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For over a decade, ignorant baseball fans pleaded that Pete Rose was innocent and never bet on baseball.  They believed every word Charlie Hustle told them.  Why did they believe him?  He was their “hero”.  They believed his hollow lies despite the mountain of evidence against him and the fact that, in leaving baseball, he signed a statement accepting his banishment as long as the commissioner did not unveil the evidence to the public.

Then fourteen years after his banishment, Rose released My Prison Without Bars and admitted to betting on Cincinnati Reds games he managed.   This seemed to hit his backers and fans like a punch to the stomach, but they just came up with new arguments to back up the all-time hits leader.  Well, he didn’t bet against his team.  So he tells us. 

Now we have come to the third phase of the Pete Rose saga.  Many are now saying what Pete Rose did isn’t as bad as what the steroid users had been doing.  Alex Rodriguez broke the rules just as much as Rose did, they say.  If a steroid user can make the hall of fame, so should Rose, they say.  They hurt the game just as much as Rose.

I strongly disagree.

I would never give Pete Rose a vote for the hall of fame.  At the same time, I’ll be the first to admit that Rose was one of the greatest players of all time.  No one played the game harder on the field and no one disrespected it more off.

I would vote Barry Bonds and Rogers Clemens to the hall on the first ballot while admitting they took performance-enhancing drugs (PED).

I hate to break it to the steroid-user haters out there, but there’s likely already a steroid-user in the hall already.

“There was another player now in the Hall of Fame who literally stood with me and mixed something and I said ‘What’s that?’ and he said ‘it’s a Jose Canseco milkshake.’  And that year that Hall of Famer hit more home runs than ever hit any other year.” – Tom Boswell, Washington Post

Who broke the rules?
Every major league clubhouse has the rule stated on the wall: Gambling will result in lifetime banishment. This includes association with gamblers and betting on games of which the player is not a participant.  Rose looked at this rule from his rookie season of 1963 through his final season as manager with the Reds in 1989.  After breaking records and accumulating millions of fans, Rose may have felt the rule didn’t apply to him or, because of his stature, he could slip by unnoticed.

Rose broke baseball’s biggest rule when he bet on baseball.  Today, it’s still baseball’s biggest rule.  A report on a player betting on baseball would be a much bigger story than anyone using PED.

A strong argument can be made to say using PED was encouraged for a time – it’s called 1998.  Fans may not have consciously realized it, but baseball was promoting the use of steroids as the nation stopped, captivated by the heroics of Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire and their quest to break the single-season home run record (https://tripleinthegap.wordpress.com/2010/01/31/the-real-single-season-home-run-record/).

In 1998, the steroid snowball could be held by a small child, but it was developing.  The nation had two lovable sluggers in a friendly competition for a 37-year-old record.  Everyone turned a blind eye to the inhuman size of these men and the way they – even when they swung late at a 98-mph fastball – could flick a ball over the opposite-field fence.  Steroid users were cute in 1998.  They smiled for the cameras and brazed the covers of magazines.

But by 2001, the snowball turned into an avalanche.  It was then that two protagonists turned into one giant antagonist and fans started questioning the power surge.  That’s when Barry Bonds showed everyone what the best player of his era could do on steroids.

Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa?, Bonds thought to himself.  Pfft!  They’re one-trick ponies.  Watch this.

Then Bonds broke their records.  He broke them without the smile.  Bud Selig and America didn’t like it: hence, strong anti-steroid rules.

What made the Selig Era so troubling, looking back, is that there were much greater incentives to use than to not use. Baseball wasn’t testing. Baseball was proudly peddling home runs. The odds of getting caught were miniscule. Nobody seemed to care. And the health issues that steroids cause are fuzzy and disputed and, anyway, simply not a strong enough deterrent to prevent a lot of people from using them.” – Joe Posnanski, si.com

The same could be said for the amphetamine era; an era that last much longer than the steroid era.  Unfortunately for Rose, if there was a gambling era, it ended at the 1919 World Series.  In good ways and bad, Rose was one of a kind.  After 1919, there hasn’t been a gambling era.  There’s been no incentive to gamble on baseball, especially since the free-agency era with salaries at astronomical levels.

