Mets Through the Years: First Base
May 18th, 2012 by slangon

This is the fourth post in this series. We’ve looked at the field generals, the men who’ve donned the tools of ignorance, and the guys who’ve thrown the first pitch of the season. Today we’ll be taking a trip back through time to see who’s covered the first base bag for the Mets throughout their 50 year existence, through the magic of cardboard.

Although Marvelous Marv didn’t join the team until May 9 of 1962, he did finish the year with 97 games played at first. Before his arrival the position was manned by a revolving cast featuring Jim Marshall, Gil Hodges and Ed Bouchee. For all the stories involving Marv’s, shall we say, interesting experiences on the field, he was actually pretty not bad when compared to his 1962 Mets teammates. He was second on the team in homers with 16, fourth in RBI’s with 49, and second in slugging with .426.

After their inaugural season, apparently Marv and the Mets had some trouble deciding on exactly how much the Marvelous One’s services were worth which gave Timmy Harkness a chance to show the Mets what he could do, which wasn’t much. He put up a .211/.290/.339 triple slash line that year.

Steady Eddie Kranepool became the Mets 3rd “main” first baseman in as many seasons, but he went on to fill that position for 10 out of the next 13 seasons, including a 6 year run from 1964-69. Despite never being a superstar, he was around long enough and was consistent enough that he still up there in many of the Mets franchise records alongside of more marquee names like Piazza, Strawberry, Wright and Reyes.

When he came to the Mets midway through their Championship 1969 season, Donn brought some much needed power to an otherwise scrappy lineup. He ended up being named the World Series MVP that year for the 3 dingers and .357/.438/1.071 line he put up during the series. He followed that up with a very nice season in 1970, which saw him take over the first base job, hitting .288 with 22 homers and 97 RBI.

Ed was back at first for the 1971 and 1972 seasons, doing what Ed Kranepool does. Namely, hitting in the .260-.280 range and driving in around 50 runs, while playing a solid, if unspectacular first base.

Steady Eddie was once again displaced, this time for rookie John Milner, who played the lion’s share of first for the 1973 and 1974 seasons. He performed pretty admirably, hitting 43 homers and driving in 135 runs over the course of the 2 seasons. It worked out ok for Ed as well. In 1974 he batted .486 as a pinch hitter, which is the highest pinch hitting average ever for someone with 30 or more PH AB’s.

1975 and 1976 saw Ed Kranepool back at first for his third and final run at that position. They were 2 of his finest years at the plate, too. He avergaed .323 in ’75 and .292 in ’76.

The Hammer was back on the scene for the ’77 season. What’s that? You didn’t know that John Milner’s nickname was “The Hammer” because people likened him to a young Hank Aaron? Yeah. Neither did I until I was researching this post.

1978 marked the first time in 14 years that someone not named Eddie, Donn or John was manning first base for the Mets. Willie Montanez, fresh of his 1977 All-Star year, held the position for the 1978 season and most of the 1979 season. He was good but not great during his time in Queens, but I doubt many people noticed since the team as a whole was terrible.

Lee Mazzilli was moved to first base after spending his first 4 years with the club playing in the outfield, primarily center. They got pretty good production from him with his .280/.370/.431 line to go along with 16 ding dongs and 76 rib eye steaks that year.

Kong was back for his second tour of duty with the Mets in 1981. Although he only made 50 starts at first that year, that was more than Rusty Staubs 40 starts or Mike Jorgensens 7. In 1982, he started 143 games there, so there was no question that he was the guy. He also led the league in homers that year.

1983 was really the start of the turnaround for the Mets and a lot of that had to do with trading for Keith Hernandez, who would man first base for the Mets (as well as win the Gold Glove for first base) for the next six years. Aside from what he did on the field, he provided the team with a veteran leadership that had been lacking. Di I mention 11 total Gold Gloves. Incredible.

Although Keith was still with the Mets as of 1989, a series of back, knee and hamstring problems limited him to just 55 starts at first and saw his average drop to .233, which was a career low to that point. That allowed Dave Magadan, who had been Keith’s primary backup to that point, to play first regularly, which he did through the 1991 season. He proved to be a fine fielder, although certainly not in Hernandez’s class. His finest year offensively was 1990, when he hit .328, scored 74 runs and drove in 72, primarily out of the 2 hole.

Mags was given the boot at first base thanks to the Mets signing Eddie Murray as a free agent. He had typical Eddie Murray years, batting about .275 and driving in almost 200 over the course of the 2 years he was with the Mets. Incidentally, aside from playing 310 games at first for the Mets, he also has played more games at first than anyone else in Major League history, with 2413 games.

After Eddie Murray packed his bags for Cleveland, David Segui took over first for the Mets. He played 1994 and part of 1995 with the Mets and didn’t exactly put up eye-popping numbers. He hit .257 with 12 homers and 54 RBI’s. He did however indirectly bring one of my favorite Mets to the team. Halfway through the ’95 season, he was traded to the Expos for Reid Cornelius who was sent to the Indians for Mark Clark who was sent to the Cubs for, among others, Turk Wendell.

Although Segui was still with the team in 1995, Rico Brogna ended up with 120 starts at first for the team and he didn’t disappoint. Although not monster numbers, his .289 average, 22 taters and 76 RBI’s were pretty durn good.

Huskey won 4 Doubleday Awards in various levels of the Mets farm system before coming up to the team in 1993 (The Doubleday Award is basically the Mets Minor League MVP). 1996 was the first year that he saw serious playing time, logging 75 games at first. Like Brogna before him, he didn’t put up eye-popping numbers, but hit a respectable .278 with 15 home runs and 60 runs batted in.

