Barry Bonds has been passing career home run milestones like a car passing signs on the freeway since his "breakout" year in 2001. Next, Barry Bonds has Babe Ruth ahead of him, at 714, to become the left-handed hitter with the most career homers. And then, of course, his next goal is Hank Aaron's all time career mark of 755 homers. Or is it? This article will examine another goal that has escaped most people's attention and yet it is more attainable and still a noteworthy goal.
The Giants First Big Bopper
There are many Giants players names who are instantly recognizable by die-hard Giants fans. Of course, there are Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, and Willie McCovey. Not as remembered but up there with those three is Mel Ott. The next tier of homerun hitters include Orlando Cepeda, Bobby Bonds, Matt Williams, Bobby Thompson, Will Clark, Jack Clark, Dave Kingman, Jeff Kent, Kevin Mitchell, and Jim Ray Hart. But the first of the Giants big homerun hitters was Roger Conner.
Part of the original New York Giants team, the big guy - at 6' 3", 220 lb. - was one of the players contributing to the "Giants" nickname that was given to the team. Roger Conner spent most of his career with the NY Giants. His first three seasons were with the Troy Trojans, a predecessor to the Giants, before joining the Giants for most of his next 11 seasons, with one season stints with the New York Giants of the Players League in 1890 and the Philadephia Phillies in 1892. Then he was traded to the St. Louis Browns in 1894 and finished his career with them in 1897.
He didn't hit many homers for the Giants initially but in the year he turned 30, he went from 7 homers the year before to 17 homers. When his career ended, he played 18 seasons, 1997 games, with 138 homers, good for the career lead in homeruns in the MLB until someone named George Herman Ruth passed him up like he was standing still in 1921. He ended up playing 1120 games for the Giants and in his 4,346 Giants at bats he hit 76 homeruns for the Giants.
In all, he had a career batting average of .358 (league average of .282 according to baseball-reference.com, from whence I gathered all my data for him), on-base percentage of .434 (league average of .341), slugging percentage of .577 (league average of .390), and OPS of 1.010 (league average of .731). While his homerun mark has been pushed down, he is still 84th in hits with 2,467, 5th in triples with 233 and 80th in doubles in 441. In addition, he is still 36th in runs scored and 77th in RBI with 1322, despite not being in the leaders in career at bats. He was in the top 5 in homeruns in 8 seasons – leading the league once – and in the top 10 in 12 seasons. He eventually held the MLB career mark for homeruns from 1895 to 1920, a total of 25 years.
The "Other" Homerun Mark: National League Career Homeruns
There is another homerun mark with a lot of Giants tradition: the National League career homerun leader. Roger Conner was the leader briefly from 1893-1895, because he left the NL for one year in 1890 to play in the Player’s League, which cost him from holding the lead longer as Sam Thompson, who did not play in the Player’s League, passed him in 1895. Conner ended up with 124 homeruns in the NL, short 3 of Sam Thompson’s 127 leading figure that held until Cy Williams hit 41 homers in 1923 to reach 149 career NL homeruns.
Then the great Rogers Hornsby – himself a Giant in 1927 - passed Cy Williams when Hornsby hit 39 homers in 1929 for the Chicago Cubs, giving Hornsby 278 for his career. It was his last year of high homerun performance but it was enough to grab the career lead in homeruns for the NL. Rogers Hornsby ended up with 301 career homeruns when his career ended in 1937.
He held the NL lead until Mel Ott took over the lead in 1937 – Hornsby's last year - with 31 homers. Mel Ott held the title for 29 years until a fellow Giants Great, Willie Mays, took over the lead in 1966 when Mays hit 37 homers. The Say Hey Kid kept the title warm for Hammering Hank Aaron as Aaron took the lead with 34 homers in 1972 and when Aaron played his last season with Atlanta in the NL in 1974, he set the bar for career homers in the NL at 733 homeruns.
In total, Giants players have held the National League career lead for homeruns for 37 seasons. The table below was compiled by examining data from the website www.baseball-reference.com and is believed to be accurate but please notify me if I have a mistake.
|National League Career HR Leader
||Years in Lead
||Total Years in Lead
Barry Bonds Likely to Get NL Career Homerun Lead
Barry Bonds is currently at 687 homeruns (as of August 6th, 2004). At his current pace, he should reach 701 homers by the end of the season. That would mean he would need another 33 homeruns to past Aaron and take the NL career homerun lead and another 55 homeruns to pass Hank Aaron’s MLB career mark of 755. In addition, from the website www.baseball-almanac.com, I learned that Bonds has already passed Aaron for the most career homeruns by a NL outfielder this season (Aaron had 661 homers as an NL outfielder). And he should pass Babe Ruth for the most homeruns by an MLB outfielder early next season, much sooner than he will pass Ruth for the most homeruns by a left-handed hitter (Ruth had 692 homers as an outfielder). Both of those marks are definitely within his reach.
Also, given how he’s been hitting homeruns at such a prodigious pace the past four years, it looks very possible that he will easily pass up Aaron for the NL career homerun title. However, his most frequent quote this season is "I’m tired and old." And the past two years, it has been one thing or another that has kept him out of games and is on pace for only 140 games played this year, his third consecutive year under 150 games played and fifth in six seasons.