Rose knows about 1919.  He knows what happened to Joe Jackson after being convicted of gambling, one of the greatest players of his era – banned for life.  Do the consequences need to be clearer?  What did Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens see when their peers took illegal drugs to improve their game?  National fame and further riches: that’s what they saw.

There’s more than one PED
Fans love to look down on steroid users because steroid users have the big records.  They hit home runs.  When are baseball fans going to grow up and realize the home run is overrated?

“I don’t know why people like the home run so much.  A home run is over as soon as it starts…. The triple is the most exciting play of the game.  A triple is like meeting a woman who excites you, spending the evening talking and getting more excited, then taking her home.  It drags on and on.  You’re never sure how it’s going to turn out.” – George Foster

Why aren’t more fans complaining about all the other statistics busting at the seams because of other PED?  Amphetamines have been fueling baseball for decades and no one seems to care.  No one cares even though now that they’ve been banned from the game and players actually seem to be aging.  There has been a huge drop off of statistics for players over the age of 32 since the banishment of amphetamines and steroids.  How many hits would Rose have had without the help of “greenies”?  How long would his career have gone on?  Dare I ask, how many home runs would Hank Aaron have hit?

Why do we care about two records (single-season and all-time home runs) and none of the others?

What about cocaine?  Cocaine was a huge problem in the 1980s and no one is calling for Tim Raines’ stolen base numbers to be taken away.  As long as players weren’t popping pills for the cameras or taking out their vile of cocaine at second base, it was easy to get away with these PED before baseball stepped in and banned them.  Amphetamines and cocaine users don’t grow gigantic muscles and, more importantly, they don’t break home run records.

Not only is there loads of evidence against Rose in regards to betting on baseball that the public has never seen (Rose, you can thank the graciousness of the late Bartlett Giamatti for that), but there’s also people out there who know about Rose’s use of amphetamines.  But who cares about that?  No one because amphetamines didn’t help Rose hit home runs (at least not a lot of them).  In other words, Rose also used performance-enhancing drugs.

Hall of fame
Many of Rose’s backers, despite knowing he bet on baseball, feel he deserves a spot in the hall of fame based on his playing statistics and legacy.  Some believe Bud Selig can wave his magic wand and suddenly Rose will be in Cooperstown.

I’d be curious to see if the commissioner ever did allow Rose back into baseball what the voters would do.  Many don’t realize that the baseball hall of fame isn’t a part of Major League Baseball.  It is an institution on its own.  It’s not up to MLB to let Rose in – it’s up to the voters.  The voters can write Rose in now and there’s usually a few who do, but not enough to get him into the hall, let alone the five-percent needed to get a player on the next year’s ballot.

Steroid users only wanted to improve their game and to keep up with the competition.  They still wanted to win the World Series and beat their rivals.  The goal of the game was still to win it.  The reason there are rules against gambling is because it turns the game on its head and it becomes a show.  Steroid users did alter the game, but their goal remained the same.  Unless the evidence on Rose is released, we may never know what his intentions were.  I don’t trust his opinion, I know that.

Rose won’t be forgotten
We know Barry Bonds took PED and that he hit 762 home runs.  Just because his name is on top of the home run list in the record books, doesn’t mean he has to be the home run king in your mind.  Hank Aaron can still be your home run king just like how Rose can be in your hall of fame.

Steroid users should get a vote, only with a much higher standard – the entire era included (non-steroid users).  The public will never know all the answers to the steroid-era, just like we’ll never know who was using amphetamines, who was gambling on baseball, who corked their bats and who cheated on their wives.

Pete Rose is one of the greatest players of all time and he doesn’t need the hall of fame to prove it.  We know!  Just because Bob Dylan didn’t win any Grammy’s in the sixties doesn’t mean we don’t know his music was revolutionary.

Pete, you were one of the all-time greats.  We know it.  We won’t forget you.  You just can’t come back to the ballpark with us.

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First and foremost this postseason, I hope the Minnesota Twins win it all.  If that can’t happen, all I ask for is some excitement in major league baseball’s postseason.  It’s been a long time since there’s been some serious drama for the baseball playoffs. 

