First base is a marquee offensive position, so most starting first basemen tend to be good hitters. In the first installment of "That Guy," we examine the guy who isn't.
Hello, everyone, and welcome to a new series of features on Baseball Nation, titled "That Guy." Each time, we're going to examine a particular breed of baseball player -- the sort of guy we're bound to see if we watch baseball for long enough.
Today's That Guy:
THE NO-HIT FIRST BASEMAN, colloquially known as
THE WORST BASEMAN.
CASEY KOTCHMAN, and
Before we examine the WORST BASEMAN, let's first establish what makes a man a first baseman to begin with. If you are drafted by a Major League Baseball team out of high school, this is how you will be fast-tracked through, or out of, the system:
There are a handful of exceptions to the personality clause, such as Albert Belle and Jim Thome, but the industry is largely filled with Fred McGriff/Paul Konerko types who have never ever said anything out loud.
And that's usually fine, because the first baseman is the running back of baseball, in that he's relatively quiet and he's often the second-most valuable player on the field. Your average starting first baseman is likely to hit 20 home runs and manage an .800 OPS.
Without a personality to speak of, all the first baseman has is his bat. But if he doesn't even have that ... well, let's just say that if you're the guy whose job it is to write blurbs on the backs of baseball cards, this is the guy who makes your job difficult.
Ensuring that you have a good bat at first base is as much an issue of status as anything else. In that respect, starting WORST BASEMAN at such a marquee position is sort of like directing a movie with, I don't know, Tom Wopat in the starring role.
The 2003 Braves are a terrific example of this. Consider that their roster featured:
- Five guys who merit serious Hall of Fame consideration (Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Gary Sheffield),
- Three other guys who made the All-Star team that year (Javy Lopez, Marcus Giles, Rafael Furcal),
- One guy who was largely past his prime, but had a lot of great years behind him (Vinny Castilla) ...
... and, starting at first base, ROBERT FICK.
It should be emphasized that Robert Fick was not a terrible baseball player. He was good enough to eke out a 10-year Major League Baseball career with a couple of decent seasons. But, man ... when you're the least-known and worst hitter in this starting lineup, at that position, it's hard not to stare at the lineup and say, "Wait, what?"
You probably know the drill from here. When you're watching a game on TV that involves WORST BASEMAN, you know the guys in the broadcast booth are going to spend some time fawning over his defensive ability. They will say that first base is a more difficult position than folks give it credit for, which is true.
But then they will trip and fall into one of baseball's ubiquitous fallacies: that if a player is a sub-par hitter, he is therefore a terrific fielder. This is not necessarily true! While some of these WORST BASEMEN, such as Robert Fick or Casey Kotchman, do turn out to be pretty good defensively, many are not.
And let me tell you, "broadcasters fawning over player who totally does not deserve it" is must-see television.
I hope I don't walk away from this looking like I resent WORST BASEMAN. On the contrary, this is a celebration of him. "Better at baseball" does not mean "better," and "worse at baseball" does not mean "worse." All players are to be celebrated for what they are, and that is what I want this "That Guy" series to be all about.