The nature of the season brings about a plethora of articles searching for the next ‘something’. Looking for the next breakout is a popular topic, meaning the search for the next Jose Bautista is going to be overdone. The wise Randy Moss provided the most succinct description of Bautista’s 2010 season when he said, “Take the ball deep and take the top off the defense.” Bautista did on 54 occasions, earning his place in history with the 42nd individual season featuring 50 or more home runs. If history is any indication you can call off the search party before nightfall.
What Bautista’s season means is simple and complicated. Bautista owned 59 career home runs in more than 2,000 plate appearances entering the 2010 season. He then added 54 jacks in 683 plate appearances. A journeyman becoming the most feared batter in baseball in the blink of a winter is an unpleasant thought because history provides little comfort. Keep Bautista’s lack of a 20 home run season in mind as you read the accomplishments of the other players to hit 50-plus in a single season.
Albert Belle (50, 1995): From 1991 to 1993, Belle averaged 33 home runs per season. He had 35 in 480 plate appearances before the 1994 strike, meaning he needed an additional 200 plate appearances to reach 50, which isn’t totally outlandish because he reached 693 and 650 in the seasons before.
Alex Rodriguez (52, 2001; 57, 2002; 54, 2007): Rodriguez had his first 30-plus home run season at the age of 20. His first 40-plus home run season came in 1998 at the age of 22; his second 40-plus home run season game at the age of 23, and his third at the age of 24. You get the picture.
Andruw Jones (51, 2005): In the seven seasons that preceded Jones’ 50-homer outburst, he averaged 32 home runs and hit more than 35 on three occasions.
Babe Ruth (54, 1920; 59, 1921; 60, 1927; 54, 1928): Ruth hit 29 home runs in the first season he recorded more than 500 plate appearances. He then hit at least 40 blasts in every 500-plus plate appearance season except his last.
Barry Bonds (73, 2001): Bonds hit 49 home runs in 2001, 46 in 1993, and would follow 2001 up with three seasons in which he hit 45 or 46 homers. The big shock here is how badly Bonds obliterated the mark, not breaking the 50-mark.
Brady Anderson (50, 1996): Some would call Anderson the grandpappy of the Bautista familia of unlikely home run heroes. It is true that Anderson exploded for 50 after three seasons where he hit 41 homers combined, but he did have a season of 20-plus homers in 1992 and would average 20 homers over the four seasons after launching half a hundred.
Cecil Fielder (51, 1990): In 1989, Fielder played in Japan. Prior to this, Fielder recorded 558 plate appearances in 220 games with 31 homers and 19 doubles. Fielder only became Big Daddy when he resurfaced with Detroit. He then averaged 36 home runs and 22 doubles a season over the next six seasons before beginning to decline.
David Ortiz (54, 2006): Speaking of heavy fatherly figures, Ortiz’s career path is similar to Fielder’s. Both reached the majors with teams that did not originally bring them into professional baseball (Fielder with Toronto after being drafted by Kansas City; Ortiz with Minnesota after Seattle signed him) and did not see breakouts until their third team. Ortiz has implicated Minnesota as attempting to turn him into a slap hitter, yet he still managed a 20 home run season in his last season in a Twins’ uniform.
George Foster (52, 1977): Foster hit 52 home runs in 1977 after hitting 52 in the previous two seasons. He then hit 95 over the next three seasons.
Greg Vaughn (50, 1998): The first time Vaughn crossed the 30 home run plateau with the Brewers, he needed 667 plate appearances. The second time, he needed 442 and then hit 10 more homers with San Diego to claim his first 40-plus home run season. He would pop 50 two seasons later and 45 the year after that.
Hack Wilson (56, 1930): Dustin Pedroia is five feet and nine inches tall and has 54 home runs in nearly 2,500 plate appearances. Wilson was five foot six and hit 56 in 709 plate appearances. This surge came after averaging 30 home runs and 32 doubles in the four previous seasons.
Hank Greenberg (58, 1938): In order to get a nickname like Hammerin’ Hank, two things must occur: 1) you must mash taters, and 2) you must be named Hank – although the latter is more of a guideline. Greenberg averaged 43 home runs from 1937 to 1940, fought in the war, then returned and had one more 40-plus home run season at age 35.
Jim Thome (52, 2002): James Howard Thome hit 49 home runs in 2001, 47 in 2003, and 40-plus on three other occasions.
Jimmie Foxx (58, 1932; 50, 1938): In between 50 homer seasons, Foxx managed to average 41 home runs and walk nine more times than he struck out.
Johnny Mize (51, 1947): It’s not hard to think that if Mize had played from 1943 through 1945 that he would’ve wound up with over 400 home runs. Instead, he finished with 359. He managed to hit 91 home runs in 1947 and 1948 as a 34- and 35-year-old.
Ken Griffey Jr. (56, 1998; 56, 1997): What can be written that people do not already know about Griffey Jr.? How about that Griffey had six seasons where he hit at least 20 home runs at home. He had two 20-plus home run seasons against left-handed pitchers. He had six seasons where he hit more than 20 in domed stadiums and nine in which he hit at least 20 in open stadiums. He even had two seasons where he hit more than 20 homers in day games.
Luis Gonzalez (57, 2001): People forget just how much Gonzalez bounced around. Gonzo hit 15 homers as a member of the Cubs in 1996. He then went to the Astros and hit 10. He then landed with the Tigers and hit 23. Then onto the Diamondbacks where he would hit 26, 31, and 57, and then hit more than 15 in every season until his ill-fated finale with the Marlins in 2008.
Mark McGwire (70, 1998; 65, 1999; 58, 1997; 52, 1996): McGwire hit 49 home runs at the age of 23 and in his first full season. Next.
Mickey Mantle (54, 1961; 52, 1956): Mantle played in 18 seasons, from the age of 19 until the age of 36, in as many games as 153 and in as few as 65 and yet he never finished a season with fewer than 13 home runs.
Prince Fielder (50, 2007): Prince and his father are ostensibly the only father-son combination in which both hit 50 or more homers in a season.
Ralph Kiner (54, 1949; 51, 1947): Kiner hit 294 home runs before his 30-year-old season. He finished his career with 369.
Roger Maris (61, 1961): The first 20-plus homer season of Maris’ career actually came between Cleveland and Kansas City in 1958 (he hit 28). A few seasons later, he wound up in New York and the real story began.
Ryan Howard (58, 2006): Howard didn’t have a season with 500 or more plate appearances until his mid-20s, and yet he has more homers through his 30th birthday than McGwire, Maris, Greenberg, Carl Yastrzemski, Jeff Bagwell, Billy Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Larry Walker, Jason Giambi, Rafael Palmerio, and countless others.
Sammy Sosa (66, 1998; 63, 1999; 50, 2000; 64, 2001): Sosa is one of only seven players with multiple seasons of 30 or more home runs while also posting an on-base percentage of .310 or below. Dave Kingman (five), Joe Carter (four), Tony Batista (three), Tony Armas (three), Matt Williams (two), and Ernie Banks (two) being the others.
Willie Mays (51, 1955; 52, 1965): The illustrious and venerable Mays is the only player to have 50-plus homer seasons a decade apart.
If somehow you made it through all of that, you’ll notice that Bautista is the only player in the history of the game to have a 50 home run season without at least a 20 home run season before it. This game has been played a long time and he’s the only one. Maybe it’ll happen again in our collective lifetimes, but in back-to-back seasons? With all due apologies to the perennial 10-15 home run hitters, you probably aren’t the next Jose Bautista. Nobody is.