This is really tough because 1B seems to be the plug and play position. Can’t run – 1B, no room at DH – 1B. Need a rest 1B. So for the most part slow, lumbering, powerful describes the position, but then there are the exceptions like Keith Hernandez who set the bar for the leagues and Joe Mauer who set the fielding bar for the Twins. But note – Hernandez might have been a fielding whiz, but 1B fielding does not get you into the HOF. So how to analyze 1B? To begin with how many games did the player start at that position, remember it can be a fill in for another position player to get a bench player on the field.
In 1961, Harmon Killebrew played at first base for 119 games. I know we think of 3B, but the big slugger was able to come across the field too. To illustrate my point about how 1B is a fill-in position the following players were also on the bag during 1961, Bob Allison, Don Mincher, Julio Becquer, Joe Altobelli, and Ron Howard.
In 1962 Harmon was removed for the man I argue was the best glove at the position in our history – Sorry Joe! – but Vic Power was amazing there. Don Mincher was his primary backup, Harmon played there 4 games and played in Left Field (surprise) for 151 games. Jim Snyder got one game at the bag.
1963 saw Vic Power dominate the bag with Mincher his backup and 38 year old Vic Wertz who hit the famous ball that Willie Mays caught in the world series was there for six games.
1964, the 36 year old Power lost the job to Bob Allison – yes the great left fielder of the Twins started 93 games at first, Don Mincher started 76, Power 12 and then the list is Minnesota Native, Jerry Kindall, Frank Kostro, and Rich Reese.
In 1965 perennial understudy Don Mincher started 99 games and Harmon Killebrew came back to the bag for 72 games. The other names are Rich Reese, Bob Allison, Andy Kosko. This was our World Series team.
Don Mincher started 130 games in 1966 and was backed up by Harmon Killebrew 42 games and Harmon played 3B 107 games that year.
In 1967 Mincher was gone and Harmon had the bag for 160 games. Rich Reese was his understudy at first. Rich Reese took the lead in 1968 with 87 games, Killebrew was at 3B for 11 games and 1B for 77. Bob Allison had 17 games and then the parade at the base had Frank Kostro, Craig Nettles (famous 3B for the Yankees and a 3B glove wizard – he also played 3b, LF, RF, CF that year), Keith Hernandez, Jim Holt, Frank Quilici, and Cesar Tovar!
1969 we were back to Rich Reese with 118 games and Killebrew going between 3B and 1B playing at first for 81 games. Rounding out 1B was Cotton Nash, Bob Allison, and Jim Holt. The new decade looked quite similar with Rich Reese getting 146 games in 1970 and Harmon Killebrew coming over from 3B 28 times and Bob Allison for seven. Then Jim Holt, Cotton Nash, and Hall of Famer Rod Carew for one game.
The first base men of the sixties break down to these:
Killebrew 969 games out of 22 years in MLB, 791 games at 3B, 7 seasons in LF so he is primarily a 1B player. Of course he is in the HOF, his WAR is 60.4. .256/.376/.509/.884 with 573 HRs makes him hard to beat.
Don Mincher played 13 years, 7 with the Twins. 8.3 WAR with Twins. .244/.340/.479/.819 He hit 200 HRs in his career. 617 games.
Vic Power played three of his twelve years in MN. 1.7 WAR in MN. 278/.305/.398/.703 In fielding he was 62 Runs above average according to BR. He was in 301 games for us.
Rich Reese was with the Twins of 10 of his 11 years in MLB. 3.2 WAR for those ten years is not very great. He had 640 appearances at first.
Bob Allison was the primary 1B only one years, but appeared at first in 145 games and therefore is not really in the running despite his great skills.
Rich Reese 95 and Harmon Killebrew 90 games dominated first in 1971 with Jim Holt and George Thomas as other players.
1972 Killebrew had 130 games at first and obviously was replaced for defensive purposes because Rich Reese is credited with 98 games at first. In addition the other 1B appearances were by Rick Renick, Jim Holt (he seems to have a long career of one appearance), and Jim Nettles (Craig’s brother).
