Tuesday, March 31, 2009

#89 & 90 -- Home Run Leaders

NL Home Run Leaders
Willie Stargell 48
Hank Aaron 47
Lee May 39

The top end of the NL Home Run Leaders is certainly impressive, but there's something a little unusual about this card. I'll see if anyone can guess it and give an answer later. This tied for Hank Aaron's high water mark for season home runs with 47, and it's not enough to win the home run title. Willie Stargell's 48 was an incredible number. Nobody had hit that many in the NL since Willie Mays hit 52 in 1965 and nobody would hit that many until George Foster hit 52 in 1977.

Reggie Cleveland of the Cardinals had kind of a tough year here. Stargell got him for 3 homers, Aaron for 1 and Lee May for 2. The most anyone gave up to this Big Three was Aaron hitting Claude Osteen 4 times. May hit 3 homers in only 7 at bats off Bob Johnson of the Pirates.

Aaron really put the move on Willie Mays in 1971. At the beginning of the year, Mays led Aaron in the Race to 715 by a 629 to 592 margin. However, by the end of the year Aaron narrowed the gap to 646 to 639. Aaron took over 2nd place from Mays on June 10, 1972 with his 649th homer off Wayne Twitchell of the Phillies. By the end of 1972 Aaron was ahead 673 to 654 and, while Mays was almost done, Aaron still had a 40 homer season and 82 more homers left in the tank.

AL Home Run Leaders
Bill Melton 33
Norm Cash 33
Reggie Jackson 32

Frank Howard and Harmon Killebrew had been dominating this category in the AL for years, each of them putting up numbers in the mid-40's, but each was slowing down. Reggie Jackson makes his 2nd appearance on the HR Leaders card and it wouldn't be his last. However, just like the NL card, there wasn't a lot of depth in sluggers. In the NL, 27 homers would be good enough to make the card back and Bobby Murcer's 25 was enough here. The 1997 Rockies would have had 5 guys on this list.

These guys spread it around some. Jim Slaton gave up 3 homers to Melton and Reggie took Steve Kline long 3 times, but Cash didn't hit more than 2 off anyone.

I would have thought that Melton's 33 was the lowest total for a home run leader in a non-strike season. I would have been wrong. In fact, there were 3 seasons in the 1970's where the AL home run leader topped out at 32. We think about the AL being the hitting league now, but in the 60's and 70's, the NL was the superior hitting league.

Melton was the first White Sox player to lead the league in homers with his 33 in 1971. He really had to put on a late run to win the title. On September 28, he only had 30 homers. That same day Cash hit his last 2 and Jackson hit his last one to put both at 32. However, Melton went long twice on the 29th off Jim Slaton and his 33rd the next day off Bill Parsons. He never came close to the home run leaderboard again. He was injured in 1972 and never really recovered.

We all know Reggie's story. For Norm Cash, this may be the most homers he hit in a season in which he didn't cork his bat. He had great seasons in 1961 and 1962, but he's admitted to corking. Oops.

1 comment:

  1. Great league leaders cards. Interesting overlap between eras, as they include all-time greats who played 50s-70s (Mays, Aaron) and others toward the start of their careers (Jackson, Bench).