June 3, 2020

Shouldn’t 1987 Raise Eyebrows Too?

October 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

There has been an increased raising of eyebrows when looking at or comparing statistics of players in the “steroid era,” which began in the early 1990s.

Look no further than Mark McGwire to see how these allegations have hurt one’s Hall of Fame chances. We’ll get another example of this in the upcoming election as Rafael Palmeiro is eligible for the first time.

So with all this hand-wringing over the “steroid” years, shouldn’t 1987 also be included?

No, I am not suggesting that the players were on performance enhancers that season. But the ball was obviously juiced. There was no expansion, which has been the cause of a power surge previously (see: 1961 and 1977), and the number of players who had career highs in home runs is astounding. Yet, these numbers seem to be passed along as any other.

My thought: They shouldn’t. And any mention of 1987 which comes up in any conversation, whether it be for the Hall of Fame, comparing players or just talking about a certain player, should cause the same raised eyebrows as statistics from the “steroid era.”

Also, I’m not saying here that every player padded his home run totals. Interestingly, some players who showed they had power continued to do so along the same numbers. But others … well, can we say Brook Jacoby? Dale Sveum? Larry Sheets? These are the poster children for the farce that was 1987.

Here’s a quick look at the home run totals in each league before, during and after 1987:

American League

1986: 2,290
1987: 2,634
1988: 1,901

National League

1986: 1,523
1987: 1,824
1988: 1,279

That’s a combined 4,458 home runs, which was 500 more than the previous record for a season (set in 1986). The 4,000 mark wouldn’t be reached again until 1993 – but that was with two more teams as it was an expansion season. The record would be broken in 1996 (4,962) and by 1998, with more expansion and presumably more PEDs, 5,000 home runs became the norm.

Here’s a team-by-team look at players who seemed to prosper in the juiced year of 1987 (plate appearances/home runs listed in parentheses). I’ve tried to only include players who received significant playing time:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Baltimore Orioles

  • Larry Sheets (508/31):  Seems only appropriate to start here. Sheets had combined for 35 homers the previous two seasons. After 1987, he hit 27 in 1,252 PAs.
  • Jim Dwyer (281/15): Had 77 career HRs in 3,234 career PA. Highest previous total for HR in a season: 9 (Boston, 1980, in 292 PA).
  • Ken Gerhart (310/14): Hit 10 HR in his other career 366 PA.

Boston Red Sox

  • Dwight Evans (657/34): At age 35, Evans set career highs in HR, average (.305) and slugging percentage (.569). Dropped down to 21 HR in 1988 and 20 in ’89.
  • Wade Boggs (667/24): Another possible poster-child for just how ridiculous home runs were in 1987. Of his 118 career HRs, 24 came in 1987. He only reached double figures one other time: 11 with the Yankees in 1994. His .588 slugging percentage was nearly 100 points higher than his next best in any season. And it’s not like all his doubles converted to homers – he still had 40 doubles (he was right in the middle of seven straight seasons of 40+ doubles).

California Angels

  • Wally Joyner (653/34): This would be Joyner’s only season with a slugging percentage over .500 (.528). He jumped from 22 HRs in 1986 then down to 13 in 1988. He only hit over 16 home runs once more after ’87 and that was 21 in 1991.
  • Brian Downing (695/29): Due credit to Downing, who had hit 20+ homers in each of his previous three seasons (and four of the previous five), but 29 is his career high and it came at age 37.
  • Devon White (696/24): White would have a number of double-digit home run seasons, but he would never top 17 again until 1998 (22), an expansion year.

Chicago White Sox

  • Ivan Calderon (607/28): Calderon had his coming-out season … and then never hit more than 19 homers again.
  • Jerry Royster (225/7): Royster had 40 career home runs over 16 seasons, so nearly 1/6 of those came in 1987 at age 34. Needless to say, seven was Royster’s career high.

Cleveland Indians

  • Brook Jacoby (620/32): Jacoby had shown some power – 20 HR in 1985 and 17 in ’86 – but nothing like he did in ’87, when he had a career-high .541 slugging percentage, 100 points higher than any of his other seasons. As a full-time player, Jacoby would hit nine HR in 1988, 13 in 1989 and 14 in 1990.
  • Pat Tabler (508/11): Tabler did hit 10 HR in 1984, but then he dove down to five and six and in ’88 would hit just two (in 498 PA).
  • Brett Butler (618/9): Exactly 1/6 of Butler’s career home runs occurred in 1987.