My definition of a great postseason is fairly simple: a lot of series-deciding games and underdog victories.  I need plenty of division series that go to five games and championship series and World Series that reach the seventh game.  By this definition, the last good postseason was 2003.  

In the last decade of postseason play, there have been 70 series: 40 division series, 20 championship series and 10 World Series.  Only 27 percent (19) have gone to a deciding game.  It’s up to you to determine if this number is low, but to me, it’s far too low.  Why?  Because it’s October and soon I’m not going to see competitive baseball for five lonely months and I want to see as much as possible before I spend 10 minutes every morning scraping ice off my windshield while dreaming of the warm breeze running through the upper deck of Target Field. 

I’ll break down the number of deciding games in each series:
Division series – 25% (10 of 40)
Championship series – 35% (seven of 20)
World Series – 20% (two of 10). 

Only two World Series have reached a seventh game and they came in back-to-back seasons (2001 & 2002).  This is the lowest total by decade since the 1930s, when there was also only two seventh games (the highest total was six, in the 1960s).  This cannot stand.  I realize a good seven-game series has a lot to due with luck and getting two very evenly matched teams against each other.  There’s not much more to it than that.  This blog is not about solutions or reasons why baseball hasn’t had a good postseason for a while.  It’s pretty much just a baseball fan venting his frustration.  

Despite Minnesota’s first of four straight first-round exits in the 2003 playoffs, it proved to be a great October to watch baseball.  In the division series the Cubs and Braves traded wins with Chicago taking the final game thanks to the pitching of Kerry Wood.  The Oakland A’s took the first two games against the Red Sox, only to watch Boston win three straight to send them to the ALCS against the Yankees.  The Marlins / Giants series proved exciting even if it was decided in four games with Florida winning the fourth game thanks to the heroics of Ivan Rodriguez.  

The last time there was a great postseason, Kerry Wood was a good pitcher for the Cubs.

 

Then came the championship series.  On paper they look exciting with both games going to a seventh game.  In real life, they were more than exciting.  At the time, I was rooting for the Red Sox and Cubs, as was most of the nation.  The Red Sox hadn’t won their World Series they’d get the next year and spawn millions of bandwagon fans and the same can be said for Cubs fans … minus the World Series title, of course.  Boston held a 5-2 lead of the seventh game entering the eighth inning.  Some Red Sox fans will point fingers to manager Grady Little or Pedro Martinez, but I pointed straight up to Babe Ruth.  It was the last year of the curse of the Bambino as he guided the Yankees to score three eighth-inning runs followed by an eleventh inning home run by Aaron Boone to take the Yankees to the World Series.  

On the north side of Chicago, there was also a curse involved, but this one hasn’t been broken yet and has much more to do with a poorly run organization and play.  With the Cubs holding a 3-2 lead in the series and a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning, Moises Alou threw a conniption fit when he wasn’t able to make a catch on a foul ball in the stands which then caused shortstop Alex Gonzalez to drop an easy ground ball which then caused the Chicago Cubs to wet the bed and allow eight eighth-inning runs and lose 8-3.  Wood was rocked in the seventh game and Florida won to take the NL pennant.  

The World Series didn’t go seven games, but when the Yankees are involved, I also root for a quick finish.  Josh Beckett shut down New York 2-0 in the sixth game, giving the Florida Marlins their second championship.  

That was a good World Series.  The last great World Series was in 2002 when the Anaheim Angels defeated Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants four games to three.  

Seven years!  It’s been seven years since baseball fans have seen a truly great World Series and six years since there has been a good amount of drama throughout the postseason.  We’re due.  

What do I want from my postseason?  I want John Smoltz versus Jack Morris-style pitching duels.  I want underdog victories from the small-market teams as well as teams who haven’t been seen in the postseason for a long time.  I feel like a James Bond villain as I say this, but I want the Yankees eliminated!  I don’t want to see them in the championship series, let alone the World Series.  The same can be said for the Philadelphia Phillies, but not to the same extent.  I like the players on the Phillies, but they’ve been dominating the National League playoffs the last two seasons and I’d like to see someone new in the World Series.  

