Astros’ best of the best: Can there be any other choice at first base?


The Astros have had a handful of mega star players over the past 50 years. In fact, before 2012 or so, the names synonymous with the organization were named Bagwell and Biggio. Now that Houston has won its first World Series with a bevy of up-and-coming superstars, the game has been joined.

That brings us to the Best of the Best series. We’ll cover every position and then some between now and opening day, so please register your thoughts, but stay on today’s position.

Today: First base.

  1. Jeff Bagwell.  1991-2005. On this, there is no argument. At all. With a career cut short because of nagging injuries, Bagwell turned in one of the best careers ever by a first baseman, Astro or otherwise. As an Astros’ hall of famer, he stands alone atop the list of first basemen in the organization’s history. He’s in the top 3 in virtually every Astros’ offensive career category. He’s second in games played, OPB, runs scored, hits and total bases and leads the organization in home runs (449) and RBI (1529) and walks (1401).
  2. Lance Berkman. 1999-2010. Yes, Berkman played the outfield for many years as he was blocked by Bagwell. As Bagwell’s skills diminished and ultimately led to his retirement, Berkman made the obvious move to first.  Berkman won’t be in the Hall of Fame, but you will find him at or near the top of the leaderboard of many Astros all-time stats.
  3. Glenn Davis. 1984-90. Before there was Bagwell, before there was Berkman, there was Glenn Davis. To that moment in time, he was the best the Astros had produced at first base. A career .262/.337/.483 slash — all in the Astrodome mind you — with 166 home runs, he was a former first round pick ultimately traded to the Orioles for Steve Finley, Pete Harnisch and Curt Schilling. Davis was a two-time All Star who finished second to Mike Schmidt in the 1986 NL MVP vote. He shows up 14 times on Top 10 lists for Houston, including home runs (166, 5th), slugging percentage (.483, 6th) and OPS (.819, 8th).
  4. Bob Watson. 1966-1979. Like Berkman, Watson bounced around the outfield and settled in at first base in the last few years of his career as an Astro. He was a two-time All Star for Houston. One of his big claims to fame is that he scored the 1,000,000th run in MLB and he later became the general manager of the Astros. He later served as GM of the Yankees and won a World Series in 1996. He was the last Yankees’ GM before Brian Cashman took over in 1998.
  5. Lee May. 1972-74. The big bopper made his mark in Houston in just three years, coming over to Houston in one of the biggest trades in the organization’s history. It’s the trade that sent Joe Morgan to the Big Red Machine and a Hall of Fame career. May is eighth on Houston’s list of AB/HR with a 20.9 figure.

Those are five of the best in Houston history.  Yuli Gurriel is signed through 2020. How many pennants and World Series would he need to put him on the list above?

  • What’s your best or favorite memory of Bagwell?
  • Does anyone remember Berkman’s catch on Tal’s Hill in centerfield?
  • Bagwell may be the best first baseman in Astros’ history. Who’s your favorite though?
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63 comments on “Astros’ best of the best: Can there be any other choice at first base?

  1. Chip –
    This and second base have been the best positions historically for the club. I think you got these in the right order. Yuli could make it on to the bottom of the five with a few solid years at 1B.
    A few thoughts on 1B…
    – Davis’ numbers are kind of ho hum looking these days, but he was a real power threat back in his day with a team without that many power threats.
    – Bagwell was the best fielding 1B of the bunch – no one could charge a bunt and gun down a lead runner better than he could and it was a shame when his shoulder took that part of the game away from him. And he was the smartest/best running 1B around.
    – Funny when you look back – you find someone like Cesar Cedeno playing a bunch of 1B back in 1979 – must have been recovering from some leg injury?
    – I always liked Enos Cabell who was kind of like a Marwin G back in the day.
    – And who can forget Carlos Pena…..oh yeah I wish I could forget….

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  2. Clearly Bagwell was the best offensive 1B that we ever had partly because I think Berkman’s best years as an offensive player were whilst he was in the outfield. But his best (first?) eight or so years were largely the same as Bagwell’s full career.