Furthermore, Hank Aaron, in the year he started at 40 years old – which is what Bonds will be playing next season – had hit 47, 34, and 40 homers in the three previous years. However, he hit only 20 homeruns that season, his final year in the National League, ending with 733 career homers in the NL. He only hit 22 homers over the next two seasons for a total of 44 homers from the season he started as a 40 year old. Ted Williams, who Bonds is probably most like as a hitter, hit 10 homers at age 40 and 29 homers at age 41 for a total of 39 homers.
Bonds, assuming he keeps his pace for this year (and assuming opposing teams pitch to him) would have 46, 45, and 43 homers in the three years before starting his 40 year old season. If he just duplicates Aaron’s performance of 42 homers, he will easily pass Hank for the NL career lead for homeruns but fall short of the MLB career record by 13 homers. Given that Bonds will probably outperform Aaron for the three year previous to age 40 by a total of 13 homers for the three seasons, it is reasonable to think that Bonds could duplicate this over the next three seasons, barring any serious injury, making up the 13 homers he would be short of Aaron.
If so, Barry could own the NL - and share the MLB (with Aaron) - career homerun marks when his career is done. But as it is with every season for the past five seasons, it will be in doubt until Barry plays his first month of the season and shows by his performance where his skill level is. Will he finally succumb to Father Time or will he defy Father Time for another season? If he defies again in 2005, he would easily pass up Aaron for both career marks and make it that much harder for him to be passed in the future. But as my previous article noted, even the best in baseball history succumbs by the time they hit 40, including Aaron and Williams, which is Barry’s age for the 2005 season.
How Long Could Barry Hold the NL Career Homerun Lead?
Right now it looks like it can go in a number of ways, he could hold it for a long time like Aaron, or for a shorter time like his Godfather Willie Mays, or even a short period as Roger Conner. As great as Sammy Sosa has been, he started his career in the American League and "only" has 534 homers in the NL and projects to be at 546 by the end of the season. To pass Aaron, he would need to hit 188 homers and at 35 years of age, he probably will play anywhere from 5-7 more seasons. That means he only has to average between 27 and 37 homers per season, which is within the realm of his past performance.
But his homerun totals have dropped precipitously over the past four seasons, from 64 to 49 to 40 to a projected 36 this season. If he continues to deteriorate like this, he would fall short of Aaron, let alone wherever Bonds end up. And his body type appears more like a Mark McGuire than a Barry Bonds. But if he does accomplish it, Bonds would have only held the NL career lead for only about 2-4 seasons.
If Sosa fails to take the lead from Bonds, the list of possible candidates is short and got significantly one shorter during the off-season when Vladimir Guerrero left the NL. I took a look at the various homerun leaders of the past four seasons and used 38 homers as a minimum level, since a player would have to average 38 homers over 20 seasons to reach 760 homers. In addition, I checked the active leaders list on baseball-reference.com as well. There are not many candidates in the NL as most of the big homerun hitters have come from the AL so if they fall short, Bonds could hold the career lead for most of the rest of his life.
Using the website www.baseball-reference.com to get each player’s career high homerun and 162 game average, only these players, assuming they play to 42 years of age and can keep up their 162 game average, are in the running currently: Albert Pujols, Andruw Jones, Richie Sexson, and Todd Helton. And Jones, Sexson, and Helton are actually short by a few homers, but I included them since they have shown by their peak potential that they are capable of reaching the target average figure plus potentially have their peak years of performance ahead of them.
Long shots but within shooting range include Lance Berkman, Pat Burrell, Scott Rolen, and Chipper Jones. They are all short of the necessary 162 game average (and assuming of course they actually play 162 games) to meet the number of average homers per season if they were to play to age 42 from their age for the 2003 season. However, Berkman, Burrell, and Rolen have their peak seasons ahead of them as they are 27, 26, and 28 years of age respectively, and therefore could find a jump in their homerun production in the years ahead. And Jones, while past his peak, has had a peak year above the average he needs, so if he can pull a Barry and hit homeruns more consistently in his 30’s than he had in his 20’s – he’s 32 this season – then he has an outside chance as well. But these are all big ifs as not all players boost their homerun production as they turn 30 and only a handful of players have boosted their homerun production in their late 30’s.
Albert Pujols look like the most likely to reach Bonds since he’s hitting homers so prodigiously in his early 20’s but as Ken Griffey Jr has shown, even a high trajectory career can be derailed. Even if he does reach Barry (assuming that Barry actually passes Aaron for the NL career lead in homeruns), he probably won’t reach Barry until he is around 39 or 40, at which point Bonds would have held the career lead for for 13-14 seasons.
And if Pujols fails to reach Bonds, for whatever reason, and given the few candidates currently on a trajectory to catch Bonds, it is conceivable that the player who will pass Bonds for the lead may not have even played a game professionally yet if and when Bonds passes Aaron for the NL career homerun lead. And perhaps may not have even been born yet if Bonds defies nature once again. In which case Barry would probably hold the record for the rest of his life.
Martin Lee writes 'A Biased Giant's Fanatic's View' for SFDugout.com when the mood and muse strikes him. He wants to teach and share his love of baseball and, in particular, his love for the San Francisco Giants. He will believe to his dying days that Bobby Bonds was robbed of being the first 40-40 player and should be in Cooperstown. Please feel free to e-mail him at BiasedGiantsFanatic@nospam.yahoo.com (remove the "nospam." if you wish to e-mail me) if you have a question or comment.
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