FOX Sports and Yankees fans are the only ones who would love to see A-Rod go deep in the postseason.

 

There are some great story lines waiting to happen, but none of them include Mariano Rivera getting the last out in another World Series.  No one thought the Reds would be better than the Cardinals, much less the rest of the division.  The Giants lineup, with exception to rookie Buster Posey (great baseball name, by the way), is from the land of misfit toys.  Baseball fans would like to remember Bobby Cox’s last postseason as a competitive one.  No one believes in the Rays, especially in Tampa Bay.  The Rangers have never won a postseason series.  The Minnesota Twins are the greatest baseball organization in the history of mankind. 

There are so many good things that can happen this postseason.  I’m hoping for all the baseball that’s possible.  The postseason will consist of between 24 and 41 games.  C’mon baseball, we won’t see you for a while … let’s make it last. 

The end of the last great postseason.

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The home run is overrated.  It’s especially overrated after the last 15 years of baseball when the 600 home run club went from three members to seven.  It’s overrated and it’s overdone.  I can understand how veterans like Ty Cobb scoffed at the new fame of Babe Ruth.  The home run requires little strategy – hit the ball over the fence and everyone one base and yourself scores a run.  The home run is a rally killer.  Your team is getting walks and hits and then someone hits a home run.  Sure, the team just scored at least one run, but if there was anyone on base, there isn’t anymore.   

Now, when a player spanks a double into the gap, that’s excitement.  A double into the gap or corner or off the wall brings at least two runs home with the bases loaded and when it’s over, there’s at least one man left standing in scoring position.  There are more possibilities for the on-deck hitter after a double.  To paraphrase Bull Durham, it’s more democratic.  Home runs are fascist.  

The walls of Fenway Park have contained many doubles over the years - just ask Speaker and Webb.

 

There’s mystery to a double.  There’s speed to a double.  There’s hustle in a double and yes, there is some power involved too, but in moderation.  Doubles down the line are usually within a few feet of being outs – a hard line drive just past a diving first of third baseman’s glove and into the corner.  Doubles in the gap create a whirlwind of outfielders scrambling for the ball before it hits the wall.  Sometimes doubles can be, unfortunately, disappointing, when they bounce off the outfield wall.  Television commentators talk about how close the double was to a home run as numerous replays are shown.   

Most baseball fans will tell you who owns the single-season home run record.  They’ll also tell you who owns the all time home run record.  Unfortunately, it’s the same person: Barry Bonds.  Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001 and 762 for his career – two records that, I hope, are never broken.  I don’t wish them to remain because of the person who hit them, but I’m not a big fan of the home run and would prefer more strategy and … doubles!  

Few baseball fans will tell you who is the single-season or all time leader in doubles.  Can you guess?  

These are records I want to see broken in my lifetime.  The double is immune to the size of the ballpark.  It’s more difficult to hit a home run in Safeco Field or Petco Park, but the double can still thrive in such spacious outfields.  Because of this, the doubles records will be broken.  But who will celebrate such a miniscule milestone?  With the home run numbers falling (thankfully), the double should be celebrated.  

Tris Speaker’s all time doubles record of 792 can be broken, but it won’t be easy.  Speaker spent 22 seasons compiling a record that has stood since 1925 when he passed Napoleon Lajoie.  Speaker spent nine seasons with the Boston Red Sox, followed by 11 in Cleveland, one in Washington and his final season with the Philadelphia Athletics.  At the age of 35, the Indians’ outfielder hit a career best, 59 doubles to go with his 133 RBI, 130 runs scored and a .380-.469-.610 offensive line.   

Tris Speaker's career doubles record has been approached and can be broken.

 

One might think a record that’s been held since 1925 won’t be approached by today’s players who play a much different game.  No, it can be broached and Pete Rose nearly did it.  Rose smacked 746 two baggers in his career.  Of course, Rose hit his last double in 1986.  Can any of today’s player’s approach the record?  Craig Biggio did.  The longtime Astro hit 668 doubles (5th all time) in the era of the home run.  Biggio didn’t play by the Selig era rules and he will be rewarded for this when it’s his turn to go to Cooperstown.    

