The Cincinnati Reds are the oldest team in Major League baseball so picking the best at any given position can be difficult. Today we are going to start out by looking at the greatest first basemen to ever play for the Cincinnati Reds.
Driessen is often overlooked among Reds fans. While he played an integral part of the Big Red Machine, he ultimately replaced Tony Perez after the Reds won back-to-back World Series championships in 1976 and 1977.
Driessen was a solid Red throughout 12 seasons, hitting.271/.361/.416 with 20.4 fWAR. But he never managed to match Perez and lead them back to championship contention; eventually, Driessen was traded away to the Expos in 1984, which ultimately led to Pete Rose returning home and Driessen becoming something of an unwitting player between Perez and Rose – not that his play wasn’t excellent in its own right! In retrospect, Driessen seems like a placeholder at first base between Perez and Rose; yet this talented first baseman truly was exceptional during his 12-year stint on Reds rosters!
Morris made an impactful first impression for the 1990 World Series champion Reds as a rookie, hitting.340/.381/.498 over his first 498 at-bats and earning himself one of their finest first baseman batting averages (.340/.381/.498). But his legacy lives on in Cincinnati through many more solid seasons at first base than most players can boast about!
Morris spent ten seasons with the Reds over two stretches (split by one season in Kansas City – 1998 – where his stats included hitting.305/.362/.444); this batting average tied Casey for fourth best among Reds first basemen while OBP placed fifth overall. Furthermore, Morris is eighth among games played, seventh for doubles, and ninth in walks among first basemen on Reds rosters.
Beckley began his career with Pittsburgh and quickly emerged as one of the best first basemen in the National League during his eight-year stint there. However, by age 28 his performance had begun to decline significantly, and Pittsburgh traded him away to the New York Giants; unfortunately, his fortunes didn’t improve much there either before eventually being released from their roster.
Beckley had all but given up hope of returning until he joined Cincinnati Reds and found his niche. Over seven seasons with Cincinnati, Beckley would hit.325/.375/.443 while collecting 77 triples while amassing an OPS+ score of 129 with an astounding wRC+ of 123 and an OBA of.387!
Beckley retired as MLB’s all-time triples leader (with 244); currently, he sits in the top ten.
Reilly twice led the league in home runs, total bases, SLG and OPS; once in triples; he also distinguished himself by being one of only two Reds first basemen (other than McCormick) considered above-average defenders by FanGraphs.
He played many years ago and was an engaging character that proved challenging to fully encompass within one quick entry here.
May averaged 33.4 home runs and 96.2 RBI per season from 1968-1971 with the Cincinnati Reds. He hit the final homer at Crosley Field in 1970 as well. May’s last season in Cincinnati in 1971 proved his most outstanding performance as an MLB batter; anchoring their lineup, May hit an astounding.278/.332/.532 line while smashing 39 homers, 98 RBI, 5.4 wins above replacement.
Over his seven-year career with Cincinnati, May hit 147 homers – fourth among all 1Bs – while hitting.274/.321/.490 at an OPS+ score of 125; his performance also ranks fourth-highest among Reds 1Bs.
At age 24, he produced one of the greatest hitting performances of his career: hitting.332/.399/.539 with 25 homers and 99 RBI, earning himself his inaugural All-Star nod. Additionally, he was an integral leader on a remarkable 1999 Reds team which nearly qualified for postseason play.
Casey finished his Reds career hitting.305/.371/.463 with an OPS+ of 114, wOBA of.361 and wRC+ rating of 113. He holds all-time first base leader positions including average (4th), OBP (4th), SLG (7th), doubles (266), walks (387) and home runs (118) among his all-time 1B totals; none could match Casey in terms of fan adoration during his time there.
Kluszewski made his major league debut at just 22 years old in 1947. He became an instantaneous mainstay for Cincinnati throughout that decade – earning four All-Star selections and hitting 251 homers (still fifth on Cincinnati’s all-time list). Furthermore, his enduring fashion legacy remains strong, with him cutting off the sleeves of his jersey to show his enormous biceps!
1954 was Klu’s finest season. He came close to winning a triple crown, leading the league in homers (49) and RBI (141) while placing fifth in batting average (.326) and finishing second in MVP balloting to San Francisco’s Willie Mays.
Modern day fans might recall Kluszewski, but McCormick may be less well known – this is unfortunate given his phenomenal achievements with the Cincinnati Reds over eight full seasons (he also contributed parts to two other campaigns), where he earned all-star selection every single time an All-Star Game was held (the 1945 Midsummer Classic was cancelled), playing on two World Series teams while also winning MVP honors during Cincinnati’s championship year 1940.
McCormick nearly earned MVP in 1939 when Cincinnati shocked baseball by reaching the World Series. He led both in hits and RBI with 18 homers; finishing fourth in MVP voting among teammates Bucky Walters and Paul Derringer who both pitched that year (both pitchers).
After their unfortunate defeat in the 1939 Series against the Yankees, McCormick helped lead his Reds back into contention a year later with another spectacular season at bat. Hitting an incredible.309/.367/.482 line with 19 homers and 127 RBI, leading both leagues hits (191) and doubles (44) totaling 44 each; he earned MVP honors.
Four years later, McCormick outdid himself, with an outstanding 6.1 bWAR season in 1944. Though an exceptional hitter, much of McCormick’s value came from his glove work; Bill James wrote in his Historical Baseball Abstract that McCormick was “one of the finest defensive first basemen ever to play the game”. Indeed, only two other players on this list rate out as above average defensively.
Perez moved to first base full-time in 1972 and was an integral member of one of the greatest Reds teams ever from 1967-1976. Perez amassed an OPS+ score of 133 while playing four World Series and finishing among the top ten of MVP voting four times. Following their championship season of 1976, however, Perez was traded to the Expos for pitchers Woodie Fryman and Dale Murray; though still competitive for five more seasons after Perez left, the Big Red Machine reign ended when Perez left, he was that important.
At 42, Perez returned to Cincinnati and completed his major league career by playing three fairly productive seasons as a part-timer.
I know this may not be a popular pick, but it’s still the easy pick. Votto is the greatest hitter in Reds history and the first baseman ever to play in the Queen City.
Votto also has five of the top ten individual seasons (by bWAR) of any first basemen in club history, and he won the 2010 National League Most Valuable Player award.
Reds fans may hopefully get to see him playing soon and I know that most act like he is more of a burden to the team, but my guess is that he can add more than most are willing to admit.
Votto has been a lifetime Red, and it looks like that will never change. To bad he’s not appreciated the way he should be.
If you enjoy hearing from the legends of pro sports, then be sure to tune into “The Grueling Truth” sports shows, “Where the legends speak”
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