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Part 2. Steroid Era Home Runs 

How impressive are the HR accomplishments of the steroid era? Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds set single-season home run records, but admitted they used testosterone-enhancing substances that turned them into humanoids. As baseball is a human endeavor, any accomplishment that is at least partially attributable to technological changes to humanness that result in improved athleticism should not be accepted by MLB or its fans. Some of the stupendous offensive statistics established in recent years need to be marked with asterisks or considered with many grains of salt. The problem with doing that is that we don’t know which ones and probably never will. However, the recent high single-season home run totals are much less special than they seem anyway. 

In its preview of the 2003 season (March 30), the New York Times noted, “Since the two-league system began in 1901, a player has 50 or more home runs in a season 36 times. Half of those 36 were in the past 8 seasons.” The Times charted the 50-HR seasons and Murray Chass wrote an accompanying article. Chass quoted baseball people to illustrate the variety of obvious reasons why home runs have increased. Those include smaller ballparks, steroids, cycles, and willingness to strike out and other hitting strategies. 

Although home runs are far from the most interesting events in baseball, the Times feature inspired me to analyze the relative significance of the high home run totals. Obviously, Bonds didn’t hit more home runs than every other team in the league as Babe Ruth did, but we have no yardstick for measuring how special 73 home runs is. HR per AB neutralizes the differences in season-length, but doesn’t create a perspective. 

I analyzed the top 113 single-season home run totals to learn how special each was. The top 100 stretches to 113 because 45 home runs were achieved 16 times. 

Chart 8. Top Single-Season Home Run Totals 

Rank

Player

HR

 

Rank

Player

HR

1

Barry Bonds

73

 

55

Jimmie Foxx

48

2

Mark McGwire

70

 

 

Harmon Killebrew

48

3

Sammy Sosa

66

 

 

Frank Howard

48

4

Mark McGwire

65

 

 

Willie Stargell

48

5

Sammy Sosa

64

 

 

Dave Kingman

48

6

Sammy Sosa

63

 

 

Mike Schmidt

48

7

Roger Maris

61

 

 

Albert Belle

48

8

Babe Ruth

60

 

 

Ken Griffey Jr.

48

9

Babe Ruth

59

 

63

Babe Ruth

47

10

Jimmie Foxx

58

 

 

Lou Gehrig

47

 

Hank Greenberg

58

 

 

Ralph Kiner

47

 

Mark McGwire*

58

 

 

Eddie Mathews

47

13

Luis Gonzalez

57

 

 

Ted Kluszewski

47

 

Alex Rodriguez

57

 

 

Ernie Banks

47

15

Hack Wilson

56

 

 

Willie Mays

47

 

Ken Griffey Jr.

56

 

 

Reggie Jackson

47

 

Ken Griffey Jr.

56

 

 

Hank Aaron

47

18

Babe Ruth

54

 

 

George Bell

47

 

Babe Ruth

54

 

 

Kevin Mitchell

47

 

Ralph Kiner

54

 

 

Andres Galarraga

47

 

Mickey Mantle

54

 

 

Juan Gonzalez

47

22

Mickey Mantle

52

 

 

Rafael Palmeiro

47

 

Willie Mays

52

 

 

Jeff Bagwell

47

 

George Foster

52

 

 

Troy Glaus

47

 

Mark McGwire

52

 

 

Rafael Palmeiro

47

 

Alex Rodriguez

52

 

 

Alex Rodriguez

47

 

Jim Thome

52

 

 

Jim Thome

47

28

Ralph Kiner

51

 

82

Babe Ruth

46

 

Johnny Mize

51

 

 

Babe Ruth

46

 

Willie Mays

51

 

 

Lou Gehrig

46

 

Cecil Fielder

51

 

 

Babe Ruth

46

32

Jimmie Foxx

50

 

 

Joe DiMaggio

46

 

Albert Belle

50

 

 

Eddie Mathews

46

 

Brady Anderson

50

 

 

Orlando Cepeda

46

 

Greg Vaughn

50

 

 

Jim Gentile

46

 

Sammy Sosa

50

 

 

Harmon Killebrew

46

37

Babe Ruth

49

 

 

Jim Rice

46

 

Lou Gehrig

49

 

 

Barry Bonds

46

 

Lou Gehrig

49

 

 

Juan Gonzalez

46

 

Ted Kluszewski

49

 

 

Jose Canseco

46

 

Willie Mays

49

 

 

Vinny Castilla

46

 

Harmon Killebrew

49

 

 

Barry Bonds

46

 

Frank Robinson

49

 

97

Ernie Banks

45

 

Harmon Killebrew

49

 

 

Rocky Colavito

45

 

Andre Dawson

49

 

113

Hank Aaron

45

 

Mark McGwire

49

 

 

Harmon Killebrew

45

 

Ken Griffey Jr.

49

 

 

Willie McCovey

45

 

Larry Walker

49

 

 

Johnny Bench

45

 

Albert Belle

49

 

 

Mike Schmidt

45

 

Barry Bonds

49

 

 

Gorman Thomas

45

 

Shawn Green

49

 

 

Ken Griffey Jr.

45

 

Todd Helton

49

 

 

Juan Gonzalez

45

 

Jim Thome

49

 

 

Manny Ramirez

45

 

Sammy Sosa

49

 

 

Chipper Jones

45

 

 

 

 

Greg Vaughn

45

 

*excluded from study because he played in both leagues

 

 

Richie Sexson

45

 

 

 

Barry Bonds

45

 

 

 

Richie Sexson

45

continued

 

 

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