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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Home Run hitting on steroids: 1920s?

If we use the "fill in the blank" on steroids expression, then let's look at the numbers.

In 1884 Ned Williamson hit 27 home runs (HR).  It's pretty well accepted that the record is tainted because the fences in his home park had been moved very close to home plate.  He hit 25 of 27 at home.  Plus 1884 is before the modern rules had been established.

For purposes of this topic, I'll consider the modern HR record to have been set at 24 in 1915 by Gavvy Cravath who had led the National League (NL) the previous two seasons with 19.

Along comes Babe Ruth who breaks both records in 1919 with 29 HR playing his final season for the Boston Red Sox.  The Babe hit only nine in his home Fenway Park.  Twenty-one years later the Red Sox brought in the right field fences ... after the rookie season of Ted Williams.

After joining the Yankees in 1920 and playing his first three season's home games in New York's Polo Grounds, Ruth twice smashes his own record with 54 (29 home, 25 road) and 59 (32/27), both more than double the old record of 24 set only five years earlier.  Ruth hit his famous 60 (28/32) in 1927 playing his home games in Yankee Stadium and out homering every other American League (AL) team as he had done in 1920.

While Ruth is playing like he's from another planet (You don't think ...?) he is not alone.  Including Ruth, the 1915 record of 24 HR was broken 43 times in the 1920s.

baseball-reference.com "Play Index" ad hoc query: For single seasons, From 1920 to 1929, (requiring HR>=25), sorted by greatest Home Runs