    At about the end of 05 or 06, we have Bagwell (G 2150) with BA / OBP / SLG of 0.297 / 0.408 / 0.540 and Berkman (G 1245) with BA / OBP / SLG 0.302 / 0.413 / 0.564. Obviously Berkman didn’t keep the pace up (nagging injuries?) but if you scale up his performances to the same games as Bagwell played then he was going to outhit him and out extra-base-hit him and hit more HRs and be basically tied in everything else except way less SB. I don’t think that everyone realises just how good Lance Berkman was.

    Clearly Bagwell was a *much* better baserunner and a better defensive 1B. Larry Dierker rates him as one of the two best 1B ever really, in his outstanding book My Team.

    But … Berkman performed at the highest level in the postseason. It wasn’t a fluke of small numbers. He was by far our best player in 04 and 05 postseasons and his WS numbers in 2011 are incredible and fully deserving of the WS MVP. A travesty that this went to David Freese.

    Can you guess that my *favourite* 1B was Berkman? My main memories of Bagwell are 97, 98, 99, 01 failures in the postseason.

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  3. Bagwell is my favorite Astros player ever, but I am also a huge fan of the Big Puma. Berkman always came up big in big moments. Bagwell, unfortunately, had his playoff failings, but I just enjoyed watching him play his entire career and I will say, at the present time, he ranks ahead of Biggio as the greatest Astros player ever (Altuve and/or Correa may surpass them one day if they finish their careers in Houston).

    I should also mention, before all of them, I loved the Big Bopper (Milo’s nickname for Glenn Davis). I moved to Houston in 1977 and until Davis came along we never had a real power threat that could hit 30+ HRs. He was the first during my time as an Astros fan so I really came to appreciate him.

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    • tim i agree with your assessment, Baggie is my favorite astro ever. Berkman was very good as well. the thing i always remember and chuckle alittle bit was when berkman had knee problems, gained weight and grew his sideburns out, During that time they called him ‘fat elvis’. and he did kinda look like elvis.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Bagwell was my favorite, especially for my kids. They grew up wearing #5 and/or #7 throughout their baseball careers.

    I’ll never think of Bagwell without thinking of his awkward stance and how maddeningly he charged bunts. He would almost rush into the batter’s box itself to field the bunt.

    And, Puma, how can you think of him and not think of him laughing and goofing off, even in a tight game or losing situation. He was just so easy-going.

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  5. I often think that facing some really great right handed pitchers in the playoffs affected Biggio and Bagwell adversely, while Berkman was great against rightys (and pretty bad against leftys).
    But I also think that Pumas easy go attitude also helped in the playoffs. We saw the same thing in 2017 – the story of Altuve gathering the infielders after his team fell behind quickly (I think game 5) and telling them to just have fun. I think playing loose is the key and I get the feeling that the more Bags and Bidge strained to carry the load the heavier the load got.

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  6. I guess I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Norm Larker. He was the very first 1B the team ever had and was the 1B for the Colt 45s at my first major league game, in April of 1962. My fondest memory of him was a grand slam he hit off of Juan Marichal to help the 45s come back and beat the Giants, after Bob Bruce got knocked out of the game in the first inning by the powerful Giants who would play in the 1962 World Series and lose to the Yankees.
    The Colt 45s were so amazingly bad that year, but that game stands out as one of the best. I was washing dishes and listening to the game on a transister radio in my family’s kitchen when Larker hit that GS and I won’t ever forget that.

    Liked by 3 people

      • Pidge Browne was a pinch hitter in the game I referenced above and I think he had an RBI or two to help seal that victory.
        Thanks for the memory.

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    • You guys are making me feel like a youngster. I was seven then, living on Long Island. I went to a Mets game at the Polo Grounds that expansion year, my first live professional game. If I recollect, the Mets won one of their 42 games that Saturday afternoon against the Braves of Milwaukee.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Loved Norm Larker, OP. And Rusty Staub. And Bull Watson. And Glenn Davis.
    And the Puma. But of course, as has been pointed out, the standard of excellence at 1B in our organization most definitely belongs to Jeff Bagwell.

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  8. Best Bagwell memory – the whole ’94 season. Every time I turned on a game that guy was on base.

