Cubs’ Top 5 first basemen: Bastian'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 Jordan Bastian's ranking of the top 5 first basemen in Cubs history. Next week: Second basemen.

1. , 2012-19
Key fact: 217 homers lead all Cubs first basemen.

Since Spring Training games were cancelled and the 2020 season was put on hold, Anthony Rizzo has shown why his importance to the Cubs extends beyond the baseball field.

Through his foundation and with the help of donations, Rizzo has helped provide meals to hospital workers on the front lines in both Chicago and his home state of Florida amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. This was only the latest in a career full of charitable initiatives, programs and appearances.

That is part of the reason Rizzo is regarded as the Mr. Cub for this generation of fans.

"He's just so important to everything we do on the field and off the field," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said last September. "There's a personal connection with every player, every staff member, everyone in the organization because of what he's done here and his personality, who he is."

And, for these rankings, that is enough to push Rizzo into the top slot, in my opinion. Decades from now, Rizzo will have established a strong legacy in Chicago, especially given his role in helping the franchise emerge from decades of misfortune to end its 108-year World Series title drought. It was only fitting that it was Rizzo who caught the final championship-clinching out in Cleveland in '16.

On the field, Rizzo has been a throwback player in the batter's box -- the rare player who dramatically alters his swing in a two-strike count. He has hit for power (.496 slugging percentage with the Cubs), been an on-base machine (.405 on-base percentage in '19 and .376 for his Cubs career) and played stellar defense (three National League Gold Glove Awards).

Right now, Rizzo does not rank first statistically across the board among all the first basemen in club history, but he will continue to climb those charts. Those yet-to-come numbers in future seasons will further cement his icon status (no matter the position) in Cubs annals. Combine that with his off-field heroics and Rizzo deserves to be No. 1 for this list.

2. , 1988-2000
Key fact: 456 doubles second in Cubs history (all positions)

From 1900 through 1989, here is the list of each decade's hits king (in order): Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Paul Waner, Lou Boudreau, Richie Ashburn, Roberto Clemente, Pete Rose and Robin Yount.

With the exception of Rose, each member of that group is in the Hall of Fame. The hits leader for the 2000s (Ichiro Suzuki) and 2010s (Robinson Cano) are poised for Cooperstown as well. The 1990s hits leader? Well, he fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after receiving only 4.1 percent of the vote in 2009.

As you have gathered by now, that would be Mark Grace, who not only led the '90s in hits (1,754) but also in doubles (364).

"Here's to Grace," Grace was quoted as saying in a '99 Associated Press article. "If you asked 20 people who know the game of baseball, if you asked them a week ago who would get the most hits in the decade, I'll bet you 19 of 20 would say somebody besides Mark Grace."

In the Modern Era (since 1900), Grace leads all Cubs first basemen in runs, hits, doubles, RBIs and walks. He was a four-time Gold Glove Award-winner and three-time All-Star for the North Siders. In his final season with Chicago in 2000, all Grace did at 36 years old was draw 95 walks with only 28 strikeouts in 621 plate appearances.

Grace's 1989 NL Championship Series showing against the Giants was the stuff of legend -- he hit .647 (11-for-17) with a 1.799 OPS -- and he was also a part of Chicago's '98 Wild Card team. But, as was the case for so many Cubs players before him, Grace never tasted World Series glory.

3. Cap Anson, 1876-97
Key fact: 85.8 bWAR first in franchise history (all positions)

If this list were based purely on statistics alone, Anson would be the runaway winner.

To this day, Anson remains the franchise's all-time leader in hits, runs, doubles, RBIs and WAR for his work for the White Stockings and Colts (prior to the adoption of the "Cubs" moniker). Anson was so revered as a player and manager that the team became known as the Orphans (1898-1902) after losing their "Pop" to retirement.

In considering Anson, however, his well-documented character flaws simply can't be dismissed. So, in terms of legacy, while his impact on the early portion of the franchise's history is undeniable, it seems fair to drop him to third on this ranking, which is about more than just numbers, as far as I'm concerned.

All of that said, know that Anson was arguably baseball's first superstar, and he helped lead his Chicago teams to five pennants. Anson was also the first player in baseball history to reach 3,000 hits, which eventually became a kind of benchmark for helping gain entry into the Hall of Fame.

4. Frank Chance, 1898-1912
Key fact: 402 stolen bases first in franchise history (all positions)

Even today, more than a century since Chance last took the field for the Cubs, his name is well known for its part in a 1910 poem called "Baseball's Sad Lexicon" by F. P. Adams.

Written from the perspective of a New York Giants' fan, the prose goes as follows:

These are the saddest of possible words:

"Tinker to Evers to Chance."

Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,

"Tinker and Evers and Chance."

Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,

Making a Giant hit into a double,

Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:

"Tinker to Evers to Chance."

Chance was a part of the heralded infield that included second baseman Johnny Evers and shortstop Joe Tinker. Together, that trio played a key role in helping the Cubs win consecutive World Series titles in 1907-08. As you may recall, that 1908 championship held as the team's last crown until 2016.

Besides being credited with 45.7 career WAR with the Cubs, Chance also led the team to a 768-389 record as a player-manager from 1905-12. Chance posted a .394 OBP (seventh in team history) and also had the most hit by pitches (137) in Cubs history until Rizzo passed him last season.

5. Phil Cavarretta, 1934-53
Key fact: NL MVP in 1945

Browse the Cubs' all-time Top 10 lists and you will still see Cavarretta's name sprinkled among the franchise greats. He remains fifth in triples (99), seventh in walks (794) and 10th in runs (968), hits (1,927) and RBIs (896). Cavarretta moved between first and the outfield, but he was the Opening Day first baseman six times. He played in three World Series ('35, '38 and '45), won an MVP and Major League batting title in '45 and made three All-Star teams.

Honorable mention
Hall of Famer Ernie Banks was excluded from this list, as he is more widely remembered as a shortstop. That said, it should be noted that Banks hit 210 of his 512 homers as a first baseman. For the fifth spot, Derrek Lee (2004-10) was also considered. With the Cubs, Lee launched 178 homers at the position, made two All-Star teams and reached the playoffs twice. Let's all tip a cap to Bill Buckner, who hit .300 with 235 doubles and 1,136 hits from 1977-84 with the Cubs.