The Wally Moses All-Stars: Part I
In 1937, 26-year-old Philadelphia Athletics right fielder Wally Moses enjoyed a career year, hitting .320 with 25 homers, 86 RBIs, 113 runs, 208 hits, 48 doubles and 13 triples. It wasn’t necessarily a surprise considering he’d batted .345 the year before and racked up 202 hits and 98 runs in 146 games. But the home runs were an anomaly—he’d combined to hit only 12 in his first two seasons, and his second highest total would be 9 in 1940. Moses had a solid 17 years in the majors, but hit only 89 career home runs in 7,356 at-bats, which means his 1937 total accounted for 28% of his career total.
As I’m wont to do, I wondered which other players hit such a high percentage of their career homers in one season. Fortunately I’m a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and I threw that question out to the masses. Thanks to Clem Comly, I have my answer. These guys don’t exactly fit the Wally Moses mold, in fact there are some Hall of Famers and potential Hall of Famers among them, but they each had a season that accounted for a high percentage of their career home runs (through 2011).
The 100-Homer Club
Bob Cerv (38 HRs in 1958; 105 Career; 36.2%): A powerful right-handed slugger who once competed on “Home Run Derby,” Cerv bounced around between the big leagues and the minors from 1951-1953 while a member of the New York Yankees, then spent another three seasons in New York, never getting more than 115 at-bats in any one campaign. The Kansas City Athletics purchased Cerv in December 1956 and he finally started to log some regular playing time in 1957. But it wasn’t until 1958 that the 33-year-old Cerv finally “arrived.” In his only season of at least 500 at-bats, Cerv belted 38 long balls to finish fourth among American League sluggers, finishing only four behind HR champ Mickey Mantle. Cerv batted cleanup for the AL All-Stars and went 1-for-2 with a walk in a 4-3 win, then finished fourth in MVP voting at the end of the season behind Jackie Jensen, Bob Turley and Rocky Colavito.
1958 proved to be Cerv’s only real moment in the sun—he hit 20 homers in 1959, then belted only 14 in limited action in 1960. He spent only two more seasons in the majors and hit 10 home runs in his final 223 at-bats. The 38 homers he hit in ’58 accounted for 36.2% of his career total of 105.
Gerónimo Berroa (36 HRs in 1996; 101 Career; 35.6%): Much like Cerv, it took Berroa a while to get some regular playing time in the majors and he didn’t enjoy a 500-at-bat season until 1995 when the 30-year-old right-handed outfielder/designated hitter earned a full-time role with the Oakland A’s, the sixth franchise for whom he played. Berroa had a good year, belting 22 homers, driving in 88 runs and scoring 87, then had an even better year in 1996 when he hit a career-high 36 four-baggers, drove in 106 and scored 101 times. He followed that up with his third straight productive season, hitting 26 home runs with 90 runs batted in and 88 runs scored while splitting time between Oakland and Baltimore.
But that was pretty much it for Berroa. He hit only two more home runs from 1998-2000 before his major league career came to an end. From 1995-1997, he ranked 14th in the AL in total homers, but here he ranks second by hammering 35.6% of his career homers in one season.
José Bautista (54 HRs in 2010; 156 Career; 34.6%): Speaking of revolving doors and playing for multiple franchises, the story of José Bautista would make most baseball fans dizzy. Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 20th round of the 2000 amateur draft, Bautista spent three seasons in the minors before making his major league debut on April 4, 2004 as a member of the Orioles who selected Bautista in the rule 5 draft the previous December. He appeared in 16 games with Baltimore before the Tampa Bay Devil Rays selected him off waivers on June 3. After 12 games with Tampa, Bautista landed in Kansas City after the Royals purchased his contract on June 28. He appeared in 13 games with the Royals before he was traded to the New York Mets on July 30. He didn’t even have a chance to suit up for the Mets who traded him back to the Pirates on the same day they acquired him.
He finished the 2004 season in Pittsburgh, then spent most of 2005 with Double-A Altoona before finally cracking the Pittsburgh lineup as a utility man in 2006. He showed decent power, hitting 16 homers in 400 at-bats, then followed that up with consecutive 15-homer campaigns, albeit his 2008 total came in only 370 at-bats split between Pittsburgh and the Toronto Blue Jays, to whom he was dealt on August 21. After a mediocre showing in 2009, Baustista exploded for a league-leading 54 home runs in 2010 at age 29. He led the league again in 2011 with 43 and made his second All-Star team, and as of this writing, he has 27 in 92 games in 2012.
It’ll be interesting to see how his career continues to progress into his 30′s, but for now he ranks third on this list after belting 34.6% of his career home run total in 2010.