Other players to retire in the last twenty years in the top fifteen are George Brett (665, 6th), Paul Molitor (605, 11th), Cal Ripken (603, 13th), Bonds (601, 14th) and Luis Gonzalez (596, 15th).   

Speaker’s 85-year old record can be broken and there are a few active players with a shot.  The active leader in doubles is Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez with 562.  Pudge is in the twilight of his career at the age of 38 and will probably not approach Speaker.  Alex Rodriguez, the newest member of the 600 home run club, has 469 doubles.  He’d need 323 more to eclipse Speaker, which would average out to 50 doubles over the next six and a half seasons.  This seems much more unlikely than A-Rod passing Bonds on the home run list (please don’t).   

Then there’s the case of the great Albert Pujols.  The St. Louis first baseman has 410 two baggers and he’s still only 30 years old.  Pujols would need 382 to tie Speaker.  This averages out to about 40 doubles a year for nine and a half more seasons.  Through nine full seasons, Pujols has averaged 43 a season.  Speaker’s record is possible, but still not likely unless Pujols  proves to be the next Hank Aaron and hardly declines through his thirties.  

There’s the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera with 283 at the age of 27.  He’s averaged 36 doubles in his first seven seasons.  If Cabrera kept up this average through 13 seasons, he’d have 789, three short of Speaker.  Cabrera has thirty this season already.   

David Wright is just behind Cabrera with 248 and is the same age.   

The truth is, a player needs an early start (Speaker was 19 when he broke in with Boston and 21 when he played his first full season) and needs a lot of plate appearances (Speaker had nearly 12,000) to approach the record.   

But there is the possibility of the single-season doubles record held by little known Earl Webb.  Webb knocked 67 doubles in 1931 for the Red Sox.  The most he hit in any other season was 30 in 1930.  Webb’s doubles record sounds similar to Roger Maris’ former single-season home run record – one and done.   

The closest a modern player has come to approaching the single-season record was Todd Helton in 2000 when he hit 59 doubles.  Carlos Delgado hit 57 in the same season and Garrett Anderson (2002), Craig Biggio (1999), Nomar Garciaparra (2002) and Brian Roberts (2009) all hit 56.  I remember rooting for the Twins’ Chuck Knoblauch in 1994 to break the record before the strike stopped the season.  The Minnesota second baseman had 45 through 109 games.   

A modern player can top Webb’s 79-year old mark.  A player such as Roberts, Cabrera, Grady Sizemore, Dustin Pedroia, Evan Longoria or Jason Werth.  It will take a lot of plate appearances, so a batting spot in the top three would be beneficiary.  The right ballpark also helps and judging by Speaker and Webb’s records, Fenway Park is a doubles park.  Based on these factors, Pedroia has the most going for him.  He had 54 in his MVP season of 2008 and 48 the following year.  Injuries have slowed his attempts this year, but he’s still only 26.   

Home run statistics became as overdone as the reality television.  It’s time to focus on the double.  

If anyone can approach Webb's single-season record, it's Dustin Pedroia.

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It’s okay that baseball players took steroids.  I’ve come to this conclusion.  It’s the new edge.  The problem is they broke a bunch of records of guys who never took steroids.  Of course, most of these men had their own edge.  Baseball fans want to throw out everything Barry Bonds did because he took steroids.  Why are we so quick to toss out everything this man did against the greatest competition the game has ever seen and we’re okay with Babe Ruth hitting 714 home runs off of the best white boys the beginning of the century had to offer?  Until Mark McGwire came around, everyone knew Roger Maris held the single-season home run record of 61.  Of course, for decades following the 1961 season, there were many who didn’t want him to have that throne since the season was expanded to 162 games that year and it was an expansion season, thinning the pitching talent.

Baseball people like to compare one season’s stats to another, but steroids or not, nothing is really comparable.  Fans might as well be comparing Jose Canseco’s 1988 AL MVP season where he hit 42 home runs and stole 40 bases to Michael Jordan’s 1988 season.

