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Astros' Top 5 first basemen: McTaggart's take

@brianmctaggart
March 30, 2020

HOUSTON -- 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

HOUSTON -- 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 Brian McTaggart’s ranking of the top five first basemen in Astros history. Next week: second basemen.

1. Jeff Bagwell, 1991-2005
Key fact: Hall of Famer is franchise leader in homers (449) and RBIs (1,529)

Acquired by the Astros at the Trade Deadline in 1990 from the Red Sox in exchange for veteran pitcher Larry Andersen, Jeff Bagwell was a 22-year-old third baseman when he arrived in Houston. With Ken Caminiti entrenched at third base, Bagwell moved to first base and started at the position for 15 consecutive seasons, winning a National League Rookie of the Year Award (1991) and Most Valuable Player Award ('94) while becoming one of the greatest sluggers of his generation.

Astros' Top 5: Catcher | First basemen

Bagwell, with his unmistakable crouched batting stance, hit .297 with 2,314 hits, 1,517 runs scored and a .408 on-base percentage before a shoulder injury forced him to retire. He was a four-time NL All-Star, won a 1994 NL Gold Glove Award and three NL Silver Slugger Awards. Bagwell, who played on six playoff teams and ended his career in the 2005 World Series, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2017.

“Baggy was just a great teammate, first and foremost,” former teammate Lance Berkman said. “Everybody that played with him loved playing with him. He wasn’t really a rah-rah guy but a quiet presence and was very professional.”

2. Bob Watson, 1966-79
Key fact: 486 RBIs are third-most by an Astros first baseman

A two-time All-Star for the Astros, Bob Watson was an intimidating slugger who bashed 184 homers in his 19-year big league career, 14 of which were spent in Houston. “The Bull” hit for the cycle and scored baseball’s one millionth run on May 4, 1975. Watson slashed .297/.364/.444 while with the Astros with 139 homers and 782 RBIs.

After his playing career, Watson spent four years as a hitting coach with Oakland and became the first African American general manager in Major League history when the Astros named him to the post in 1993. Three years later with the Yankees, he became the first black GM to win a World Series.

“There’s a million baseball things to say about Bob, but he has a core at the bottom of his soul,” former Astros teammate Craig Reynolds said. “He is a fine, fine man, one of the kindest men.”

3. Glenn Davis, 1984-90
Key fact: Finished second to Mike Schmidt in 1986 NL MVP race

The Astros’ first true slugger since they traded away Jimmy Wynn in 1973, Glenn Davis walloped 166 home runs and drove in 518 runs in seven years with the Astros. He made the NL All-Star team in ‘86 and ’89. While finishing second in the MVP balloting in ’86, he hit 31 homers with 101 RBIs to lead Houston to the NL West title. Davis hit a career-high 34 homers in ‘89. He also homered off Dwight Gooden in Game 1 of the ’86 NL Championship Series, a 1-0 win over the Mets.

“It was some of the greatest years I experienced in my baseball career, and my heart is with Houston and it’s always going to be there,” Davis said. “I was born and bred into that organization, and I’ll go to my grave being an Astro.”

4. Yuli Gurriel, 2016-current
Key fact: Averaged 21 homers, 88 RBIs in first three full seasons

Signed as a 32-year-old free agent following a decorated career in his native Cuba, Yuli Gurriel became entrenched as the Astros' starting first baseman when he was called up in 2016. In his first full season in '17, he slashed .299/.332/.486 with 18 homers and 75 RBIs and caught the final out of the 2017 World Series. He had a tremendous ‘19 season, hitting .298/.343/.541 with 31 homers and 104 RBIs, becoming the oldest player in club history to have a season with at least 40 doubles, 30 homers and 100 RBIs.

5. Lee May, 1972-74
Key fact: Averaged 27 homers and 96 RBIs in three seasons in Houston

Lee May was dealt to Houston from Cincinnati in the trade that sent future Hall of Famer Joe Morgan to the Reds. It went down as one of the worst trades in club history, but not because of May. The Astros badly needed power after finishing last in the NL in homers in 1971, and May slugged 81 homers and drove in 288 runs while with Houston, including 105 RBIs in ’73. On June 21, 1973, he became the second Astros player to hit three homers in a game, and he slugged two home runs in one inning on April 29, 1974. He was an All-Star in ’72.

Honorable mentions

Lance Berkman (1999-2010) played in 709 career games for the Astros at first base -- more than anyone in franchise history other than Bagwell, Davis or Watson -- but appeared in more games in the outfield (871) while in Houston and will be considered an outfielder in this project.

Rusty Staub (1963-68) played his first six years of his 23-year career in Houston, where he was a two-time All-Star and two-time club MVP but played more games in the outfield (506) than first base (307) with the Astros.

Enos Cabell (1975-80, ’84-85) played 263 games at first base for the Astros and slashed .298/.341/.406 at the position.

Ray Knight (1982-84) played 264 games at first base for the Astros and slashed .290/.343/.409.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.