Bush won, so Raffy goes first. Rafael Palmeiro had a typical age 39 season in 2004 for a great first baseman, going .258/.359/.436 and passed the 550 homer plateau. He has recently signed another 1 year contract with the Orioles and figures to collect his 3,000th hit in 2005. As far as I am concerned, he's a lock for the Hall of Fame.
Rafael Palmeiro was a 1st round draft choice of the Cubs in 1985, and was in the majors the following season. He immediately hit for a good hit average, but his power and plate discipline did not arrive until 1991. He was a remarkably consistent great hitter for 12 years, and has remained valuable as he turned 40 in September.
Eddie Murray is an excellent comp for Palmeiro. Palmeiro's superficial numbers seem better due to the higher run-scoring environment. Before we get to the full chart, I'd like to address the question of decentralization of offensive statistics in a high run-scoring environment. Some writers have suggested that many first basemen are putting up terrific career numbers currently, and that it is not appropriate for too many players at one position in one era to qualify.
Why have the first basemen of the 90s put up such great career numbers? It's simple really. The great hitters are found disproportionately at first base. Many are moved from other positions early in their careers (Delgado, Bagwell, Teixeira). Great hitters prosper disproportionately in high run-scoring environments. The other factor seems to be improved conditioning, which has allowed great first basemen to retain more of their value into their late 30s. As we shall see.
This has happened before. In the late 20s and early 30s, there was a similar environment. In the National League in 1928-30, the league OBPs were .355, .368 and .367, and the league slug pcts. were .412, 443, and .460. There were 3 first basemen in the National League who reached their apex during this period, Bill Terry, Jim Bottomley and George Kelly. Each had 6-7 years of first-class performance. All are in the Hall of Fame, and none had careers as valuable as any of the guys we'll be talking about. Terry was easily the best of them, and it seems fair to me to use him as a marker for judging the current crop of first basemen.
So, without further ado, here is Rafael Palmeiro's chart, which we will be re-using for Fred McGriff next:
Player G AB H HR W BA OBP SLUG OPS+
Palmeiro 2721 10103 2922 551 1310 .289 .372 .517 132
Murray 2819 10603 3071 479 1257 .290 .362 .482 133
McGriff 2433 8685 2477 491 1296 .285 .378 .511 134
Terry 1721 6428 2193 154 537 .341 .393 .506 137
Bottomley 1991 7471 2313 219 664 .310 .369 .500 125