Detroit Tigers

  • Matt Nokes (508/32): Nokes would hit 20+ HR in 1991 and ’92 with the Yankees, but 32 in ’87 is his career high and he dropped off to 16 the next season.
  • Alan Trammell (653/28): Trammell hit over 20 HR just twice in his career, and the other was just 21 in 1986. He not only set career highs for HR in ’87, but also RBI (105), average (.343) and slugging percentage (.551). He dropped off to 15 HR in ’88 then five in ’89.
  • Tom Brookens (490/13): Brookens had reached double digits in HR just once – 10 in 1980 (551 PA). He would hit 10 combined over his final three seasons.

Kansas City Royals

  • Danny Tartabull (667/34): No doubt Tartabull had power, but 1987 remains his high-water mark.
  • Kevin Seitzer (725/15): A starter over the next three seasons, Seitzer would combine to hit 15 HR in those years. He wouldn’t hit double digits again until an expansion season, 11 in 1993.

Milwaukee Brewers

  • Dale Sveum (586/25): Simply put: 2,810 career PA, 69 career HR.
  • Bill Schroeder (270/14): Again, we’ll give Schroeder some credit since he hit 14 HR in 1984 – although only 15 combined the next two seasons – but the .240 career hitter also batted .332 with a .548 slugging percentage.

Minnesota Twins

  • Kent Hrbek (566/34): Hard to list him here, but this is the only time he ever reached 30 HR.
  • Tim Laudner (317/16): Laudner never hit as many as 13, in 1988, and that was in 101 more PA.

New York Yankees

  • Mike Pagliarulo (582/32): Pags did hit 28 in 1986, but 32 was his career high and he did careen off to 15 in 1988 and seven in ’89.
  • Bobby Meacham (232/5): Meacham had two homers in his other 1,359 career PA.

Oakland A’s

  • Mark McGwire (641/49): McGwire wouldn’t top this number until the steroid/expansion era. He wouldn’t hit 40 again until 1992, the year Jose Canseco claims he started injecting McGwire with steroids.
  • Terry Steinbach (438/16): His HR totals after ’87: 9, 7, 9, 6. Yes, his power numbers picked up, but I’ll just leave it at that.

Seattle Mariners

  • Alvin Davis (662/29): Davis was a great hitter, but he never hit more HR in a season than he did in ’87, and he only topped 20 one more time (21 in 1989).
  • Mike Kingery (390/9): Kingery hit 30 career HR and never hit more than eight again – and that was in 1995 when he was with Colorado.

Texas Rangers

  • Larry Parrish (613/32): Parrish hit his share of homers, but he never hit more than 32 (and only had 30 one other time, in 1979). He hit just 14 HR in 441 PA in 1988.
  • Bob Brower (349/14): Hit three more homers in 318 career PA.
  • Gino Petralli (232/7): Petralli would hit seven homers again in 1988 – but in 400 PA. He’d never hit more than four in a season and had just 24 in his career.

Toronto Blue Jays

  • George Bell (665/47): Bell won the MVP award thanks to his prodigious season. He never hit more than 31 in any other year and no more than 25 after ’87.
  • Lloyd Moseby (670/26): A career high for Moseby, who would follow up with HR totals of 10, 11 and 14.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Atlanta Braves

  • Dale Murphy (693/44): Yes, Murphy was a prodigious home run hitter, but he never had hit more than 37 in a season previously and had 29 HR (692 PA) in 1986. He wouldn’t hit more than 24 HR in a season after the ’87 season.
  • Ozzie Virgil (486/27): Virgil had shown some power in the past, but had never hit more than 19 HR previously. He followed up in 1988 with nine HR in 350 PA.
  • Gerald Perry (590/12): Perry hit 59 career HR and never more than eight in a season, other than ’87.
  • Dion James (574/10): James had just 22 HR in his other career 2,500 PA.

Chicago Cubs

  • Andre Dawson (662/49): Yes, Dawson, the Hall of Famer. He never hit more than 32 in a season and the three previous seasons before ’87 he hit 17, 23 and 20. The three after: 24, 21 and 27.
  • Leon Durham (492/27): A steady 20+ home run hitter, but Durham never hit more than 23 in a season until 1987.
  • Keith Moreland (614/27): Moreland had never hit more than 16 HR in a season and had just 12 in 1986. Moving to San Diego in 1988, Moreland hit just five HR in 562 PA and then six in ’89 in 458 PA with Detroit and Baltimore.
  • Jerry Mumphrey (346/13): Mumphrey never hit more than nine HR in a season, but at age 34 he set a career high. He hit none in 73 PA in 1988.
  • Bob Dernier (220/8): Dernier hit 23 home runs in his career, meaning more than 1/3 came in 1987 – and in only 220 PA. His .497 slugging percentage also is easily a career high; his next best was .362 in 1984. Dernier would hit two HR in his final 384 big league PA.

