looking at these five I picked, but their bats surely made up for it.
This list is based purely on the player’s statistics in seven categories while said player was with the Orioles organization. The seven categories I will be judging them in are batting average, fielding percentage (at first base), games played (at first base), All Star games (if applicable), Gold Gloves (if applicable), RBIs, and home runs. Here we go!
5. Jeff Conine
Although he was only an Oriole for six years, Jeff Conine certainly was a consistent hitter when wearing orange and black. Batting .287 over his six seasons with the team made this point evident. He also knew how to work the count to his advantage and produce a lot of walks; 227 as a matter of fact. Even though Conine never won a Gold Glove, he did maintain a .992 fielding percentage while at first base in Baltimore.
Conine was a fan favorite. Trying to sign as many autographs as he could, he was definitely loved by the city of Baltimore. I, for one, was extremely excited when I heard the Orioles signed him back in 2006. In 2006, he served as more of a utility player, but still played a lot of his games at first base. Unfortunately due to old age, Conine was nearing the end of his career and the O’s traded him away to the Phillies, immediately following an afternoon game late in the season. Conine is considered “Mr. Marlin”. With that being said, he certainly made his name known while with the Orioles organization and for that we thank him.
4. Chris Davis
This past season was Chris Davis‘ breakout season as an Oriole. Fans were happy with his batting numbers at the end of the 2012 season, but at the end of the 2013 season, they were ecstatic about them. In 2013, he broke Brady Anderson’s single season home run record as an Oriole. Davis hit 53 round-trippers which was a career high for them. He also racked up 138 RBIs (another career high). In his three years with the Orioles, Davis has had a .278 BA, a .346 OBP, and a .554 SLG.
Davis also proved to be an extraordinary defensive first baseman as he recorded a .996 fielding percentage. He helped Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy get Gold Gloves by stretching out for many of their throws over to first. He was recognized for his great play this past season by being named an American League All Star (his first All Star Game).
Davis also was awarded the Silver Slugger Award and finished third in the MVP voting. The reason why I have him farther down in the list is because he needs to have more solid years batting with the ball club in order to show the 2013 season was not just a lucky year for the 27 year old. Also, he struck out an enormous amount this past year (199 times). This needs to change before he can jump these next three guys on this list.
3. Jim Gentile
Nicknamed “Diamond Jim,” Jim Gentile‘s MLB career only lasted nine years. In that time, he spent four seasons with Baltimore. As an Oriole, Gentile almost hit 400 RBIs (just two shy). Gentile came to Baltimore in 1960. That season he hit 98 RBIs, 21 homeruns, and was named to the 1960 All Star Game. In 1961, Gentile had his best season of his career. He batted .302 and had a .423 OBP. That year he also hit 141 RBIs and five grand slams, two of which were in the same game.
This three-time All Star’s ability did not stop on the offensive front. He was also a solid fielder as well, only committing 43 errors in a total of 561 games as an Oriole.
Unfortunately, Gentile’s time in Baltimore was cut short when he was traded to Kansas City for cash and first baseman, Norm Siebern. Although he was an Oriole for a limited amount of time, he certainly could score runs when with the club.
2. Boog Powell
You knew when this player was coming to bat because the crowd at Memorial Stadium would do their famous chant of “BOOOOGGG!!!” This chant worried pitchers silly because they knew a hitter with power was stepping into the batter’s box. In his fourteen years with the organization, Powell hit an impressive 303 home runs. His bat, coupled with his waist line, was bigger than all the other players’.
This Florida native made it to the All Star Game four consecutive years and, in that time, he was also named the 1970 Major League Baseball Most Valuable Player. Coincidentally, the Orioles won their second World Series that year as well. Boog surprisingly never won a Gold Glove in his career. Brooks surely thought he should have however as he knew how important Powell was in his success at third base.
Powell held a .992 fielding percentage at first base over a 13 year span (He played left field in 1961). The big guy could reach for the ball like no one else. A perfect example of this was during the 1970 World Series during Brooks’ famous off balance throw to get the hitter out. What most do not realize is that Powell has to snag the ball, after it made a single hop off the artificial turf, before the batter reached first.
Although Powell was 230 pounds, he sometimes went unnoticed on defense, with the limelight going to Brooks and Frank Robinson. His impeccable defense and his ability to hit the long ball make him the number two player on this list. The reason why he is not number one is because his career batting average in Baltimore (.266) left something to be desired. The player who received the number one spot was a switch-hitter who could not only hit consistently, but also hit with power.
1. Eddie Murray
Powell had the “BOOOGG!!” chant. This player had his own of “EDDIE! EDDIE! EDDIE!” Eddie Murray spent 13 years in Baltimore. In that time he was a trend setter as a hitter. Not only did he switch-hit, but he was the first batter to be able to do that and not surrender any power in his bat at all.
If you do not believe me, look at his stats. In his first five years with Baltimore, he hit 133 home runs and 292 extra-base hits. Eddie had made many memories in Memorial Stadium. When he came back to Baltimore in 1996, he had made a very special memory at Camden Yards when he hit his 500th career home run into the seats in right-center field. Eddie had many accolades as well in his time with the O’s.
He not only was a seven time All Star and named American League Rookie of the Year in 1977. He also was a three-time Gold Glove winner and a two-time Silver Slugger Award winner. None of these compare to the ultimate trophy of being inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. This is the pinnacle of any baseball player’s career. Murray was inducted in 2003.
In the ball club’s history, Murray ranks third in hits, runs, and RBIs. He is also second in the home run category, behind Cal Ripken Jr. In his career at first base with the Orioles, he had a .993 fielding percentage and had a overall .294 batting average.
This Hall of Famer gave all of Baltimore not only a third World Series trophy, but also thirteen unforgettable years. He helped start “Oriole Magic” during the 1979 game against the Tigers and he is now immortalized in Camden Yards with his statue in Monument Park in center field.
Well that is the list. I want to note that the reason why Rafael Palmeiro was not on this list was because he was found guilty of using PEDs. Any player found guilty of using PEDs will not be eligible for these lists. I’d like to hear your feedback below. Anyone you think I left out or if the order should be different, just leave a comment. Next Tuesday, I will be doing another “Best of the Best.” You have the decision of what position I should write about next, comment below and I will pick the most popular.