There are a number of reasons for the increase of home runs in the late 90s and early 00s and one of them are steroids.  It’s becoming more and more obvious that a large number of players used performance enhancing drugs (PED) and it wasn’t just the hitters.  I recall the story of Eric Gagne of the Dodgers facing Barry Bonds in San Francisco – both were later linked to PED.  Gagne’s first pitch was 99 mph and Bonds pulled it foul for what would have been a home run if hit 30 feet to the left.  Gagne’s next pitch registered 101 mph and Bonds drove it deep into the San Francisco night for a home run.  For those who want to take away the records, you can count that one – the playing field was evenly skewed.

Bonds set the single-season home run record in 2001 with 73 home runs.  Mark McGwire had set it just three years earlier with the entire nation watching with 70.  Real baseball fans will look at the numbers and realize they’re higher than other seasons, but will look back and appreciate the real home run sluggers.  The guys who did it without PED, tiny ballparks, tightly-wound balls, expansion teams to thin the pitching, another 50 homer hitter hitting behind him and real competition on the mound, on the field and in vying for his job.

Although impressive, Bonds’s stats were skewed by PED.

Based on competition and the blind eye of Major League Baseball, every record holder deserves to be where they are.  It’s up to the fan to pick the best.  This essay is not about who should be in the hall of fame.  It’s not about who’s a good person.  It’s not about who’s a cheater.  It’s about who hit a lot of home runs over one season despite tough competition.  That competition consists of the players on the field, the physical properties of the baseball itself, the home ballpark he’s playing in for 77+ games a season and anything else this baseball fan thinks of.  Barry Bonds’ 73 home runs will stand for many years as the most home runs hit during a single season.  He deserves that title, but backing that is another story.  Bonds may have hit the most home runs over a season, but his 2001 performance is not the most impressive season put together for a slugger.  Here are my thoughts on the top single-season home run seasons of all time.

1 – Barry Bonds 73 (2001).
2 – Mark McGwire 70 (1998).
3 – Sammy Sosa 66 (1998).
4 – Mark McGwire 65 (1999).
5 – Sammy Sosa 64 (2001).
6 – Sammy Sosa 63 (1999).

All six of these records need to be discounted for the performance enhancing drugs they were using, but that’s not all.  These men played in a time when new and smaller ballparks were being built every year.  The cookie cutters of the sixties and seventies were falling fast and those concrete donuts normally had high outfield walls that were at least 330 feet from home plate at the corners.  San Francisco’s AT&T Park has a relatively high right-field wall for Bonds to hit over, but it’s very close to the plate.  When I took a tour of the park a few years ago and walked on the field, all I could think is wow, give me a bat and ball and I could hit one over the wall.  Yes, the power alley is 421 feet away, but the right-field foul pole is only 309 feet from home plate.  A short right-field porch, PED and a tightly-wound ball discount Bonds’ 73 2001 home runs.

I’m going to use the excuse of the tightly-wound ball for every record from 1995 on.  Major League Baseball officials will deny it, but I’ve read numerous testimonies that the seams became harder for the pitcher to grip after the 1994 strike.  Not only did the owners and commissioner initially ignore steroids since the increase in home runs was bringing more fans to the parks, but I believe they also released a stronger baseball that would produce more dingers.

In John Feinstein’s book Living on the Black: Two Pitchers, Two Teams, One Season to Remember, he quotes Mike Mussina on the difference between baseballs before the strike and after.

After the strike, they changed the baseballs.  You could feel it when you put them in your hands.  They’re slicker now, tougher to grip, and they’re wound tighter.  Much tighter.  A year or so after the strike, we were sitting around during a rain delay, talking about how different the baseball felt in your hands.  For some reason, I had kept a few baseballs in my locker from before the strike.  We went and got one and cut it open.  The inside of the ball just lay there; I mean just literally just laid down on the table.  Then we opened up a poststrike ball – it was as if the thing was alive.  It literally stood up on the table next to the one that was just lying there.

I’m going to take away McGwire and Sosa’s records as well for the same reasons – pretty much.  McGwire hit his homers in the old Busch Stadium, which wasn’t exactly a hitters’ paradise, but he did use PED.  Also, 1998 saw the expansion of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, thinning the pitching competition while Big Mac stayed the same.  Sosa not only used PED, a corked bat (possibly, and it’s been proven it doesn’t help), and hit during the same expansion year as McGwire, but he also did this in Wrigley Field, one of the greatest hitters’ parks in the baseball history.  With a wind blowing out, a tight ball and the power alley in left field a mere 368 feet from home plate, Adam Everett could poke an opposite field home run.