    Berkman’s catch-oh yes! I was at that game. It’s one of the most insane catches I’ve ever seen. I always thought Berkman was underrated as an outfielder,

    Favorite? – always a soft spot for Bob Watson. Saw him hit for the cycle one game. Also a part of one of my favorite statistical oddities: 2 years in a row Cedeno hit .320 and in those same 2 years Bull hit .312. If you ever meet Bull you’ll know why he was the Bull and a great hitter: those hands , man! And he can tell some amazing George Steinbrenner stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Looking at the Astros projected 25-man roster for 2018, I noticed that they have Ken Giles under control for 3 ARB years and Devenski and LMJ for four years each, mostly arbitration years, too.
    Every other pitcher on their projected 25-man roster is under control for only one or two years.
    The Astros are either going to have to start using their farm for pitching, or they are going to have to be very active in free agency or trades to get pitching for the future.
    If you’re wondering how I thought of pitchers on a blog about 1B, it’s simple:
    Potential first basemen Tyler White and JD Davis were also pitchers in 2017.
    TeeHee.

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      • And your comment brings to mind the incredible connection between Cody Bellinger and Yu Darvish in the first inning of Game 7 of the World Series.
        Bellinger throwing somewhere within 20 feet of Darvish points out that Bellinger was a Dodgers minor league outfielder and Darvish was a Texas Ranger in spring training 2017.
        That play was doomed before it ever happened.

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      • OP – when that play occurred my thought was “This is it – we are ready and they are not – we are going to win” – even though it was the first inning.
        Then I worried myself to death for the next 8+ innings…..

        Liked by 1 person

    • Perhaps, and like Colonel Jessup I’m just spitballin’ here – perhaps the Astros will use the next two seasons to decide if they will move some of that Verlander money over to an extension offer for Cole. Pair that up with Whitley and/or Martes perhaps being ready for the majors and who knows where this is all headed.

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      • Reminds me of Breaking Bad when Jesse asks Walt if he’s in the “money making business”. Like Heisenberg, Luhnow is in the empire business.

        We’re gonna be great for a long time barring a catastrophe.

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      • I’m going to be very interested to see what Darvish and Arrieta get this off-season as it could be a good barometer on what Keuchel will get next off-season. If the Astros had signed Darvish instead of trading for Cole I would’ve said the door on Keuchel returning is shut, but the trade for Cole has left it a bit ajar. I still think he moves on as Boras is his agent and he usually finds a team to overpay for his clients. However, I think all things being equal he’ll want to return here.

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  10. I’ve got some pretty good memories of Yulieski Gurriel – the only Astros 1B with a ring. The guy who learned on the fly in the toughest league, a new position with a brutal schedule. He raised every meaningful stat from his true rookie year, including intangibles like clutch hitting and infield savvy. I love that he’s there to swing the bat, that while he doesn’t walk much, he struck out only 11% last season. Compare that to Bagwell and Berkman career 16.5%, Yuli so far has markedly better strike zone discipline. I also applaud the FO for having the foresight to move him there permanently.

    One other thing – the Yuli Test. Which of any of the former first basemen would’ve had the kind of comraderie as to allow his teammates to pull his helmet off, and play with their hair? That kind of lax spirit helped these guys create the bond Musgrove wrote about as a farewell.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Wow – not a tweet or a text or an emoji. I was not aware that people under 30 years old owned a pen or paper.
        I can only wish the best for Joe unless we meet in interleague games or in the World Series. Then I hope he pitches well but his team loses.

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      • At the end of the Series, AJ told them to look around because they would never be with this exact group of players again. That’s how it is but still hurts.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I hate hearing the “it was a surprise to me” part of just about every trade. These guys deserve better than that, in my opinion. Having got that out of the way, I hope Musgrove wins the NL Cy Young next year.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Diane, it’s part of the price of winning. How many times have the Patriots brought in different pieces, not only on the field, but the coaching staff too. But, to succeed like that, you have to have a system in place. Houston lost its bench coach this year, but if the Luhnow Plan continues to work, you can bet that others in the front office will be peeled off by other organizations.

        Let’s hope Luhnow and Hinch have a system in place by now and they can just plug in another piece. Over and over again.