Adam Lind (35 HRs in 2009; 106 Career; 33.0%): Much like a late 1980′s or early 1990′s ALCS, so far it’s been all A’s and Blue Jays, except in Adam Lind’s case we have a player who started getting regular big league at-bats at an early age. Lind broke into the majors at 22, only two years after being drafted in the third round. He amassed 616 at-bats from 2007-2008 and hit 20 home runs combined in those two seasons before becoming a full-time player in 2009 and hitting a career-best 35 dingers. His OPS dropped 120 points from ’09 to 2010, but he added another 23 homers to his total, then hit 26 more in 2011. So far in 64 games in 2012, he has only 9 long balls and his .396 slugging percentage is the worst of his career. Prior to this season, his 2009 mark represented one-third of his career total. With 9 more this year, ’09 still counts for 30.4% of his total.
The 200-Homer Club
Brady Anderson (50 HRs in 1996; 210 Career; 23.8%): In 1986, a then 22-year-old Brady Anderson displayed good power at Single-A, slugging .504 for the Winter Haven Red Sox, but he was known more for his speed as evidenced by his 44 steals in 126 games. In his first four major league seasons from 1988-1991, he slugged only .306 in a part-time role before becoming a regular in 1992 when he enjoyed a very good season for the Baltimore Orioles, belting 21 homers, stealing 53 bags and scoring 100 runs. He wasn’t able to replicate those numbers until 1996 when he caught everyone by surprise by blasting 50 four-baggers, 35 of which came as a lead-off hitter.
Prior to the ’96 season, Anderson had homered once every 45.4 at-bats over 945 games. Suddenly, he was homering once every 11.6 at-bats, a neighborhood typically dominated by the likes of Hall of Fame sluggers Harmon Killebrew and Reggie Jackson. In 1997 Anderson appeared in more games and had more at-bats than in ’96, but hit only 18 dingers and averaged only 20 a year from 1997-2000 before slipping into obscurity with two terrible seasons prior to his retirement. Of course, Anderson is and probably always will be under a cloud of suspicion thanks to those who assume he took performance-enhancing drugs, but short of a confession we’ll never know for sure.
Hack Wilson (56 HRs in 1930; 244 Career; 23.0%): Unlike the previous members on this list, Hack Wilson had a history of successful slugging heading into his historic 1930 season, posting slugging averages of .539, .579, .588 and .618 from 1926-1929, and averaging 30 homers a year. In fact, during that four year stretch only Babe Ruth had a higher home run percentage than Wilson. But in 1930, the barrel-chested slugger rewrote the record book by belting a then-National League record 56 home runs and driving in a major league record 191 runs.
Wilson spent another four years in the majors and not only did he never come close to his record-setting total, but he managed only 51 more home runs over the rest of his career. Whereas some recent sluggers have been accused of cheating to reach such lofty heights, Wilson took advantage of the era in which he played and simply caught lightening in a bottle. Home runs were up in baseball and the NL set a new record for total homers and home run percentage that stood until 1949 and 1947, respectively. The league as a whole batted .303 and teams averaged nearly 5.7 runs per game. In other words, it was an offensive free-for-all.
Regardless, Wilson was head and shoulders above the rest—among NL sluggers only Chuck Klein hit as many as 40 homers, and no one came close to Wilson’s .723 slugging percentage. The bottom fell out in 1931, not only for Wilson who hit a paltry 13 homers in 112 games, but for the entire league. Home runs fell off by almost 45%—Klein led the NL in roundtrippers with 31—scoring dropped to 4.5 runs per game, and the league batted .277.
Roger Maris (61 HRs in 1961; 275 Career; 22.2%): If not for his 1961 season in which he set the new single season home run record with 61, Roger Maris would be known today as a good ballplayer who won an MVP award in 1960 and three World Series titles with the Yankees and Cardinals. But Maris became a household name in ’61 and there are some who believe he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Prior to his breakout season, Maris showed off his power as a 19-year-old minor leaguer when he belted 32 homers in the Class B Three-Eye League. He hit 14 in his rookie year in the majors, then belted 28 between Cleveland and Kansas City in 1958. He followed that up with 16 in 1959 before taking off following a trade to the Yankees before the 1960 season.
Maris enjoyed a career year, hitting 39 homers and leading the American League in RBIs with 112 and slugging at .581, and narrowly edged out teammate Mickey Mantle for MVP honors. Then they put on an encore that captured the nation, as Maris blasted 61 homers to surpass Babe Ruth’s 1927 mark, and Mantle chipped in with 54. Maris paced the junior circuit in runs, homers, RBIs and total bases and edged Mantle for MVP honors for a second straight year. For Maris there was nowhere to go but down—he had another fine season in 1962, hitting 33 homers and driving in 100 runs, but managed only 84 homers over his final six seasons, an average of 14 per annum. For the three-year stretch from 1960-1962 few players produced like Maris, but injuries dogged him for the rest of his career and he retired in 1968 at only 33.
On deck: The 300- and 400-Homer Clubs