No. 1 is obvious, but who takes up the other four spots in regards to the top five first basemen in New York Yankees history?
The greatest first baseman to ever play the game of baseball donned the pinstripes, but what about the rest of the New York Yankees who spent time at that significant position?
Here’s a look at the five greatest first basemen in franchise history.
5. Jason Giambi (Yankees tenure: 2002-08)
- 897 games, .260/.404/.521, .925 OPS, 143 OPS+, 209 home runs, 604 RBIs
Jason Giambi underwent a tumultuous tenure as a Yankee. After spending the first seven years of his MLB career with the Oakland A’s, he signed a seven-year, $120 million deal with the Bombers.
Giambi never truly lived up to expectations. He never won a championship, was embroiled in a performance-enhancing drugs scandal, and didn’t impress in the field (he never recorded a DRS higher than three or UZR greater than 1.2). Nonetheless, he certainly produced from the batter’s box.
As a Yankee, Giambi was a three-time All-Star, a Silver Slugger, finished top five in MVP voting in 2002, and was the 2005 American League Comeback Player of the Year. His OPS, OPS+, and 619 walks are all good for second among Yankees first basemen. During his seven years in the Bronx, his walks were good for fifth among all major league first basemen.
His career on-base percentage is the fifth-highest in Yankees history. Giambi was praised for his ability to hit and get on base. He led the American League in walks in 2003 with 129 and again in 2005 with 108. He additionally led the league in on-base percentage in 2005 (.440). Giambi is also known for recording the final hit in the old Yankee Stadium, an RBI single.
4. Bill Skowron (Yankees tenure: 1954-62)
- 1,087 games, .294/.346/.496, .842 OPS, 129 OPS+, 165 home runs, 672 RBIs
Commonly referred to as “Moose,” Bill Skowron got the job done for the Yankees at first base for almost 10 years. He was a seven-time All-Star during his tenure — two All-Star Games were played ever year from 1959-62 and he was a two-time All-Star in both 1959 and 1960. He also finished top 10 in MVP voting in 1960.
Like few others, Skowron thrived on the biggest stage. He was a four-time champion with the Yankees and in 35 World Series games, he hit seven home runs with 26 RBIs. In 120 at-bats, he slashed .283/.315/.508.
Skowron wasn’t a particularly flashy player, but he was a staple in that Yankees lineup when the Fall Classic arrived.
3. Tino Martinez (Yankees tenure: 1996-2001, 2005)
- 1,054 games, .276/.347/.484, .831 OPS, 113 OPS+, 192 home runs, 739 RBIs
Tino Martinez was loved by fans and was an important piece of the Yankees dynasty in the late 1990s. In 1997, he was an All-Star, Silver Slugger, won the Home Run Derby, and finished second in MVP voting. He’s currently fourth among Yankees first basemen in RBIs and fifth in OPS.
Martinez is a four-time World Series champion and is honored in Monument Park. While Tino put up respectable offensive numbers, he stood out most with his glove and was always praised for his great defense.
2. Don Mattingly (Yankees tenure: 1982-95)
- 1,785 games, .307/.358/.471, .830 OPS, 127 OPS+, 222 home runs, 1,099 RBIs
Spending his entire career with the Yankees, Don Mattingly experienced a near-perfect tenure in the Bronx. “Donnie Baseball” was a six-time All-Star, nine-time Gold Glover (a record among American League first basemen), three-time Silver Slugger, was the 1984 American League batting champion, 1985 American League MVP, and the captain of the Yankees from 1991-95. He finished top five in MVP voting a total of three times and top 10 a total of four times.
In 1984, he led the American League in hits (207) and MLB in doubles (44). The following year, he led MLB in doubles (48), RBIs (145), and TBs (370). In 1986, he led MLB in hits (238), doubles (53), slugging (.573), OPS (.967), OPS+ (161), and TBs (388). His 684 RBIs from 1984-89 were the most in baseball during that span.
Mattingly’s career numbers are truly fantastic, and it’s a shame that one of the best players to put on the pinstripes played during one of the worst periods in franchise history. The Yankees failed to make the postseason from 1982-94. Mattingly played just five career playoff games, all in the 1995 American League Division Series against the Seattle Mariners during his age 34 season, the last year of his career.
Mattingly is honored in Monument Park and his No. 23 jersey is retired. He’s the only Yankee to have his number retired without winning the World Series with the team. Back injuries that began to recur caused him to retire, or else he’d likely be in the Hall of Fame.
1. Lou Gehrig (Yankees tenure: 1923-39)
- 2,164 games, .340/.447/.632, 1.080 OPS, 179 OPS+, 493 home runs, 1,995 RBIs
Lou Gehrig is undeniably the greatest first baseman in Yankees history and of all time. He underwent a remarkable career that was brought to an end when he developed ALS, now commonly referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s disease,” and when he delivered his famous “Luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech in 1939.
He was a two-time MVP, seven-time All-Star, and six-time World Series champion. He finished top five in MVP voting a total of eight times and top 10 a total of nine times.
Nicknamed the “Iron Horse,” Gehrig was known for his power and resilience: he played in 2,130 consecutive games. Gehrig won the 1934 Triple Crown, was the 1934 American League batting champion, and led the American League in home runs three times and in RBIs five times. He holds the American League record for most RBIs in a single season (185 in 1931) and his 163 career triples is still a Yankees record.
Gehrig always put on a show in the playoffs as well. In 34 career postseason games, he slashed .361/.483/.731 while posting a 1.214 OPS and batting in 35 runs. What’s interesting about Gehrig is that although there’s not a great deal of evidence to back it up, he’s rumored to have been a subpar defender at first.
Simply speaking, the fact that the greatest first baseman ever wasn’t superb with the glove is fascinating.
Gehrig was the Yanks captain from 1935-39 and his No. 4 jersey was the first jersey to be retired by a team. He’s honored in Monument Park and is a member of the Hall of Fame. Gehrig was additionally named to both the MLB All-Century Team and All-Time Team.
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