Rk Player HR Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
1 Babe Ruth 60 1927 32 NYY AL 151 691 540 158 192 29 8 164 137 89 0 14 7 6 .356 .486 .772 1.258 *97
2 Babe Ruth 59 1921 26 NYY AL 152 693 540 177 204 44 16 171 145 81 4 4 17 13 .378 .512 .846 1.359 *78/13
3 Babe Ruth 54 1928 33 NYY AL 154 684 536 163 173 29 8 142 137 87 3 8 4 5 .323 .463 .709 1.172 *97
4 Babe Ruth 54 1920 25 NYY AL 142 616 458 158 172 36 9 137 150 80 3 5 14 14 .376 .532 .847 1.379 *978/31
5 Lou Gehrig 47 1927 24 NYY AL 155 717 584 149 218 52 18 175 109 84 3 21 10 8 .373 .474 .765 1.240 *3
6 Babe Ruth 47 1926 31 NYY AL 152 652 495 139 184 30 5 146 144 76 3 10 11 9 .372 .516 .737 1.253 *79/3
7 Babe Ruth 46 1929 34 NYY AL 135 587 499 121 172 26 6 154 72 60 3 13 5 3 .345 .430 .697 1.128 *97
8 Babe Ruth 46 1924 29 NYY AL 153 681 529 143 200 39 7 121 142 81 4 6 9 13 .378 .513 .739 1.252 *97/8
9 Chuck Klein 43 1929 24 PHI NL 149 679 616 126 219 45 6 145 54 61 0 9 5 .356 .407 .657 1.065 *98
10 Mel Ott 42 1929 20 NYG NL 150 675 545 138 179 37 2 151 113 38 6 10 6 .328 .449 .635 1.084 *9/84
11 Rogers Hornsby 42 1922 26 STL NL 154 704 623 141 250 46 14 152 65 50 1 15 17 12 .401 .459 .722 1.181 *4
12 Babe Ruth 41 1923 28 NYY AL 152 697 522 151 205 45 13 131 170 93 4 3 17 21 .393 .545 .764 1.309 97/83
13 Cy Williams 41 1923 35 PHI NL 136 604 535 98 157 22 3 114 59 57 7 3 11 10 .293 .371 .576 .947 *8
14 Rogers Hornsby 39 1929 33 CHC NL 156 712 602 156 229 47 8 149 87 65 1 22 2 .380 .459 .679 1.139 *4
15 Hack Wilson 39 1929 29 CHC NL 150 670 574 135 198 30 5 159 78 83 2 16 3 .345 .425 .618 1.044 *8
16 Rogers Hornsby 39 1925 29 STL NL 138 606 504 133 203 41 10 143 83 39 2 16 5 3 .403 .489 .756 1.245 *4
17 Ken Williams 39 1922 32 SLB AL 153 678 585 128 194 34 11 155 74 31 7 12 37 20 .332 .413 .627 1.040 *78
18 Tillie Walker 37 1922 34 PHA AL 153 643 565 111 160 31 4 99 61 67 4 15 4 3 .283 .357 .549 .906 *78
19 Lou Gehrig 35 1929 26 NYY AL 154 694 553 127 166 32 10 126 122 68 5 12 4 3 .300 .431 .584 1.015 *3
20 Babe Ruth 35 1922 27 NYY AL 110 496 406 94 128 24 8 99 84 80 1 4 2 5 .315 .434 .672 1.106 *79/3
21 Al Simmons 34 1929 27 PHA AL 143 629 581 114 212 41 9 157 31 38 1 16 4 3 .365 .398 .642 1.040 *7
22 Jimmie Foxx 33 1929 21 PHA AL 149 638 517 123 183 23 9 118 103 70 2 16 9 7 .354 .463 .625 1.088 *3/5
23 Bob Meusel 33 1925 28 NYY AL 156 697 624 101 181 34 12 138 54 55 1 17 13 14 .290 .348 .542 .889 *795
24 Lefty O'Doul 32 1929 32 PHI NL 154 732 638 152 254 35 6 122 76 19 4 13 2 .398 .465 .622 1.087 *79
25 Don Hurst 31 1929 23 PHI NL 154 692 589 100 179 29 4 125 80 36 3 20 10 .304 .390 .525 .914 *3
Rk Player HR Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
26 Hack Wilson 31 1928 28 CHC NL 145 623 520 89 163 32 9 120 77 94 2 24 4 .313 .404 .588 .992 *8
27 Jim Bottomley 31 1928 28 STL NL 149 667 576 123 187 42 20 136 71 54 3 17 10 .325 .402 .628 1.030 *3
28 Hack Wilson 30 1927 27 CHC NL 146 646 551 119 175 30 12 129 71 70 6 18 13 .318 .401 .579 .980 *8
29 Cy Williams 30 1927 39 PHI NL 131 569 492 86 135 18 2 98 61 57 9 8 0 .274 .365 .502 .867 *9
30 Jim Bottomley 29 1929 29 STL NL 146 645 560 108 176 31 12 137 70 54 1 17 3 .314 .391 .568 .959 *3
31 Chick Hafey 29 1929 26 STL NL 134 574 517 101 175 47 9 125 45 42 2 8 7 .338 .394 .632 1.026 *7
32 Ken Williams 29 1923 33 SLB AL 147 646 555 106 198 37 12 91 79 32 2 10 18 17 .357 .439 .623 1.062 *7
33 Chick Hafey 27 1928 25 STL NL 138 584 520 101 175 46 6 111 40 53 2 22 8 .337 .386 .604 .990 *79
34 Lou Gehrig 27 1928 25 NYY AL 154 677 562 139 210 47 13 142 95 69 4 16 4 11 .374 .467 .648 1.115 *3
35 Joe Hauser 27 1924 25 PHA AL 149 633 562 97 162 31 8 115 56 52 5 11 7 5 .288 .358 .516 .874 *3
36 Jack Fournier 27 1924 34 BRO NL 154 669 563 93 188 25 4 116 83 46 10 13 7 5 .334 .428 .536 .965 *3
37 Rogers Hornsby 26 1927 31 NYG NL 155 684 568 133 205 32 9 125 86 38 4 26 9 .361 .448 .586 1.035 *4
38 Cy Williams 26 1922 34 PHI NL 151 676 584 98 180 30 6 92 74 49 6 12 11 14 .308 .392 .514 .905 *8
39 Dale Alexander 25 1929 26 DET AL 155 701 626 110 215 43 15 137 56 63 0 18 5 9 .343 .397 .580 .977 *3
40 Del Bissonette 25 1928 28 BRO NL 155 668 587 90 188 30 13 106 70 75 4 8 5 .320 .396 .543 .940 *3
41 Ken Williams 25 1925 35 SLB AL 102 462 411 83 136 31 5 105 37 14 3 11 10 5 .331 .390 .613 1.003 *7
42 Babe Ruth 25 1925 30 NYY AL 98 426 359 61 104 12 2 66 59 68 2 6 2 4 .290 .393 .543 .936 *97
43 Rogers Hornsby 25 1924 28 STL NL 143 642 536 121 227 43 14 94 89 32 2 13 5 12 .424 .507 .696 1.203 *4
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/4/2012.

Ruth's record of 60 has been broken seven times.


