There are some amazing offensive seasons by first basemen. And, it’s all over the board, regarding what made that particular season so impressive. George Sisler had 257 hits in 1920, batting .407 (the second highest average ever at first base – second only to Sisler’s .420 in 1922!). Stan Musial led the league in runs, hits, doubles, and triples in 1946. How great might Jeff Bagwell’s ’94 season have ended up being, had it not been for the strike? He already had 39 HR, 116 RBI, and a 1.201 OPS in just 110 games.
But, as great as those seasons are, there were a couple names that showed up time after time after time. In fact, before I reveal who they are, let me put this in perspective. Albert Pujols is easily the best first baseman of his era. He will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and will go down as one of the greatest sluggers of all-time. In his best seasons, he had an OPS over 1.100, hit 45+ HR, drove in 130+, etc. He has some great seasons under his belt. But, when you sort the best seasons at first base by OPS, or OPS+, there are a couple guys whose names appear multiple times before you even get to Pujols’ best season.
Honorable mention, here, goes to Jimmie Foxx. A guy that I’ve always felt was under-appreciated, because he just happened to play in the shadow of the Yankees during their dynasty of the ’20’s and ’30’s. Foxx has two seasons with an OPS+ over 200 (201 in ’33, and 207 in ’32). He won the MVP in ’32 with a 1.218 OPS, 58 HR, 169 RBI, and 438 total bases – all of which led the league. But, as amazing as that was, the best overall season at first base has to belong to . . .
Lou Gehrig – 1927
Gehrig has so many incredible seasons, it was difficult to choose. He has six seasons in which his OPS is higher than Pujols’ best year. SIX! He has three seasons in which he bat over .370. Seven in which he drove in 150+ runs. Five seasons with 40+ HR. Eight seasons with 200+ hits. And, not once did he strike out as many as 85 times in a season. In fact, his average full season was a .343/.452/.640 slash line with 36 HR, 147 RBI, and just 56 K’s.
So, for his best season, I went with the one in which he posted the highest OPS ever by a first baseman – 1.240 in ’27. He also bat .373 (7th best at first – behind 2 of his other seasons), hit 47 HR, drove in a league best 173 (4th most in history at 1B), and led the league with 52 doubles, while collecting 218 hits. All of which led to 447 total bases – the most ever by a first baseman.
Imagine facing a team in which Gehrig puts up those kind of crazy numbers . . . and he’s the second best player on the team. Yikes.
Next up: Greatest Single Season at Second Base.