7 – Roger Maris 61 (1961).

I’d love to say that this was the most impressive home run season.  Maris went through hell in a city that treated Babe Ruth like Jesus Christ.  Few wanted Maris to break the record and even the commissioner put an asterisk next to it since major league baseball expanded from 154 to 162 games in 1961.

I will say Maris hit 61 home runs that summer during a time when the game was mostly integrated (even though his own team put a cap on blacks, allowing only Elston Howard to play).  He also hit more homers in a season than anyone at the time under intense media scrutiny.  The man lost hair because of the stress he was going through.  If you haven’t seen Billy Crystal’s film*61, do so now.

Roger Maris had the help of thin pitching, Mickey Mantle and a 296 foot right-field wall.

The arguments against Maris’s 61 home runs are numerous.  Yankee Stadium’s right-field wall was a mere 296 feet from home plate and was the standard height.  That season also saw the expansion of the Washington Senators and California Angels.  Most of the season saw Mickey Mantle batting after Maris.  There’s not a pitcher in 1961 who wanted to pitch around Maris to face Mantle.  Maris saw plenty of juicy fastballs on 3-1 counts.

Sorry Roger, I’ll never put an asterisk next to 61, but it doesn’t impress me as much as others.

8 – Babe Ruth 60 (1927).
9 – Babe Ruth 59 (1921).

Babe may be the greatest player in the history of the game, but his 1927 season doesn’t impress me like it does to others.  Ruth played in the same Yankee Stadium that Maris did (it was built for the Babe).

The big discount to the Babe is that he never faced a black man, let alone a Hispanic, Venezuelan, Dominican, Japanese, Korean, Chinese or many other nationalities in his time.  It wasn’t his fault, but Ruth didn’t face the competition later generations would.  Take one pitcher that Ruth hit multiple home runs against the put Satchel Paige in his place.  Would he still have hit 60 home runs?  No.  He did well against fellow white boys, but we’ll never know what he would have done against the best competition.

10 – Jimmy Foxx (1932), Hank Greenburg (1938), McGwire (1997) and Ryan Howard (2006) 58.

Foxx and Greenburg’s season’s are impressive – more impressive than Ruth’s.  However, they still played in the all-white-boys league, so there are better records to be found.  McGwire did play half of 1997 in Oakland, another pitcher’s park, but he was still using PED.  Howard is another story.

The Philadelphia slugger is a throwback to earlier generations.  He has never been linked to steroids and his power seems to be genuine.  However, he does play in the tiny confines of Citizens Bank Ballpark and hits a tightly-wound ball.  Was his 2006 season a great achievement?  Yes.   Was it the greatest home run season ever?  No.

11 – Luis Gonzalez (2001), Alex Rodriguez (2002) 57.

A-Rod’s reasons are obvious – he told us.  Gonzalez: tight ball, small ballparks and those pipes look suspicious.

12 – Ken Griffey Jr. (1997 & 1998), Hack Wilson (1930) 56.

Griffey, who has one of the sweetest swings in baseball history and has never been linked to PED or shown any symptoms, had the misfortune to play in the tight-ball-steroid era: eliminated.  Wilson played in Wrigley Field against fellow white guys: no go.

13 – Ralph Kiner (1949), David Ortiz (2006), Alex Rodriguez (2007), Babe Ruth (1920 & 1928) 55, Mickey Mantle (1961) 54.

Kiner’s season is the most impressive of these six, but integration had only begun two years earlier and wasn’t in full force yet.

Mantle had Yankee Stadium’s short right-field porch and expansion.

David Ortiz may or may not have been using PED, but also had a tight ball and tiny parks.  Ditto A-Rod.

Ruth needs to take a time machine forward and face Bob Gibson. Then we’ll talk.

14 – George Foster (1977), Mickey Mantle (1956), Willie Mays (1965), Mark McGwire (1996), Alex Rodriguez (2001), Jim Thome (2002) 52.