1973 surprises me. While Killebrew got 57 games, Joe Lis (?) was the primary starter for 96, Jim Holt got 33, Reese 17 and Craig Kusick 11.
Kusick took over in 1974 starting 75 games, Jim Holt played 67, Killebrew 33 and DH for 57, Pat Bourgue 21, Joe Lis 18, and Jerry Terrell 2.
Kusick was still the primary 1B in 1975 but barely. He was in 51 games, John Briggs 49, Tom Kelly 43 (his only MLB year!), Rod Carew 14, Steve Braun 9, Danny Walton 7. A typical merry-go-round at the bag.
Then in 1976 Rod Carew put another HOF players at first base. He was at first for 152 games, Kusick for 24 and no one else! Not much changes in 1977 with Carew at first for 151 games, Kusick for 23 and Jerry Terrell 1. The Rod Carew show continued in 1978 with Rod in 148 games, Kusick 27 and Jose Morales in 2.
The decade of the seventies ended with Cal Griffiths big racist mouth chasing Carew to California and first base went to Ron Jackson who started 157 games, Danny Goodwin, Craig Kusick 8, and Mike Cubbage, Jose Morales, and Roy Smalley one each.
For the seventies we can disregard the players I looked at for the sixties even though some certainly were the major players in this decade. The new first base men – the starters were:
Craig Kusick played for the Twins 7 years and accumulated 3.6 WAR, .236/ .343/.394/.738 He played at first 238 games.
Rod Carew played 19 seasons, 12 with the Twins 1184 games at First. 334/.393/ .448/.841 and 63.8 WAR with the Twins.
Joe Lis played two years with the Twins and his .238/ .321/.374/.695 (-0.4) WAR is hardly worthy of being on the list.
The last first baseman of the group is Ron Jackson. He played for the Twins for 3 of his 10 MLB years and batted .268/.325/.409/.734 with 2.8 WAR and played first 552 times in 8 years
Summing up the 1970’s we come up with HOF number 2 as the best – Rod Carew and then a lot of names and not much to show.
Ron Jackson will lead off the new decade in 1980 with 119 games at first followed by Mike Cubbage at 73, Danny Goodwin 13, Pete Mackanin 4, Roy Smalley 3, Jose Morales 2, and Jesus Vega 2.
The 1981 season was a merry-go-round with Danny Goodwin starting 40, Ron Jackson 36, Tim Corcoran 16, Kent Hrbek 13, Pete Mackanin 10, Mickey Hatcher 7, Sal Butera 1, and Roy Smalley 1. At least there were some really recognizable names among the eight!
1982 put Kent Hrbek at the forefront with 138 games, Jesus Vega (who I do not remember) played 18 and Greg Wells 10. Hrbek owned the base now and in 1983 he had 137 games with Scott Ullger as his backup and playing 30 games. Then Mickey Hatcher 7, Randy Bush 3. Hrbek 148 games, Hatcher 17 and Randy Bush 2 in 1984.
In 1985 it is amazing that there are 9 names at first base when Hrbek played 156 games and Mike Stenhouse played 8, with Mickey Hatcher 4. Lots of substitutions, I guess. Anyway, the rest of the nine are Randy Bush, Mark Funderburk, Gary Gaetti, Tim Laudner, Roy Smalley, and Ron Washington. Not sure how they did this unless they had one game of musical chairs.
1986 was simpler – Hrbek 146, Hatcher 22, Bush 3. In the World Series Year of 1987 Hrbek played in 137, Gene Larkin was 26, Randy Bush 9, Tim Laudner 7. A Very Big year – our second World Series and first victory with Hrbek using his wrestling moves to handle St Louis. I was in a bar with Cardinal fans in Sierra Vista Arizona during that game – what a hoot!
In 1988 Hrbek only played in 105 games so Gene Larkin got to play in 60, Bush 6, Kelvin Torve (anyone remember him?) 4 and Tim Laudner 3.
The last season of the eighties decade was another merry-go-round with 8 players at first. Hrbek played in 89, Gene Larkin 69, Randy Bush 25, Tim Laundner 11, Paul Sorrento 5, Gaetti, Brian Harper, and John Moses two each.
