Who’s on first? With the Blue Jays that question has been pretty easy to answer throughout the years and because of that it was actually pretty hard to put together a Top 10 list for first base.
Ranking the position wasn’t overly difficult, and I think we all know who number one is without having to even think about it. However, just picking out 10 Blue Jay first basemen for the list wasn’t easy.
Here’s why. In 36 seasons only 12 different players have started at first base for the Jays on opening day. Digging a little deeper, also in those 36 seasons, if you were to list for each season the player that started the most games at first base that list would include only nine different names. Starting to see the difficulty in picking out the 10 best first basemen?
Despite the limited amount of players to pick through I’ve just barely been able to make up a list of 10 players. However, the top of the list isn’t that pretty for a “best of” list.
Even with the limited selection the same rules that applied to the “Top 10 Catchers” list still apply here. For anyone who forgets, those rules are that only seasons in a Jays uniform count (so Fred McGriff’s masher days in the NL doesn’t earn him points here) and a player must have played a majority of his games at the position to qualify.
Joe Carter played a handful of games at first for Toronto (including one quite famously in 1992), but he was mainly an outfielder with the Jays and will not make this list. Here we go…
Ault made his mark early in his Jays career. Real early. In the Jays first game Ault hit a pair of home runs to lead Toronto to a 9-5 win over the White Sox.
Ault finished the season hitting .245 with 11 home runs and 64 RBI. He was relegated to a backup role when John Mayberry was brought on board in 1978, but he’ll always be a part of Jays history for his dramatic opening day debut.
Stanley played just over half a season with Toronto, but he still made an impact at the plate.
Stanley joined the Jays as a free agent prior to the ’98 season, but after playing in 98 games he was traded to Boston. In between he hit .240 with a .353 OBP, 22 home runs and 47 RBI in 341 at bats. That’s a small sample, but that’s all we got and with a short list of first basemen to choose from Stanley makes the list.
Hillenbrand wasn’t popular in Toronto for the way he departed the team (traded away for being an asshole) but you can’t deny he put up some solid numbers at the plate during his short tenure in Toronto.
Hillenbrand arrived in Toronto prior to the 2005 season in a trade with the Diamondbacks. In his first season with the Jays Hillenbrand was named an All-Star and hit .291 with 18 home runs, 82 RBI and a .792 OPS.
Hillenbrand played 81 games for Toronto during the 2006 season, hitting .301 with 12 homers and 39 RBI, but his off-field head aches weren’t worth that production and he was shipped to San Francisco along with Vinnie Chulk for Jeremy Accardo.
Overbay arrived in Toronto via trade following the 2005 season. His first season with the Jays in 2006 proved to be in best in Toronto when he hit .312 with 22 home runs, 92 RBI, 82 runs scored and an OPS of .880.
Unfortunately for Jays fans and for Overbay he was never able to repeat those numbers in Toronto. Over his next four seasons in Toronto Overbay reached the 20 home run mark only once (20 exactly in 2010), never hit over .300 again and never drove in more than 70 runs.
For a position that is usually looked at to provide power and offense, especially in the AL, those numbers were hard for some fans to take. Overbay wasn’t a horrible option at first base, but after a number of years being spoiled by Carlos Delgado, Overbay wasn’t what Toronto fans were used to at first.
Mayberry was the Jays first true slugger, hitting 92 home runs in five seasons with Toronto. Mayberry’s best seasons may have been behind him when he arrived in Toronto in 1978, but he did put up some solid numbers and provide a veteran presence for some very bad and very young Blue Jays teams.
In his first season with Toronto in 1978 Mayberry led the team with 22 home runs and 70 RBI. Mayberry continued to put up solid power numbers over the next two seasons with 21 home runs in ’79 and the first 30 home run season in franchise history in 1980.
After the 1980 season age started to catch up with the veteran Mayberry as he played in only 180 games over the next two seasons, one of which was split between Toronto and the Yankees.
I know I’m partially breaking the rules here, but with Lind I’m making a bit of an exception. Right now Lind has played more games in the outfield than at first, but by the end of the season as long as he stays healthy and appears in 90 more games he’ll have more games at first under his belt than in the outfield.
Lind started his career with the Jays in left fielder and played there and some at DH from 2006 to 2010. When Lyle Overbay left following the 2010 season Lind made the switch to first base.
In his first season at first Lind appeared in only 125 games due to back problems and hit .251 with 26 home runs, 87 RBI and a .734 OPS. Not bad numbers, but it paled in comparison to his best season in 2009. That year he won the silver slugger after posting a number of career-bests, including a .305 average, 35 home runs, 114 RBI and a .932 OPS.
Upshaw spent parts of nine season manning first base for the Jays in the early days. He took over the starting job in 1982 and produced immediately, leading the team in home runs (21) and RBI (75) while hitting .267 with a .770 OPS. He improved on those number in 1983, his best season with the Jays, when he hit .306 with 27 homers, 104 RBI and a 4.3 WAR.
Upshaw left the Jays after the 1987 season having played 1115 games with the team. He hit .265 as a Blue Jay with 112 home runs, 478 RBI and a 10.5 WAR. Upshaw was one of Toronto’s first real stars and an integral part of a rising club in the 1980s.
John Olerud played eight seasons in Toronto, but is most remembered for his run at .400 during the 1993 World Championship season. During his chase for .400 Olerud kept his average over the magical mark until late into to the month of August.
In ’93 Olerud won the batting title after hitting a career-best .363. He also set career highs in home runs (24), RBI (107), OPS (1.072), and double (54) which was at the time a team record. After hitting those heights in 1993 Olerud had trouble reaching them again in his remaining days with the Jays. In his next three seasons with the Jays Olerud did not hit over .300 again, never topped 20 home runs again and his season-high for RBI was 67 in the strike shortened 1994 season.
Olerud was also an exception fielder at first, but he never received much credit for it while with Toronto. Those accolades did not come until much later in his career when he won three gold gloves with the Mariners.
McGriff was a perennial power hitter throughout his career which he started in Toronto. The Jays stole the Crime Dog from the Yankees in a trade in 1982 and he made his debut with the Jays four years later during a cup of coffee in 1986.
He appeared in 107 games in 1987 and displayed his raw power with a 20-home run campaign. That was just the beginning though as McGriff would surpass 30 home runs the next three season with consistent power that saw him club 34 homers in ’88, 36 in ’89 and 35 in ’90.
In total he hit 125 home runs in 578 games with the Jays before becoming involved in the trade that changed the franchise in 1990.
Carlos Delgado is easily the best first baseman the Jays have ever had and may arguably be the best hitter ever to wear a Jays uniform.
During his 12 seasons in Toronto Delgado set franchise records for home runs (336), RBI (1058) doubles (343), runs (889), OPS (.949) and at bats per home run (14.9). Delgado also owns a number of single-season club records including slugging percentage (.664), OPS (1.134), RBI (145) and doubles (57).
Delgado’s best season in Toronto was in 2000 when he feasted on opposing pitchers all year. In 2000 Delgado hit a career-best .344 and set the Jays record with a 1.134 OPS. He hit 41 home runs with 137 RBI and a team record 57 doubles. That season Delgado made his first All-Star appearance, won his second consecutive silver slugger award and finished fourth in MVP voting.
While with the Jays Delgado topped 30 home runs eight times and launched 40 or more home runs three times. He drove in 100-plus runs six times won three silver slugger awards and had an OPS over .940 six times. If Delgado had played in a Major American market he would have been considered one of if not the best hitter in baseball during his prime.