McGwire and A-Rod are the first voted off for previous reasons.  Thome, like Griffey, seems to be a rare natural hitter in a time of prescribed sluggers, but he’s still linked with the era.  The other three guys left are, by far, the most impressive in the group.

Of the three remaining, Mantle will have to take third place.  He had the benefit of Yankee Stadium (for his left-handed at bats), the game wasn’t as integrated as it would become and 1956 showed an average of 0.9 home runs per game per team, up slightly from other seasons.

It is here where the two greatest home run hitting seasons happened.  Mays hit 52 home runs with half of his games at Candlestick Park, known for its harsh conditions by the bay and swirling winds.  His closest competition was his teammate Willie McCovey who finished with 39 round trippers.  Nineteen sixty five wasn’t 1968, but it wasn’t far off in terms of a pitcher’s game.  National League teams average 0.8 home runs a game, a far cry from 1968’s 0.5 a game, but still impressive.  (To show the dramatic drop 1968 took, the average in 1967 was 0.7.)  The game didn’t have the wide nationality it has today, but it was as fully integrated as the times would allow.  It was three years since expansion in the National League and it would be another three before the next expansion season.

Foster’s 52 home runs in 1977 were done for a second-place team in a big park (Riverfront) with high symmetric walls and in a league with teams also averaging 0.8 home runs a game.  Foster’s closest competition had 11 home runs less than him.  The game was even more integrated than in Mays’s day.

It’s very difficult to pick between Foster’s 1977 season and Willie Mays’s 1965 season.  Both players were MVP’s of their league.  Both played in a pitcher’s park.  Both had a slugger to help them in the lineup (McCovey for Mays and Johnny Bench for Foster).

Although the National League averaged the same number of home runs in both seasons, runs scored and hits were significantly lower in 1965.  Add to that the cruddy weather of Candlestick Park and the greatest single-season home run performance is Willie Mays in 1965.

At the age of 34, Willie Mays slugged 52 home runs in 1965 despite the harsh conditions of Candlestick Park.

Greatest home runs seasons

1 – Willie Mays 52 (1965)

2 – George Foster 52 (1977) 

3 – Frank Robinson 49 (1966) 

In his first season in the American League, Robinson destroyed the competition on his way to his second MVP award and first World Series title.  His 49 home runs were in Memorial Stadium, hardly Camden Yards in terms of a hitters’ park.  It was also 1966, two years short of “The Year of the Pitcher”, but not far off.

4 – Mike Schmidt 48 (1980) 

Perhaps the greatest third baseman of all time, Schmidt’s 1980 season could also be argued as the greatest season for a home run hitter.  The National League team average for home runs per game dipped to a very low 0.6 a game at the end of the Jimmy Carter era.  Schmidt also had little help in his own lineup.  The team averaged lower than the league average with 0.5 home runs a game and that includes Schmidt’s numbers.  The next highest tater total on the Phillies was Greg Luzinski with 19.  The World champs also played in Veterans Stadium, the all-too-common cookie cutter with symmetrical and high outfield walls.

You want to call this No. 1?  I wouldn’t argue.

5 – Willie Stargell 48 (1971) 

Before there was Big Papi, there was Pops.  Playing only 141 games, Stargell launched nearly 50 homers in Veterans, I mean, Riverfront, oops, I mean, Three Rivers Stadium.  The National League team home run average was down a bit at 0.7 and the next highest in the lineup was Bob Robertson with 26.  Despite the gaudy numbers (125 RBI, 104 R) Stargell placed second in MVP voting to Joe Torre (.363 AVG, 137 RBI).

With only 139 games, Hammerin’ Hank was right behind Pops with 47 (see Honorable Mention).

Honorable mention: Hank Aaron 47 (1971), Barry Bonds 73 (2001), Cecil Fielder 51 (1990), Mark McGwire 70 (1998), Harmon Killebrew 49 (1964), Andre Dawson 49 (1987), Ted Kluszewski 49 (1954), Ralph Kiner 54 (1949), Babe Ruth 59 (1921), Johnny Mize 51 (1947), Dave Kingman 48 (1979). 

 

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