The eighties were the Hrbek decade.
Hrbek played for the Twins for 14 years. .282/.367/ 481/.848 with 38.6 WAR. He played 1609 games at first.
Danny Goodwin played three years for the Twins .242/.312/.372 /.684 (-1.3) WAR and 61 games at 1B.
The nineties still had Hrbek 120 games at first, Larkin 28, Sorrento 15, Bush 6, Moses 6, Gaetti and Harper two each. In 1991, the next World Series victory Hrbek had 128 games, Larkin 39, Sorrento 13, Bush 12, Harper 1, and Al Newman 1. It is a reminder that we actually had a bench in those days.
1992 Hrbek 104, Larkin 55, Terry Jorgenson 13, Randy Bush 8, and Chili Davis 1.
1993 we dropped to fifth in our division with 71 wins and Hrbek was on first 115 games. Dave McCarty was the new hope and he played first in 36 games with Larkin 18, Jorgenson 9, David Winfield – Hall of Famer – 5, Randy Bush 4, Mike Maksudian 4, and Chip Hale 1.
1994 Hrbek played only 72 games at first, Dave McCarty 32, Steve Dunn 12, Jeff Reboulet 10, Chip Hale 7. Hrbek was done.
1995 we set a new record with 11 players spending some time at First. Scott Stahoviak played 69 so he is the starter of record for this year. Dan Masteller 48, Ron Coomer 22, McCarty 18, Reboulet 17, Jerald Clark 11, Kevin Maas 8, Steve Dunn, Pedro Munoz, and Chip Hale 3 each, and Matt Merullo 1.
1996 Scott Stahoviak took over and started 114 games, but the Coomer was on his tail with 57, and Hall of Famer Paul Molitor snuck in and played first 17 games. Jeff Reboulet 13, Chip Hale 6, and Denny Hocking 1. With out team playing on the wrong end of the standings things were shaking up and in 1997 Stahoviak held on for 81 games, but he was being pushed by Greg Colburn who started 64, and Brent Brede 15. Paul Molitor took the bag for 14 games, and a guy named David Ortiz for 11, Ron Coomer 9, Terry Steinback 2, and Denny Hocking 1.
1998 David Ortiz – soon to be a Hall of Famer got to start 70 games, but he was not good enough to start more so Ron Coomer got 54 starts. And Coomer out homered Ortiz 15 – 9! Orlando Merced got 38 games, Molitor 9, Doug Mientkiewicz 8, Stahoviak 4, Hocking 2, Gates 1 and Jon Shave 1.
Ending the decade of the nineties Mientkiewicz took over with 110 games, Coomer 71, Gates 5, Hocking 2, and David Ortiz was allowed to start 1!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.
So here we have a tough decision – does Hrbek own this decade too?
Stahoviak played for the Twins for five years and got a total of 1 WAR. .256/.335/.410/.745 and 268 games at first.
David Ortiz toiled six years with the Twins – 266/.348/461/.809 2.6 WAR.
Ron Coomer .278/ .315/.431/.746 for six years with 2.5 WAR and 408 games at first in his career.
Doug Mientkiewicz for seven years hit .275/.367/.408/.776 with WAR 6.4 WAR. An excellent fielder who ranks with Power and Mauer for the best gloves. Doug did more in the 2000s than the 90s but this field is weak despite David Ortiz so Mientkiewicz is my choice for the 90s – otherwise it is Hrbek again.
A new decade and a new century. We wipe the slate clean – it has to be good, right? Mientkiewicz only plays 3 games in 2000 and Ron Coomer grabs first playing 124 games, David Ortiz gets in 27, Hocking 12, Butch Huskey 9, Matt LeCroy 3, Casey Blake 3, and Chad Allen 1. Just think if they had given Ortiz all the games the last 5 had!
2001 and the team actually played 500 which is a big jump from the last few seasons. Mientkiewicz is back at First for 148 games, Denny Hocking played 11, and David Ortiz gets 8, Cuddyer 5, Casey Blake 3, LeCroy 2. Doug is okay, but we will all wonder why Ortiz gets the shuffle – actually we know – it is the genius Tom Kelly. Tom was a great manager, but he blew this opportunity with Ortiz because the Twins Way was not David’s.