Rk Player HR Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
1 Barry Bonds 73 2001 36 SFG NL 153 664 476 129 156 32 2 137 177 35 93 9 0 2 5 13 3 .328 .515 .863 1.379 *7/D
2 Mark McGwire 70 1998 34 STL NL 155 681 509 130 152 21 0 147 162 28 155 6 0 4 8 1 0 .299 .470 .752 1.222 *3
3 Sammy Sosa 66 1998 29 CHC NL 159 722 643 134 198 20 0 158 73 14 171 1 0 5 20 18 9 .308 .377 .647 1.024 *9/8
4 Mark McGwire 65 1999 35 STL NL 153 661 521 118 145 21 1 147 133 21 141 2 0 5 12 0 0 .278 .424 .697 1.120 *3
5 Sammy Sosa 64 2001 32 CHC NL 160 711 577 146 189 34 5 160 116 37 153 6 0 12 6 0 2 .328 .437 .737 1.174 *9
6 Sammy Sosa 63 1999 30 CHC NL 162 712 625 114 180 24 2 141 78 8 171 3 0 6 17 7 8 .288 .367 .635 1.002 *98
7 Roger Maris 61 1961 26 NYY AL 161 698 590 132 159 16 4 141 94 0 67 7 0 7 16 0 0 .269 .372 .620 .993 *98
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/4/2012.

Six of those are during the modern steroid era, no pun or literary licence.  But that record would probably have been broken by now even without steroids and/or smaller parks.  If you penalize McGwire ten percent, he still breaks the record with 63 homers.  Is that so hard to accept for a guy who hit 49 as a rookie in 1987?  There are five percent more games than when Ruth played: 162 to 154.

The numbers in recent seasons are bloated but probably not that much more than other historic spikes.  Ruth hit 50 HR for the fourth and final time in 1928.  But from 1930 through 1938 50 HR was achieved four times by three other players.  1930 is only 15 years after the record had been set at 24.  Here are the 42 times when 50 HR were hit.  42 is one fewer than the number of times batters hit more than 24 in the 1920s.  Also consider that there are 87% more teams and players than before 1961: 30 teams to 16.  So we could reasonably expect milestones to be reached about twice as often.


