This is the eighth installment of my series, “Baseball’s Surprising Stats.” Here are links to the first seven parts: Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Joe Jackson, Roger Maris, Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, and Pedro Martinez.
When you think of Hank Aaron, what comes to mind? Is it the number 714? Or perhaps 755? Is it that you still consider him to be the “true” home run king of all-time (Barry Bonds be damned?) Or on a more personal level, is it the stoic demeanor he displayed in the face of the bitter racism he faced during his daily assault on Babe Ruth’s career home run mark?
Some players are linked forever to one particular season: Roger Maris in ’61 comes to mind. Hamerin’ Hank was such a fine, consistent hitter that few people could even tell you which of his seasons was his best. He won his only MVP award in 1957, but played well enough in several seasons to have won half a dozen more.
But it his home runs that have made him famous.
I was aware that although he broke Ruth’s career home run record, Aaron never reached the 50 homer plateau in any particular season. That led me to ask the following question: What was Hank Aaron’s best single-season home run total?
I also thought it might be interesting to compare his career high with some other notable sluggers, minus the obvious ones such as Ruth, Maris, McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds.
It turns out that Aaron’s single-season high for home runs didn’t occur until 1971, when Aaron was already 37-years old. He slugged 47 that year, good for second place in the N.L. (Willie Stargell hit 48.)
But what struck me as remarkable about this total is that Aaron missed 22 games that year due to injuries. In ’71, Aaron led the N.L. in slugging percentage (.669), OPS (1.079) and OPS+ (194!)
Here’s something else I thought was interesting about Aaron’s annual home run totals. Look at his mean, median and mode numbers as far as home runs are concerned:
Mean – 37 (per 162 games)
Median – 36 (if you throw out his final season in which he played only 85 games.)
Mode – 44
So Aaron’s mean and median numbers are remarkably consistent, but he was more likely to hit exactly 44 homers in a season than any other particular number. In the first three of those 44-home run seasons, by the way, Aaron led the league in home runs.
Now take a look at the number of seasons Aaron reached a particular home run plateau:
40+ home run seasons: 8
30+ home run seasons: 7
20+ home run seasons: 5
Fewer than 20 in a season: 3
For the vast majority of players who have ever lived, to the extent that they could even be represented on a list such as this, you would probably find the opposite result: More 20-homer seasons, then fewer 30-homer years, fewer still 40-homer seasons, and perhaps a season or two reaching the 50 mark.
Here’s Willie Mays, for example:
50+ home run seasons: 2
40+ home run seasons: 4
30+ home runs seasons: 5
20+ home run seasons: 6
Fewer than 20 homers in a season: 4
While his top totals are higher than Aaron’s, his home run pyramid, if you will, is basically inverted; fewer seasons at each succeeding home run level.
Many players have hit more homers in a single season than Hank Aaron. The list includes Dave Kingman, George Foster, Cecil Fielder, Brady Anderson, Greg Vaughn, Luis Gonzalez, Shawn Green and many others. Troy Glaus matched Aaron with a career high 47-home runs in the year 2000.
Yet for year-to-year home run consistency at the highest caliber, however, few players in history could match Hank Aaron’s annual efforts.
Keep in mind, too, that Aaron did not play in the best hitter’s era in baseball history, he had to play night games, which did not exist until 1935, and, unlike the sluggers in the pre-Jackie Robinson days, Aaron obviously played in an integrated league facing stiffer competition.
For each of these reasons, then, if you are asked what comes to mind when you hear the name Hank Aaron, and you should reply, ” Home Run King,” no one can reasonably assail your choice.
- Hank Aaron’s dignity, grace made baseball better game (suntimes.com)