Who are these guys? Never before in my forty years of voting for the starters in the All-Star game have I asked that question, especially for first base in the American League. We have always had a vast array of candidates from which to select, stars such as Boog Powell or Norm Cash and Eddie Murray or Mark McGuire.
Even as recently as ten years ago, the A.L. ballot posted numerous stars at first base. Most Valuable Players like Miguel Cabrera of Detroit and Justin Morneau of the Twins were listed with the likes of Paul Konerko of the White Sox and Mark Teixiera of the Yankees as options to start in the 2008 Midsummer Classic.
First basemen used to almost universally serve as the most feared hitters, usually at clean up or somewhere in the heart of the batting order. Now they have lower collective batting averages than any other infield position, and their home run totals are next to worst.
This decline is exemplified by the 2018 All Star ballot, which lists half the candidates with sub .230 batting averages. Even more surprising, given the tradition of power associated with first base, nearly a third of them have not yet reached double figures in home runs.
Granted, three former MVPs are listed there, but that trio of guys are well past the primes. Cabrera still represents the Tigers, but he is out for the season. Minnesota’s Joe Mauer is hitting thirty points under his career average, and Albert Pujols of the Angels is exactly at the league average in home runs and hitting percentage.
Since none of those three are deserving, fans have justifiably placed their votes elsewhere. It has not been easy, however, since there are no stand out players currently manning first base in the A.L.
Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox is the leading vote getter, even though he is having a sub par season. Aiding his cause is the fact that he is a former Rookie of the Year, and he has been around for five years in a large market city.
Most of the other options are relatively unknown, including the player who ranks first among his peers in WAR. Matt Olson leads all first basemen in that category, but because he plays in Oakland and is relatively young he trails in the voting.
The most successful teams have won for the most part in spite of, rather than because of, their first basemen. Houston’s Yuiri Gurriel is hitting .300, but his numbers pale next to other stars of the Astros like Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa.
Greg Bird of the Yankees is arguably the seventh best hitter in a New York lineup featuring Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Didi Gregorius. Mitch Moreland is having a good season, but his numbers still cannot match those of Red Sox teammates like Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogarts.
A look at the Senior Circuit provides more hope for the fate of first basemen, the home of stars like Joey Votto, Anthony Rizzo, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmdit. My ballot would be much easier to fill out if, for some unfathomable reason, one of those guys would be traded to an American League team before All Star voting ends.