The Mets traded for John Olerud for the 1997 season and it was one of those moves that really sparked a turn around for the team. Unlike a lot of other big names the team has brought in over the years, Olerud actually lived up to the hype during his time with the Mets. Aside from providing the best defense at first since Keith Hernandez, during his 3 years in Queens, he hit .315, blasted 63 homers and drove in 291. He was also part of the supposed “Greatest Infield Ever” along with Rey Ordonez, Edgardo Alfonzo and Robin Ventura. He’s another of my personal most beloved Mets.

After the Mets lost Olerud to free agency after the 1999 season, they turned around and signed Todd Zeile for their main first baseman for the next 2 years (he would also be back for short stints with the team in 2003 and 2004). During his 2000-2001 stretch, he played well in the field and provided good offense, but really made his mark in the 2000 post-season. He hit .368 with 8 RBI’s in the NLCS and collected 8 hits over the course of 5 World Series games, good for and even .400 average.

Can we just say that Mo Vaughn played more games at first than any other Met during the 2002 season and leave it at that? (By the way, didn’t MLB retire number 42 in 1997? This picture clearly seems to have been taken during spring training, so it’s obviously not Jackie Robinson Day. What the hell, Mo Vaughn?)

Thanks to Mo Vaughn blowing out his knee to end his career, the Mets used their back-up catcher Jason Phillips as their primary first baseman in 2003. The results were pleasnatly surprising. He played adequately at first and batted .298 with 11 homers and 58 runs batted in.

I still can’t decide if this was a desperation move or just the reality of having an aging, slugging catcher, but the Mets main first baseman in 2004 was none other than Mike Piazza. The Mets abandoned this little experiment before the end of the season, but not before Mike logged more innings at first than anyone else. It’s hard to tell if it was because of the position change or lingering effects of a 2003 groin injury or just overall aging, but Mikey P. had quite a down year in 2004, hitting .266 with only 20 homers and 54 RBI’s. He did, however, break Carlton Fisk’s record for most home runs by a catcher this year.

After seeing how well the whole Piazza at first thing went, the Mets brought in the always fun to spell Doug Mientkiewicz for the 2005 season. He played well in the field, but wasn’t much of a threat at the plate, batting .240 with only 29 runs driven in. Considering the role the club expected him to fill, that was good enough though.

This was another real turning point for the team. After getting Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez and Billy Wagner, the MEts were able to trade for Delgado and he was a key part of them basically steam rolling the N.L. East in 2006. He hit 38 homers and drove in 114 that year, getting the team into the playoffs for the first time since 2000. We all know how that ended, but it was through no fault of Delgado’s. That was the first time he ever appeared in the post-season and he took full advantage, batting .351 with 4 homers and 11 RBI between the NLDS and NLCS. He played first base for the Mets for the next 2 seasons until a hip injury in 2009 ended his season and ultimately his career.

After Delgado got hurt in May of 2009, The Irish Hammer took over first base for the Metsies. He wasn’t exactly Keith Hernandez in the field (in 97 starts, he posted a .989 fielding percentage) the team didn’t exactly have many alternatives at the time. Also, I’m not sure if this had to do with playing out of position, but he also hit a very un-Murphy like .266 that year.

The Mets started the 2010 season with the three headed monster also known as Mike Jacobs, Frank Catalanotto and Fernando Tatis at first. The 3 combined to hit .175 with 1 homer and 3 RBI’s over the first couple of weeks. This prompted the Mets to bring Ike up to the bigs. Aside from playing excellent defense (including a couple of awesome circus catches) he finished the year with a .264 average, 19 bombs and 71 runs batted in. It was looking like the team had found a long term first baseman. By the way, this is the second Mets player to be wearing number 42 in this post, although at least Ike was doing it on Jackie Robinson Day.

Of course things don’t always work out as planned. A rather mundane looking infield collision with David Wright in May ended up knocking Ike out for the season, which was a real shame since he started off the year blazing hot. Through 36 games he was hitting .302 with 7 homers and 25 RBI. Even though Danny Murphy only made 46 starts at first for the remainder of the year, that was more than any of his teammates. He played a little better defensively than he did in 2009, and more importantly, kept hitting, averaging .320 for the season.

After recovering from his ankle injury, Ike is back at first base. Unfortunately, he is having an extremely frustrating season so far. He is well below the Mendoza Line, at .164 and has only hit 5 homers. It’s gotten to the point that Terry Collins has been pinch hitting for him in big situations, which, even as a big fan of Ike’s, I can’t say I blame him for. Fortunately, the team has found ways to win (mostly) even without his big bat, but hopefully he’ll get things going soon, and when he does, it should be a pretty awesome thing to watch, at least for Mets fans.

That’s all of them. Over the course of 50 years, 23 different guys have called first base home for the Metropolitans. Steady Eddie Kranepool has played the most games at first for the team with 1302. No big surprise there. For as many games as Eddie has logged though, I would still say that Keith Hernandez is the greatest of all Mets first basemen. Not only was he an awesome hitter and possibly the greatest defensive first baseman of all time, he provided a leadership on those 1980’s teams that cannot be overlooked. It was almost like having a combination bench coach and pitching coach on the field at all times. And let’s not forget that he is the all-time leader in the super important game winning RBI stat. Plus, since MLB has stopped counting that stat, he always will be.

One Response to “Mets Through the Years: First Base”

  1. RE: Mo’s number – any player wearing #42 before it was retired in 1997 was grandfathered in and allowed to wear it until they retired. Butch Huskey was one of those players. A different Mo, Mariano Rivera, is the last player who gets to wear it.

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