Yankees' Top 5 first basemen: Hoch'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 Bryan Hoch’s ranking of the top five first basemen in Yankees history. Next week: second basemen.

1) Lou Gehrig, 1923-39
Key fact: Established Major League record by playing in 2,130 consecutive games from 1925-39

A uniquely durable, power-hitting first baseman who established a Major League record for consecutive games played (eclipsed in 1995 by Cal Ripken Jr.), Gehrig drove in at least 100 runs in 13 straight seasons (1926-38) and holds the American League record with 185 RBIs in 1931. In a career shortened by terminal illness, the “Iron Horse” compiled a lifetime batting average of .340 with 493 home runs, two Most Valuable Player Awards (1927, '36) and the 1934 Triple Crown.

Gehrig was honored at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939, when he delivered his famous “Luckiest Man” speech. That offseason, the Yankees announced that his uniform No. 4 would be retired. Gehrig was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939 and was immortalized by Gary Cooper in the 1942 film "Pride of the Yankees." His 2,721 career hits stood as a Yankee record until 2009, when Derek Jeter surpassed Gehrig, and his 163 triples remain a franchise mark.

2) Don Mattingly, 1982-95
Key fact: 684 RBIs from 1984-89, most among Major Leaguers

Respected for his talent, professionalism and humility, Mattingly was the premier first baseman of the mid-1980s and appeared to be on a track toward the Hall of Fame before back issues sapped his power at age 29. Nevertheless, “Donnie Baseball” remained the most beloved Yankee of his era and a defensive star, tallying nine Gold Glove Awards in his 14 years wearing pinstripes.

Mattingly won the 1984 batting title (.343), besting teammate Dave Winfield (.340) in an exciting race that came down to the end of the season, and won the 1985 AL MVP after batting .324 with 35 home runs and 145 RBIs. In 1987, Mattingly set a Major League record (since tied) by belting six grand slams in a single season. Mattingly collected 2,153 career hits, 442 doubles and 1,099 RBIs, second to Gehrig among Yankees first basemen.

3) Tino Martinez, 1996-2001 and '05
Key fact: 739 RBIs, fourth among Yankees first basemen all-time

Acquired from the Mariners prior to the ’96 campaign, Martinez was a popular mainstay in pinstripes for four World Series celebrations, posting a .276 batting average with 192 home runs and 739 RBIs in 1,054 games. His most productive season was 1997, when he batted .296 with 44 home runs and 141 RBIs -- all career highs. He also won the Home Run Derby and earned a Silver Slugger Award.

A slick defender, Martinez hit memorable World Series homers for the Yanks in 1998 (off the Padres’ Mark Langston in Game 1) and 2001 (off the D-backs’ Byung-Hyun Kim in Game 4). Martinez’s .831 OPS ranks fourth among Yankees first basemen, just ahead of Mattingly’s .830.

4) Moose Skowron, 1954-62
Key fact: Seven homers and 26 RBIs in 35 World Series games as a Yankee

A seven-time All-Star and four-time World Series champion during his time with the Yankees, Skowron was a formidable force in lineups that also featured Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. Though Skowron made his big league debut in 1954, he did not become the regular first baseman until ’58, earning a reputation around the league for intimidating pitchers with his scowl and muscular physique.

Skowron hit 165 homers over his nine seasons with the Yankees, batting .294 and registering five seasons with batting averages over .300. His right-handed stroke added balance to the lineups filled out by managers Casey Stengel and Ralph Houk, and Skowron was at his finest in the Fall Classic, batting .283/.315/.508 over 120 at-bats.

5) Jason Giambi, 2002-08
Key fact: .404 Yanks on-base percentage, fourth highest in club history

Giambi signed an eight-year, $120 million contract with the Yankees prior to the 2002 season and slugged 209 homers with 604 RBIs over a turbulent run in pinstripes. Giambi won a Silver Slugger Award in his first season with the Yanks, batting .314 with 41 homers and 122 RBIs, and maintained his high on-base abilities throughout his tenure. The slugger’s two-homer performance off Pedro Martinez in Game 7 of the 2003 AL Championship Series helped to set up Aaron Boone’s pennant-winning homer.

A benign tumor shortened Giambi’s ’04 campaign, but he bounced back with strong performances over the next two years. Giambi registered the final hit at the original Yankee Stadium, an RBI single. His 143 OPS+, 619 walks and .925 OPS rank second to Gehrig (179 OPS+, 1,508 walks, 1.080 OPS) among Yankees first basemen. His 109 hit-by-pitches were the most of any Major Leaguer from 2002-08, and his 619 walks ranked fourth among first basemen in that span.

Honorable mentions
Mark Teixeira (2009-16) slugged 206 homers during his eight years with the Yankees -- which included a World Series championship in his first season -- but injuries curtailed his production after 2011. Chris Chambliss (1974-79, ’88) was the hero of the 1976 ALCS and was at his best from 1975-77, when he posted a .295/.332/.440 slash line. Wally Pipp (1915-25) is best known for exiting from the lineup as Gehrig’s streak began, but Pipp’s 1,577 hits and 833 RBIs still rank third among Yankees first basemen.