2002 we were in first place in our division Mientkiewicz started 143 games, Ortiz 15, LeCroy 8, Cuddyer, Hocking and Todd Sears six each, Bobby Keitly 5, and Casey Blake 3.
2003 and another first place. Mientkiewicz played 139 games, LeCroy 17, Sears 14, Hocking 10, Morneau 7, Cuddyer 5. In 2004 this order changes as Mientkiewicz playes 77 games and Morneau 61 and why was LeCroy in 23 games? Cuddyer 10, Jose Offerman 7 and Terry Tiffee 1.
2005 Morneau takes over and plays first in 138 games. LeCroy is primary back up with 23 appearances and Terry Tiffee (I really cannot remember him) played 13, with Cuddyer getting in 8. In 2006 Morneau is again, the man. He was in 153 games. Other appearances at first base were Cuddyer 6, Phil Nevin 5, Tiffee 3, and Luis Rodriquez 1.
2007 Morneau 143 and then a list of mostly unknowns – Jeff Cirillo 8, Garrett Jones 8, Cuddyer 4, Rodriguez 3, and LeCroy 1. 2008 Morneau starts 155 games. Other appearances at first are by Mike Lamb, Brian Buscher, Howie Clark, Cuddyer, Bendan Harris, and Matt Macri.
Finishing the decade in 2009 Morneau played in 123 games at first, Cuddyer 34, Buscher 13, Harris 3, Justin Huber and Matt Tolbert 1.
So the 00 decade ended with only one true option – Justin Morneau.
Morneau played 11 seasons with the Twins - .278/.347/.485/.832 and 23.3 WAR while playing 1324 games at first in his career.
The final decade is the one we are finishing up – the tens or teens.
2010 Cuddyer plays the most at first 84 games while Morneau has 77 as a concussion ruins a great career. Talbert, Harris and Morales get the crumbs.
2011 Morneau hangs on to get 56 games, Cuddyer 46, Luke Hughes 36, Chris Parmelee 20, and Joe Mauer makes his first appearances at the bag for 18 games. Plouffe plays one game at first. The winds of change are in the air.
2012 Morneau gets his games up to 99 and Parmelee 38, Mauer 30. The scraps go to Plouffe for three and one each for Doumit, Burroughs, and Hughes.
2013 Morneau is still the man – 112 games, followed by Chris Calabello 26, Parmelee 23, Mauer 8, and Plouffe 2.
2014 in the midst of a string of last place finished, the big news is that Joe Mauer is now the first baseman. He has 100 games at first, Parmelee 33, Colabello 23, Kendrys Morales 13, and Kennys Vargas 13. Joe will be the man from now on and in 2015 he started 137 games at first and the team finished second and above 500. Kennys Vargas 18, Trevor Plouffe 17, Chris Hermann and Miguel Sano got two each.
2016 Mauer 95, Vargas 32, Byung Ho Park 24, Plouffe 13, Beresford 6 and Kepler 2.
2017 we finish second and above 500 and Mauer starts 125 games with Vargas backing him up and playing in 40 games, Miguel Sano played first in 9, Chris Giminez 7, Ehire Adrianza 4, and Mitch Garver 3.
I will stop there. We know Mauer will finish his career and there really is no doubt that he is the first baseman of the 10s. He has 11 seasons as a catcher where he was hall of fame caliber and 8 as our best first baseman, but no longer HOF. His line .306/.388/.439/.827 is outstanding and puts him in the HOF conversation.
But this is hard – you choose - here are the best Minnesota first basemen by decades again – I find that it is hard to sort out their first base stats from catcher, LF, RF, 3B, 2B, and all the other positions that many of them played.
Two are in the Hall of fame, one might join them, one would have if his career had not been damaged by injury.
• 1960s – Harmon Killebrew
• 1970s – Rod Carew
• 1980s – Kent Hrbek
• 1990s – Mientkiewicz
• 2000s – Morneau
• 2010s – Mauer
Nice list – who do you want?
For those of you counting - there were 108 players who were on first base in the 56 years!