Cincinnati Reds

  • Tracy Jones (390/10): Jones hit 17 HR in his other 1,044 career PA. There were some other candidates on the Reds like Eric Davis (career-high 37 HR, but hit 34 later) and Kal Daniels (26 HR, not a career high, and .617 slugging percentage).

Houston Astros

  • Alan Ashby (441/14): Ashby did once his 12 HR (in 1982), but he set his career mark in ’87 at the age of 35.
  • Billy Hatcher (627/11): Hatcher did have a famous homer in the 1986 NLCS, but he only had 54 career HR in 4,752 PA. He never reached double digits again and his next best total was nine in the expansion year of 1993.

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • John Shelby (552/22): T-bone hit nearly 1/3 of his 70 career homers in 1987. He did reach double figures two other times, but just 11 (’86) and 10 (’88) – which combined don’t equal his ’87 total.

Montreal Expos

  • Tim Raines (627/18): Raines had one season in his career with a slugging percentage of over .480, and that was his .526 in 1987. Raines never hit more than 12 home runs in a season other than ’87 until expansion kicked in.
  • Mitch Webster (676/15): Webster was a full-time player from 1986-88. His home run totals those seasons: 8, 15, 6.

New York Mets

  • Keith Hernandez (676/18): Hernandez was good for 10-15 homers a season, but his career best was 16 back in 1980. In ’87, at age 33 and his last season as a regular, he set a career high.
  • Lenny Dykstra (479/10): Dykstra reached double figures in home runs twice: 1987 and 1993, the latter year in which he took performance-enhancing drugs. In addition, his .455 slugging percentage in ’87 was only topped once (again, 1993).

Philadelphia Phillies

  • Juan Samuel (726/28): Samuel always had decent power, but the only time he ever reached 20 home runs was in 1987. His .502 slugging percentage that season is also his highest of any season in which he played full time.
  • Luis Aguayo (234/12): Just about 1/3 of Aguayo’s 37 career homers came in 1987. He never hit more than six in any other season, including 1988 in which he hit six in 260 PA.

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • This is the one team, for whatever reason, which didn’t see a major aberration in individual home runs. Andy Van Slyke did jump from 13 in 1985 and ’86 to 21 in 1987, but he also was in St. Louis the two previous seasons and then hit 25 in ’88. Barry Bonds went from 16 HR as a rookie to 25 in ’87, a number he wouldn’t top again until 1990, when he hit 33.

San Diego Padres

  • John Kruk (527/20): Kruk would hit 25 home runs combined over the next three seasons in 1,387 plate appearances.
  • Randy Ready (423/12): Ready, who had 40 career HR in 2,488 PA, would never hit more than eight HR in a season. His .520 slugging percentage is nearly 100 points higher than any other season in which he had at least 100 PA.

San Francisco Giants

  • Will Clark (588/35): Clark was coming off a rookie season in which he had 11 HR in 458 PA. Clark never hit 30 HR again and reached 20 just five more times.
  • Chris Speier (364/11): Speier had reached double digits in home runs three times prior to 1987 – in 1972, ’73 and ’75. He repeated the feat at age 37.
  • Bob Melvin (265/11): Melvin hit nearly 1/3 of his career 35 HR in 1987. His next two best totals: eight in 1988 (288 PA) and five in 1986 (289 PA).
  • Mike Aldrete (406/9): Aldrete would hit 6 HR in 1,048 PA over the next four seasons. He’d find some power with Oakland in 1993, but still never topped his .462 slugging percentage in 1987.

St. Louis Cardinals

  • Jack Clark (558/35): The Cardinals hit only 94 home runs and Clark had 35 of them. He had never hit more than 27 previously in his career and never topped 28 after.
  • Terry Pendleton (667/12): This is more of an honorable mention for Pendleton, as he’d hit 13 HR in 1989 and then find his power stroke after moving to Atlanta, but he had hit just seven HR in the previous three seasons in over 1,500 PA.

Heller, an Orioles fan, is the author of “As Good As It Got: The 1944 St. Louis Browns” and has been contributing to Seamheads since June 2009, writing mostly about the Browns. He’s had numerous newspaper jobs, working as a writer, editor, or web producer for the Cincinnati Post, Bengal Report Magazine, Cincinnati Enquirer, Sportsline.com, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. His work has also appeared in the Washington Post, Philadelphia Daily News, and Detroit Free-Press.

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