Mets' Top 5 first basemen: DiComo's take

March 31st, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Anthony DiComo’s ranking of the top 5 first basemen in Mets history. Next week: Second basemen.

1. , 1983-89
Key fact: Hernandez was the first captain in franchise history

That Hernandez is not in Cooperstown remains a sore subject amongst Mets fans -- particularly those old enough to have witnessed how his trade to New York in 1983 legitimized a team on the rise. Hernandez won the seventh of his 11 career Gold Glove Awards the following season, also hitting .311 with an .859 OPS to finish second in National League Most Valuable Player Award voting. Then he remained as consistent as they come for three more years, before injuries began to interfere in his mid-30s.

Along the way, Hernandez led the Mets to their 1986 World Series championship and became the first captain in franchise history, holding that solo title for a year before sharing it with catcher Gary Carter. Thanks to his affable personality, longtime work as a television broadcaster, his cameo on “Seinfeld” and his growing social media presence (shoutout to his cat Hadji), Hernandez remains one of the most popular figures at Citi Field and is without question one of the most beloved Mets in history.

“I’m a New Yorker -- not born and raised, but naturalized,” Hernandez wrote in his autobiography.

First eligible for Cooperstown in 1996, Hernandez received just 5.1 percent of the vote. Within two years, he more than doubled his support but never gained much additional momentum and dropped off the ballot in 2004. He was then left off the Modern Baseball Committee's Hall of Fame ballot twice; he’ll next be eligible for the Class of 2023. A career .296 hitter with 162 home runs and 1,071 RBIs (“rib-eyes,” in his parlance), Hernandez makes his best case with his defense. His 11 Gold Glove Awards are the most all-time by a first baseman and the eighth most by a player at any position. He was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in 1997.

2. , 1962-79
Key fact: His 1,853 games played are the most in Mets history

For nearly two decades, Kranepool and the Mets were synonymous. “Steady Eddie” wasn’t an original Met, but he received a September callup in 1962 at age 17 and then spent each of the next 17 years in Flushing. He made the National League All-Star team in 1965, assisted the Mets’ championship run in ‘69 and helped them back to the World Series in ‘73.

Kranepool was never a singular star of those teams. He hit over .300 only twice, and he eclipsed 15 homers just once. But he remains the longest-tenured Met to this day -- a record that won’t be broken anytime soon. (The active team leader, Michael Conforto, has appeared in 578 games.) And Kranepool made an impact when the Mets needed him most, homering in his only 1969 World Series appearance.

“The 1969 season is remembered all over the place,” said Kranepool, a native New Yorker who remains a fixture at Citi Field events. “They still love you. That’s the good thing about playing in a city like New York. The Mets have tradition. They have two World Series titles -- ‘69 and ‘86. I’m glad to be a part of [one of them].”

3. , 1997-99
Key fact: Highest qualified batting average (.315) and on-base percentage (.425) in Mets history

Pound for pound, Olerud was the most effective first baseman in Mets history. His 1998 season is tops in terms of WAR (7.6), while his ‘99 season (5.6) ranks third. Had Olerud’s tenure in New York not been so brief, he would have ranked higher on this list.

As it was, Olerud came to the Mets after the 1996 season in a trade for pitcher Robert Person. He played three full years in Flushing before leaving via free agency to play closer to home in Seattle. During those three years, he accumulated more WAR (17.3) than any Mets first baseman not named Hernandez. His full career numbers compare quite favorably to those of Hernandez, though Olerud compiled most of them in Toronto and Seattle.

4. , 2006-09
Key fact: His 473 home runs and 1,512 RBIs are the most by a Puerto Rican-born player

Although Delgado did most of his damage during a 12-year run with the Blue Jays, he had quite a bit left in the tank when the Mets acquired him at the age of 33 before the 2006 season. That summer, Delgado hit cleanup for a stacked Mets lineup that also included in-their-prime versions of David Wright, José Reyes and Carlos Beltrán. Delgado finished with 38 home runs and 114 RBIs, then bashed 62 more homers the next two seasons.

Injuries finally slowed Delgado in 2009, limiting him to 26 games and prompting him to retire shortly thereafter. But his run with the Mets, albeit brief, remains one of the best by a first baseman in franchise history.

5. , 2019-present
Key fact: Set the Mets’ single-season home run record with 53 last year

Is this an aggressive ranking? Probably. But Alonso just contributed one of the greatest offensive seasons in Mets history. If he maintains anything even close to that level of production, it won’t be long before Alonso ranks second on this list. It’s quite possible that he will eventually go down as the greatest Mets first baseman of them all.

The tiebreaker for Alonso is how he has conducted himself off the field. From donating 10 percent of his Home Run Derby winnings to charity to his leadership during the current coronavirus pandemic, Alonso is already on the short list of off-field greats. It would surprise no one around Flushing if he one day follows Hernandez as a Mets captain.

Honorable mentions
Ranked by WAR, Hernandez is the top first baseman in Mets history, followed by Olerud. Third and fourth on the list? and , who held down the position most nights in Flushing from 2010-17. Both had their moments -- particularly Duda, whose second-half home run binge in '15 is too often unfairly overshadowed by his World Series Game 5 misplay. … The Mets’ 1969 Deadline deal for Donn Clendenon is widely considered the masterstroke that sparked them to the first -- and most improbable -- title in franchise history. He hit 12 home runs in 72 games for the Mets that summer, then bashed three more in the World Series to win MVP honors. But Clendenon didn’t stick around long, appearing in only 281 games as a Met.