Red Sox's Top 5 first basemen: Browne's take

March 30th, 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 Ian Browne’s ranking of the top five first basemen in Red Sox history. Next week: second basemen.

1) Jimmie Foxx, 1936-42
Key fact: 50 homers in 1938 stood as a club record until David Ortiz (54) surpassed it in 2006

The right-handed-hitting masher known as “Double-X” played 38 percent of the games in his career for the Red Sox, but his production over that time was more than enough to beat out worthy contenders Mo Vaughn and Kevin Youkilis as the best first baseman in team history. The Red Sox got Foxx in what amounted to be a steal from the Philadelphia Athletics, sending two players -- George Savino and Gordon Rhodes -- and $150,000 from owner Tom Yawkey’s bank account.

Yawkey and the Red Sox got their money’s worth and more from Foxx, who was a savage in the middle of Boston’s lineup. In 887 games for Boston, Foxx had a line of .320/.429/.605 while bashing 222 homers to go along with 788 RBIs. His 1938 season remains one of the best in club history. Aside from the 50 homers, Foxx also had 175 RBIs, which still stands as a team record. Only Jim Rice had more total bases in a season for the Sox (406 in ’78) than Foxx’s 398 in ’38. Foxx’s 92 extra-base hits that season represents another team record that still stands. David Ortiz had 91 in 2004.

Imagine how fun it was for Red Sox fans during those three seasons (1939-41) that Foxx and a youngster named Ted Williams were in the same lineup. Foxx had an OPS+ of 188 his first year playing with Williams, tops in the Majors. He finished second to Joe DiMaggio in the American League MVP Award race that season.

2) Mo Vaughn, 1991-98
Key fact: Was MVP in the American League in 1995

The “Hit Dog” was a fearsome presence in the middle of the Boston batting order throughout the mid- to late 1990s, and the only thing he missed out on was getting the chance to play deep into October. Vaughn got to the playoffs three times but never made it past the Division Series. But that doesn’t take away from his impressive production.

Some people say that Vaughn was Big Papi before Big Papi. For a six-year stretch (1993-98), that was true, as the lefty slugger slashed .315/.405/.569 while averaging 36 homers and 110 RBIs. Wildly popular during his time with the Red Sox, Vaughn left as a free agent after the ’98 season and his career spiraled downward after that. Because of Vaughn's ability to pepper the Green Monster, it would have been interesting to see if he would have had a better ending if he remained in Boston.

“He was a home run waiting to happen,” said Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy. “Just his stance alone, when you look at it, it looked like a power stance. It looked like every time he swung the bat, he had a chance to drive the ball out of the ballpark. He also became a pretty good first baseman. He made himself a pretty good first baseman.”

3) Kevin Youkilis, 2004-12
Key fact: Had a .392 OBP over a six-year span (2006-11)

The ultimate grinder and on-base machine was a fan favorite and a two-time World Series champion in his time with the Red Sox. Youkilis came up through the Minors as a third baseman, but turned into a Gold Glover when the Red Sox moved him across the diamond following the acquisition of Mike Lowell. Youkilis hit for average and power and loved to spray the ball into the gaps.

He was also a big-game player. In Boston’s 2007 title run, Youkilis was a force, hitting .388 with four homers, 10 RBIs and a 1.230 OPS in 14 postseason games.

After a conflict with manager Bobby Valentine, Youkilis was traded to the White Sox in June 2012. He also had a forgettable 28-game stint with the rival Yankees in ’13 before injuries forced him into retirement. Those short periods with other teams are a blip on the radar for a man who will always feel part of the Red Sox family.

4) George Scott, 1966-71, ’77-79
Key fact: Won three of his eight career Gold Glove Awards with the Red Sox

Long before David Wells came along, baseball had a player that everyone referred to as the “Boomer.” Scott embraced the name as much as he loved calling his home runs “taters.” Scott, who died in 2013, was always popular with Red Sox fans because he was a key member of the “Impossible Dream” squad of 1967. It was Scott who broke a 2-2 tie with a tater on the final Saturday of the regular season to lead the Red Sox to a crucial win over the Twins. They clinched the pennant the next day.

Scott had two stints with the Sox and was a key contributor both times. Upon his return, the Boomer belted 33 homers in 1977 and was part of a 99-win team in ’78 that lost the division in a one-game playoff to the Yankees. The right-handed hitter ripped 154 homers in 1,192 games for Boston, but it is his defense that his former teammates remember most.

“He was the best defensive first baseman I ever played with,” said Remy. “I can’t say he’s the best I’ve seen, but he was the best I’ve played with. For me, it was a comfort level making double plays. When I made a bad throw, I knew there was a damn good chance he was going to pick it at the other end.”

5) Adrián González, 2011-12
Key fact: Led MLB with 213 hits in 2011

In December 2010, Theo Epstein finally acquired González, a man he had first coveted when the first baseman was bashing the baseball as a high school player in Miami. The Red Sox got González in the prime of his career. With a left-handed swing built for Fenway, González was expected to become a hitting legend for Boston -- especially after he signed a seven-year extension just months after the trade.

Though González would stunningly play just 282 games for the Red Sox before being traded to the Dodgers in August 2012, he did enough damage in Boston (.895 OPS) to round out our top five at first base. González was a stud in ’11, putting up a line of .338/.410/.548 with 108 runs, 45 doubles, 27 homers and 117 RBIs. He was a Silver Slugger Award winner and a Gold Glove Award winner that season. But the ’11 Red Sox collapsed down the stretch, becoming the first team in MLB history to miss the postseason after holding a nine-game lead in September.

González’s mood became dark when the Red Sox had a mess of a season under Valentine in ’12, and the club moved him along with Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto in an unlikely waiver trade on Aug. 25.

Honorable mentions
The legendary Carl Yastrzemski started 742 games at first for the Sox and had an .813 OPS while playing the position. But the panel has decided that a player can only be nominated at one position in this series, and -- spoiler alert -- Yaz will appear during the segment on left fielders. … Mike Napoli and Kevin Millar were both key players for the Sox in three-year stints. Napoli had two game-altering homers in the 2013 ALCS. Millar’s walk set up the historic steal by Dave Roberts in Game 4 of the ’04 ALCS. … Jake Stahl was an important player for the Sox in the dead-ball era and was part of championship-winning clubs in 1903 and ’12.