To celebrate 25 years of Triple-A baseball in New Orleans, we are taking a look back at the best players at each position over the last quarter-century. Next up is the top five first basemen, a spot that features some of the most prolific hitters in franchise history.
No New Orleans player has ever driven in more runs than J.R. Phillips, who collected 183 RBI over parts of three seasons with the Zephyrs. Eight of those came in a single game, when Phillips homered in four consecutive at-bats in Omaha on May 21, 1997, becoming the first minor leaguer to go deep four times in a game since Phoenix's Matt Williams in 1988. Phillips also set a team record with 16 total bases in the game.
Phillips blasted 56 home runs in 233 games, setting the team's career record, including 21 homers in just 56 games during the Zephyrs' 1998 championship season. He was second in the minors in home runs and extra-base hits when he was promoted to Houston.
Joining Phillips in the middle of a stacked Zephyrs lineup in the late-90s was Daryle Ward, who ranks third in club history in home runs (53) and RBI (168) and fourth in batting average (.324). Ward shouldered the load in the 1998 pennant race, when he hit safely in 16 of his first 17 games in August, including a 10-game hit streak where he batted .491 with 15 RBI. His hot bat carried into the postseason as he slugged six home runs, including two in a Game One win over Buffalo in the Triple-A World Series.
Ward further endeared himself to locals the following year by hitting .353 with 28 home runs and 65 RBI despite playing in only 61 games. His skills were on display during the Triple-A All-Star festivities at the Shrine, and he delivered for the home crowd by winning the Home Run Derby and then went deep in the game to win Most Valuable Player honors.
A journeyman who had spent a decade bouncing around the minors in five different organizations, Rick Short captured the attention of baseball fans everywhere during the summer of 2005 with a historic run at a .400 batting average. No player had reached the mythical mark since Aaron Pointer hit .402 for Single-A Salisbury in 1961, yet Short found himself at that very spot when he arrived at the ballpark on August 20 with just two weeks left in the season.
Short ultimately fell short, finishing with only 10 hits over his final seven games to settle at .383, but his incredible year earned him his first (and only) crack at the majors, where he fittingly batted .400 (6-for-15) in 11 games with the Washington Nationals before spending the last four years of his career in Japan.
Another longtime minor league standout with limited big league time, Mike Cervenak was on his sixth organization and three years removed from his brief experience in the majors when he arrived in New Orleans in 2011. But he was a model of consistency in his two seasons with the Zephyrs, following a season of 24 doubles, 14 home runs and 68 RBI with a campaign of 22 doubles, 13 home runs and 57 RBI.
Cervenak's 2012 season was highlighted by streak of 34 consecutive games reaching base, which included a hit in 27 straight starts, and finishing fifth in the Pacific Coast League batting race with a .340 average. The Zephyrs entered the final two weeks of that season only two games out of first place, and while the rest of the team slumped down the stretch to cede the division title to Albuquerque, Cervenak led the PCL by hitting .438 over his final 13 games.
Despite big power numbers coming up through the Cubs system, Justin Bour was left exposed to the Rule 5 draft following the 2013 season, and immediately paid dividends upon joining the Marlins organization. Bour made his Triple-A debut with New Orleans and opened the 2014 campaign with a 14-game hit streak, equaling Carlos Gomez's club record for the longest streak to begin a season. He ranked eighth in the PCL with a .330 batting average over the first two months, earning his first big league call-up.
Bour racked up 45 extra-base hits with 72 RBI in 103 games, and showed off his future Home Run Derby prowess by twice collecting four home runs in a three-game stretch.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.