|Many people remember the great home run race in 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa put up phenomenal home run numbers. The pair challenged Babe Ruth (60 in 154 games) and Roger Maris (61 in 162 games), with McGwire hitting an even 70 and Sosa a nice round 66. |
But few fans, before coming to baseballhistorian.com, recall hearing of some of the home run sluggers of the past decades.
Many power guys don't jump right off the start and hit shots out of the yard. Most boys don't mature physically until they are 24 or 25 years old. Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle Hank Aaron, Sammy Sosa, Ken Griffey Jr and Juan Gonzalez were all rookies in the majors at age 20, doing well, but hitting maybe 15-25 homers per/year for a few seasons until they bulked up their bodies.
Today, rookies are a few years older because they finish college before turning pro. Not only rookie hitters but rookie pitchers are stronger and throw harder than ever before - and it could very well be because more and more players are using steroids.
During baseball's early days of the 'dead ball era' most sluggers were held in little regard. The game was played by slapping at the pitched ball, bunting and speed on the base paths and of course by intense fielding. Babe Ruth certainly changed that when the lively ball came in the 1920s. He glamorized the home run and was paid handsomely. And soon others tried to imitate Ruth's long ball hitting.
Acceptance of the One/Dimensional Slugger: -
Nowadays, we have the Designated Hitter or 1B/DH or even OF/DH who certainly are paid well but are one/dimensional - can't field or throw - and it seems don't practice at doing so - because they don't care. Home Runs bring high salaries, but don't necessary win games.
Mark McGwire, at age 22, debuted with the Oakland A's on August 20, 1986 and lined his first major league hit off Tommy John of the New York Yankees on Aug 24th. - McGwire's first homer came the next game. And, he struggled for the rest of the year, going 10-for-53, a .189 batting average. However, 3 of his 10 hits were home runs... and as a nervous rookie - he made 6 errors in the 16 games he played in.
Mark McGwire had a sensational rookie year in 1987. He cranked out 49 yard/shots to lead the AL and tied Andre Dawson of the Cubs for the major league home run crown. McGwire's 49 broke the AL rookie record of 37 set by Cleveland's Al Rosen back in 1950 and the major league rookie record of 38 set by Wally Berger of the old Boston Braves in 1930.
McGwire's slugging fell off in his sophomore year to 32 homers and he blasted 71 homers in his first 1,000 at bats... certainly nice numbers but not a record.
Sammy Sosa started his major league career not with a bang but with a whimper. Playing for the Texas Rangers in his first major league game on June 16, 1989, he went 2-for-4 against the New York Yankees. He connected off Red Sox ace Roger Clemens on June 21st for his first major league homer... but hitting only .238, he was shipped back to the Oklahoma City, Class Triple-A. Texas then traded him to the Chicago White Sox on July 29th. He stayed in the minors and was brought up by the White Sox on Aug 22nd.
In 1990, despite hitting just .233, Sosa was the only American Leaguer to reach double figures in doubles (26), triples (10), home runs (15) and steals (32).
In 1991, although possessing one of the strongest throwing arms of any outfielder in the majors and speed on the base paths, Sosa's hitting tailed off and he was sent to the minors (Vancouver) in July. The White Sox recalled the 22-year old right fielder in August and he ended the year (1991) with a .203 batting average, 10 home runs.
Traded to the Chicago Cubs before the 1992 season started, Sammy Sosa managed to whomp only 8 homers and bat .260 for the entire year.
Then it happened, bulking up his body by lifting weights in the off-season, Sosa became the first player in Cubs' history to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases... and just the 16th man in National League history to perform the 30/30 feat.
However, the past century produced quite a few sluggers that pounded homers right from the start.
Consider these guys, if you will...
Most Home Runs in First 1,000 At Bats: -
Jim Gentile, 1962, Baltimore Orioles 75 home runs... Rudy York, 1939, Detroit Tigers 74 home runs... Ken Phelps, 1987, Seattle Mariners 74 home runs... Eric Davis, 1987, Cincinnati Reds 72 home runs... Mark McGwire, 1988, Oakland Athletics 71 home runs... Bob Horner, 1980, Atlanta Braves 71 home runs... Don Mincher, 1965, Minnesota Twins 71 home runs... Rob Deer, 1987, Milwaukee Brewers 68 home runs... Reggie Jackson, 1969, Oakland A's 67 home runs... Ron Kittle, 1984, Chicago White Sox 67 home runs.
Other well-known sluggers to jump off to a fast start: -
Ralph Kiner, 1947, Pittsburgh Pirates 65 home runs... Eddie Mathews, 1953, Boston and Milwaukee Braves 65 home runs... Chuck Klein, 1930, Philadelphia Phillies 65 home runs... Dave Kingman, 1974, San Francisco Giants 64 home runs... Willie McCovey, 1962, San Francisco Giants 63 home runs... Norm Cash, 1961, Detroit Tigers 63.
Harmon Killebrew, 1960, Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins 62 home runs... Joe DiMaggio, 1937, New York Yankees 61 home runs... Hank Sauer, 1949, Cincinnati Reds 61 home runs... Willie Mays, 1954, New York Giants 60 home runs.
Larry Sheets, 1987, Baltimore Orioles 60... Dick Stuart, 1960, Pittsburgh Pirates 60... John Blanchard, 1964, New York Yankees 60
Babe Ruth, pitcher and later outfielder, hit just 38 homers in his first 1,000 at bats... but powered an awesome 113 in his second 1,000 at bats.
Barry Bonds, 1988, Pittsburgh Pirates 58 home runs... Ken Griffey Jr, 1990, Seattle Mariners 37 home runs... Juan Gonzalez, 1990, Texas Rangers 66.
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