Rk Player Year HR Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
1 Jose Bautista 2010 54 29 TOR AL 161 683 569 109 148 35 3 124 100 2 116 10 0 4 10 9 2 .260 .378 .617 .995 *95/3D8
2 Alex Rodriguez 2007 54 31 NYY AL 158 708 583 143 183 31 0 156 95 11 120 21 0 9 15 24 4 .314 .422 .645 1.067 *5/D
3 Prince Fielder 2007 50 23 MIL NL 158 681 573 109 165 35 2 119 90 21 121 14 0 4 9 2 2 .288 .395 .618 1.013 *3/D
4 David Ortiz 2006 54 30 BOS AL 151 686 558 115 160 29 2 137 119 23 117 4 0 5 12 1 0 .287 .413 .636 1.049 *D3
5 Ryan Howard 2006 58 26 PHI NL 159 704 581 104 182 25 1 149 108 37 181 9 0 6 7 0 0 .313 .425 .659 1.084 *3
6 Andruw Jones 2005 51 28 ATL NL 160 672 586 95 154 24 3 128 64 13 112 15 0 7 19 5 3 .263 .347 .575 .922 *8
7 Jim Thome 2002 52 31 CLE AL 147 613 480 101 146 19 2 118 122 18 139 5 0 6 5 1 2 .304 .445 .677 1.122 *3D
8 Alex Rodriguez 2002 57 26 TEX AL 162 725 624 125 187 27 2 142 87 12 122 10 0 4 14 9 4 .300 .392 .623 1.015 *6
9 Barry Bonds 2001 73 36 SFG NL 153 664 476 129 156 32 2 137 177 35 93 9 0 2 5 13 3 .328 .515 .863 1.379 *7/D
10 Luis Gonzalez 2001 57 33 ARI NL 162 728 609 128 198 36 7 142 100 24 83 14 0 5 14 1 1 .325 .429 .688 1.117 *7
11 Alex Rodriguez 2001 52 25 TEX AL 162 732 632 133 201 34 1 135 75 6 131 16 0 9 17 18 3 .318 .399 .622 1.021 *6/D
12 Sammy Sosa 2001 64 32 CHC NL 160 711 577 146 189 34 5 160 116 37 153 6 0 12 6 0 2 .328 .437 .737 1.174 *9
13 Sammy Sosa 2000 50 31 CHC NL 156 705 604 106 193 38 1 138 91 19 168 2 0 8 12 7 4 .320 .406 .634 1.040 *9/8
14 Sammy Sosa 1999 63 30 CHC NL 162 712 625 114 180 24 2 141 78 8 171 3 0 6 17 7 8 .288 .367 .635 1.002 *98
15 Mark McGwire 1999 65 35 STL NL 153 661 521 118 145 21 1 147 133 21 141 2 0 5 12 0 0 .278 .424 .697 1.120 *3
16 Ken Griffey 1998 56 28 SEA AL 161 720 633 120 180 33 3 146 76 11 121 7 0 4 14 20 5 .284 .365 .611 .977 *8/D379
17 Mark McGwire 1998 70 34 STL NL 155 681 509 130 152 21 0 147 162 28 155 6 0 4 8 1 0 .299 .470 .752 1.222 *3
18 Greg Vaughn 1998 50 32 SDP NL 158 661 573 112 156 28 4 119 79 6 121 5 0 4 7 11 4 .272 .363 .597 .960 *7/D
19 Sammy Sosa 1998 66 29 CHC NL 159 722 643 134 198 20 0 158 73 14 171 1 0 5 20 18 9 .308 .377 .647 1.024 *9/8
20 Mark McGwire 1997 58 33 TOT ML 156 657 540 86 148 27 0 123 101 16 159 9 0 7 9 3 0 .274 .393 .646 1.039 *3
21 Ken Griffey 1997 56 27 SEA AL 157 704 608 125 185 34 3 147 76 23 121 8 0 12 12 15 4 .304 .382 .646 1.028 *8/D7
22 Mark McGwire 1996 52 32 OAK AL 130 548 423 104 132 21 0 113 116 16 112 8 0 1 14 0 0 .312 .467 .730 1.198 *3D
23 Brady Anderson 1996 50 32 BAL AL 149 687 579 117 172 37 5 110 76 1 106 22 6 4 11 21 8 .297 .396 .637 1.034 *8/D
24 Albert Belle 1995 50 28 CLE AL 143 631 546 121 173 52 1 126 73 5 80 6 0 4 24 5 2 .317 .401 .690 1.091 *7/D
25 Cecil Fielder 1990 51 26 DET AL 159 673 573 104 159 25 1 132 90 11 182 5 0 5 15 0 1 .277 .377 .592 .969 *3D
Rk Player Year HR Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B RBI BB IBB SO HBP SH SF GDP SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
26 George Foster 1977 52 28 CIN NL 158 689 615 124 197 31 2 149 61 10 107 5 0 8 17 6 4 .320 .382 .631 1.013 *78
27 Willie Mays 1965 52 34 SFG NL 157 638 558 118 177 21 3 112 76 16 71 0 2 2 11 9 4 .317 .398 .645 1.043 *8/97
28 Roger Maris 1961 61 26 NYY AL 161 698 590 132 159 16 4 141 94 0 67 7 0 7 16 0 0 .269 .372 .620 .993 *98
29 Mickey Mantle 1961 54 29 NYY AL 153 646 514 131 163 16 6 128 126 9 112 0 1 5 2 12 1 .317 .448 .687 1.135 *8
30 Mickey Mantle 1956 52 24 NYY AL 150 652 533 132 188 22 5 130 112 6 99 2 1 4 4 10 1 .353 .464 .705 1.169 *8
31 Willie Mays 1955 51 24 NYG NL 152 670 580 123 185 18 13 127 79 13 60 4 0 7 12 24 4 .319 .400 .659 1.059 *8
32 Ralph Kiner 1949 54 26 PIT NL 152 667 549 116 170 19 5 127 117 61 1 0 10 6 .310 .432 .658 1.089 *7
33 Johnny Mize 1947 51 34 NYG NL 154 664 586 137 177 26 2 138 74 42 4 0 6 2 .302 .384 .614 .998 *3
34 Ralph Kiner 1947 51 24 PIT NL 152 666 565 118 177 23 4 127 98 81 2 1 12 1 .313 .417 .639 1.055 *7
35 Hank Greenberg 1938 58 27 DET AL 155 681 556 144 175 23 4 146 119 92 3 3 7 5 .315 .438 .683 1.122 *3
36 Jimmie Foxx 1938 50 30 BOS AL 149 685 565 139 197 33 9 175 119 76 0 1 5 4 .349 .462 .704 1.166 *3
37 Jimmie Foxx 1932 58 24 PHA AL 154 702 585 151 213 33 9 169 116 96 0 0 3 7 .364 .469 .749 1.218 *35
38 Hack Wilson 1930 56 30 CHC NL 155 709 585 146 208 35 6 191 105 84 1 18 3 .356 .454 .723 1.177 *8
39 Babe Ruth 1928 54 33 NYY AL 154 684 536 163 173 29 8 142 137 87 3 8 4 5 .323 .463 .709 1.172 *97
40 Babe Ruth 1927 60 32 NYY AL 151 691 540 158 192 29 8 164 137 89 0 14 7 6 .356 .486 .772 1.258 *97
41 Babe Ruth 1921 59 26 NYY AL 152 693 540 177 204 44 16 171 145 81 4 4 17 13 .378 .512 .846 1.359 *78/13
42 Babe Ruth 1920 54 25 NYY AL 142 616 458 158 172 36 9 137 150 80 3 5 14 14 .376 .532 .847 1.379 *978/31
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/4/2012.

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