In case you missed these five first basemen, they did some pretty cool things while playing for the New York Yankees.
Being a first baseman for the New York Yankees means filling big shoes.
Some absolute titans have manned the position. Lou Gehrig defined durability for years. Don Mattingly’s smooth lefty swing and slick glove anticipated a bright future before injuries slowed him down. Bill “Moose” Skowron’s strong work ethic made him tough as nails.
And sprinkled in between all of the legends, per usual, were players who tried to fill their shoes. Guys like Tino Martinez and Jason Giambi handled the job well despite not being homegrown players. Others simply couldn’t cut it and washed out early.
In between, however, were players who made their own impact despite not being Yankees for very long. Thus, as we wait for our beloved baseball to return, let’s revisit five Yankees first basemen who otherwise may escape us.
No. 5: Andy Phillips (Yankees tenure: 2004-2007)
The early 21st century was a weird time for the New York Yankees at first base. Lefty slugger and former MVP Jason Giambi was signed to a long-term deal after the 2001 season, and age and injuries arrived quickly. Giambi was also becoming a liability in the field, which paved the way for Andy Phillips.
After hitting .321 with 30 home runs and 101 RBIs in the minors, the Alabama product was called up for a cup of coffee late in 2004. His MLB career began with a bang as he blasted a home run in his first career at-bat.
Phillips then spent most of 2005 in the minors before becoming a regular in 2006. In 110 games, he hit .240 with seven home runs and 29 RBIs.
Unfortunately, that was the best Phillips experienced in the majors. For all his power in the minor leagues, he didn’t draw many walks. In his MLB career, his .250 lifetime batting average was paired with a meager .294 OBP. Moreover, 2006 was his age-29 season, and he was back on the bench the following year.
Phillips then spent brief stints of 2008 with the Cincinnati Reds and New York Mets. He then played in Japan for two years before retiring. Just as quickly as it began, his baseball career was over.
Still, for a New York minute, Andy Phillips looked like the future of first base for the Yankees.
No. 4: Nick Etten (Yankees tenure: 1943-1946)
After Lou Gehrig retired in 1939, the New York Yankees went a few years without a powerful first baseman. That briefly changed when the team acquired Etten from the Philadelphia Phillies. He was no Gehrig, but Nick Etten still made his four years with the Yankees count.
He hit .274 with 14 home runs and 107 RBIs in his first year in pinstripes and finished seventh in MVP voting. In his second, he led the AL with 22 home runs, 97 walks, and 18 intentional walks. And he only hit .293 on the year.
Etten would then lead the league in RBIs in 1945 before seeing his batting average dip to .232 a year later. The Phillies then purchased his contract and he appeared in 14 games before retiring, but not before he was returned to New York.
He wasn’t a franchise icon, nor a legend of the game, but Nick Etten won a ring with the Yankees. More importantly, he was one of the Yankees’ more reliable first basemen before Bill Skowron’s eventual debut in 1954.
No. 3: Felipe Alou (Yankees tenure: 1971-1973)
Before he was the manager of the Montreal Expos and San Francisco Giants, Felipe Alou was a longtime major league first baseman. In a 17-year career, he hit .286 with 206 home runs and was a three-time All-Star.
And towards the end of his career, the struggling New York Yankees of the 1970s put Alou in pinstripes via a trade with the Oakland Athletics. Even at age 36, he still managed to be effective at the plate. He hit .289 in his first year as a Yankee.
Alou would bat .271 in the Bronx before being claimed off waivers by Montreal. He was also adept as a first baseman and outfielder. Moreover, as the Yankees tried to figure their next step in the 1970s, Alou’s veteran presence surely helped.
No. 2: Joe Pepitone (Yankees tenure: 1962-1969)
If Joe Pepitone’s name sounds familiar, it should. I included him at first base on the New York Yankees “All-Obscure Team,” and rightfully so.
That’s because in his prime, Pepitone was, in a word, cool. He was a native New Yorker, having grown up in Brooklyn. He was handsome and played like he knew he belonged. For Yankees fans, he was practically Danny Zuko, and Grease wouldn’t even debut on Broadway until 1971.
And the numbers back it up. Pepitone was a three-time All-Star as a Yankee and also took home three Gold Gloves. He only hit .252 in eight Yankees seasons but also slugged 166 of his 219 career home runs. As the Yankees entered a rebuild and Pepitone’s price tag rose, he was traded to the Houston Astros in December 1969.
Despite some off-field issues, Pepitone eventually returned to the Yankees as a coach and later worked in the front office. Today, he is a fixture at Old Timers’ Day and very much remains the fan-favorite he was as a player.
No. 1: Joe Collins (Yankees tenure: 1948-1957)
Joe Collins became a lineup fixture for the New York Yankees at the perfect time. After cups of coffee in the majors in 1948 and ’49, he became the everyday first baseman in 1950.
This just happened to be the second of five years in a row in which the Yankees would win the World Series. All in all, Collins would accumulate six championship rings, though he didn’t play in the 1949 Fall Classic.
Meanwhile, at the plate, Collins was a quietly consistent presence. He only hit .256 with 86 career home runs. His Yankees tenure was also his entire MLB career. He only hit .163 in the postseason for his career, but still managed four home runs with 10 RBIs.
Collins also proved versatile despite being an overall average fielder. He platooned at first base once Skowron debuted and also proved reliable in the outfield.
He wasn’t ever great by any stretch, but was the definitive consistent player of his era. Throw in that he walked more than he struck out in his career, and Joe Collins’ blue-collar approach easily tops this list.
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