Out of all the positions this season involving MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard players, potential ones or just standouts in general, the one that continues to sparkle the most is first base for the National League.Have you contemplated this list? Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, Joey Votto, Eric Thames, Ryan
Out of all the positions this season involving MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard players, potential ones or just standouts in general, the one that continues to sparkle the most is first base for the National League.
Have you contemplated this list? Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, Joey Votto, Eric Thames, Ryan Zimmerman, Paul Goldschmidt and Justin Bour.
Although several of those guys are proficient in the field (Rizzo, Goldschmidt and Votto own a Gold Glove, and Freeman always flirts with one), I'm mainly referring to their hitting prowess, which is considerable.
I know a lot about the game's history as someone who spent his youth memorizing large sections of the Baseball Encyclopedia, and I can tell you the birthday for every starting cog of the Big Red Machine, along with that of manager Sparky Anderson. Even so, John Thorn knows more about the game's past than me and nearly everybody else, especially since he is the baseball historian for Major League Baseball.
Which brings me to this: I can't recall a time when our national pastime featured as many quality first basemen in one league as this current era in the NL. If you include the All-Star likes in the American League of Justin Smoak and Yonder Alonso, along with the traditionally spectacular Jose Cabrera and the decent years of Logan Morrison, Eric Hosmer, Jose Abreu and Yuli Gurriel, I'm thinking these are the good, old days for baseball involving first basemen.
But I'm not John Thorn.
"Gosh ... could look back to the early 1930s, with Gehrig, Greenberg, Foxx, Sisler, Trosky, Mize, Terry all vying for All-Star Game spots," Thorn told me in an email after he presumably flipped through everything from his splendid memory to Baseball-Reference.com.
"In the 1960s, we had Killebrew, McCovey, Perez ... not as good. Interesting exercise, I think: flip through the All-Star Game roster by changing the year in the url, one after the other, and see who's missing [!]. Incredible, e.g., that in 1935 Greenberg couldn't make the squad despite being league MVP!!! Good clues, I hope."
Yes, indeed. So I'll take Thorn's response as ... maybe. You know, maybe we're seeing an unprecedented number of elite first basemen in baseball overall and around the NL in particular. Not surprisingly, the Final Vote for an NL All-Star Game selection included two first basemen Mark Reynolds (.285 batting average, 19 homers and 61 RBIs entering Friday's games) and Bour (.284, 19, 55) among the five contenders.
For perspective, let's start with the NL first basemen who didn't make the All-Star Game through either fans, players or the Baseball Commissioner's Office selecting folks before the Final Vote. Take Rizzo, for instance. His streak of consecutive years making the Midsummer Classic just ended at three, but he ranks among the top 10 in the league in home runs with 19, and courtesy of his 54 RBIs, he's heading for his third straight season of 100 or more RBIs.
Remember Ericmania? In April, Thames was near the top of baseball's feel-good stories after he returned to the Major Leagues this season following a stint in the Korean game. He quickly ripped enough shots toward the heavens to help trigger the Brewers' ongoing surprise lead in the NL Central. Then came Thames' slump in May and June, but he still is third in the league in homers after blasting Nos. 22 and 23 on Independence Day.
Freeman was sprinting toward starting for the NL in the All-Star Game until a fractured left wrist said otherwise in May. At the time, he led the league in homers with 14, and he was among the NL leaders in batting average (sixth, .341), runs scored (third, 35), extra-base hits (second, 26), on-base percentage (second, .461) and slugging percentage (second, .748).
If you think Rizzo, Thames, Freeman, Reynolds and Bour were impressive during the first half, consider the Big Three for the NL at first base during the All-Star Game, starting with Goldschmidt and Votto -- the (ahem) backups. Goldschmidt is an NL Most Valuable Player Award candidate with his .314 batting average, and he's second in the MLB in RBIs with 66 and runs scored with 72. Votto joins Cody Bellinger atop the NL in homers with 24, and Votto is hitting .316 with 62 RBIs.
Which tells you about Zimmerman's year. He's among the five NL All-Stars for a Nationals team that has led the NL East for most of the season. He is third in the Major Leagues in batting at .332, and he has 19 homers and 62 RBIs.
Zimmerman, Votto, Goldschmidt.
Each of the three are qualified to start Tuesday night in Miami at first for the NL All-Stars, and you also could make a case for the others. I guess I just did.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com.