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      • What Chip said is why I try not to get a personal attachment to players. It is rare they stay with your favorite team their entire career. I am hoping Altuve and Correa, at the least, will sign their first free agent contracts with the Astros, but I also realize it is possible we may lose them. With all this being said Musgrove will be missed and he handled his departure with pure class. I believe Michael Feliz also had a very classy tweet regarding his trade from the Astros.

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      • Chip, thank you. Because I tend to be slightly emotional 🙂 I need to be reminded. It’s a business — but my dad grew up in Weimar, Texas, where it was only a game. And that was how he looked at it. But he still was thrilled to get a pro team and he’s the one who took me out there and administered the rites.

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  11. I still can’t shake this feeling. Does anyone else think the Astros still are going to make another big move?
    I mean, I looked at the Gerrit Cole deal and the Astros projected payroll went up approximately $6 million to $155 million. I realize the Astros could quit adding and would have a really good team, but I’m not sure Jeff Luhnow has everything tied up the way he wants it.

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    • Nah, I don’t think he’s done yet. I think he may be building the team for a World Series sweep as opposed to another 7 game series lol

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    • OP, I’ve felt for a while that he has a couple of big moves up his sleeve. If he’s playing the odds, he also knows that teams who sit still don’t repeat. The odds of a repeat are long and my guess is that he’s wanting to shorten those odds as much as possible. And just because he says “nothing imminent”, don’t buy it! 😉

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      • Chip, Luhnow said nothing was imminent after the fake Cole trade, too.
        What I thought was interesting was the word Fisher was in the fake trade, but then was called one of the “untouchables” in the final deal.
        That makes me wonder if another team, who has someone the Astros like, likes Derek Fisher a lot. Or, are the Astros true believers that Derek Fisher is a great fit in left field for the Astros now and for years to come?
        Did any of us realize that Gerritt Cole was so strong on the Astros wish list back last July, which we learned from Luhnow this past weekend?
        Two years ago everybody wanted Martes.
        Last year everybody wanted Musgrove.
        This year everybody wants Whitley.
        Next year everybody will want JB Bukauskus and Corbin Martin.
        What I want is for a couple of them to be in our rotation for about six or seven years!
        There are 39 days until ST begins. I wouldn’t be surprised to see another big move and a couple other moves, too.

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      • OP, does Tony Watson count as a big move as I can see this as a possibility? I can also see Lucroy, but it will probably only happen if his market is depressed enough where we can get him on a 1-2 year deal.

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      • “Odds of a repeat are long” — that I agree with. Cause I’m the girl with the empty glass worrying someone’s gonna steal it and beat me with it.

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  12. Been kinda out of touch, but reading your posts. I have a cousin in Houma who has been in the hospital since Christmas day with the same thing my brother had….her husband is going to let the doctor take her off the ventilator tomorrow. I will be leaving for Houma in a day or so……my heart is broken😢.
    I think the way they told Big Joe about the trade was chicken. I was sad for him, because he wanted to stay with these guys for another run at the WS again this year. I’ve read the comments about this trade, and they made me sad. I hope Joe turns out to be just what they what him to be, and front line starter.
    Best 1st baseman….Bagwell hands down, but Berkman was fun to watch over there! I don’t think Luhnow is not done yet…..Becky⚾

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Very sorry to hear what is going on with your cousin, Becky. We had a tough year with deaths in the family – it just puts a pall over everything especially around the holidays. All prayers to you and yours.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Not only is Houston the defending MLB champions, but nobody is talking about them needing more starting pitchers.
    Joe Musgrove got a call from Jeff Luhnow personally to tell him he had been traded to a team who would give him a chance to be in the starting rotation.
    With a World Series ring headed for his hand, I don’t know how Houston could have handled the situation any finer than they did.
    Out of the blue last night on The Good Doctor, one of the main characters, the lead surgeon, told his fiance that his boyhood dream was to be the third baseman for the Astros. The show takes place in San Jose, Ca.
    Collusion or no collusion, baseball teams are waking up to wasting money and this isn’t a baseball thing. This is what every business tries to accomplish. Agents try to get the most for their clients so agents can get rich and powerful. Unions try to get more money for their members so that leaders of unions can make money off of their members.
    The San Francisco Giants remind me of the character Norma Desmond in the movie Sunset Boulevard.

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