Double X, Hitting Home Runs and Some Guy You Never Heard of

By Blaidd Drwg

Part one of a two parter! In the immortal words of Mel Allen, “How about that?”

In the history of baseball, there have been 43 instances of a player hitting 50 or more home runs in a season. For reference, here is the breakdown of those seasons:

Number of HRs Number of Times Accomplished
73 1
70 1
66 1
65 1
64 1
63 1
62 0
61 1
60 1
59 1
58 4
57 2
56 3
55 0
54 7
53 1
52 6
51 5
50 6


Here is the same list with one additional column – Number of Times Lead League. That column represents the number of times that the corresponding number of home runs was the highest total in the AL or NL in its respective season.

Number of HRs Number of Times Accomplished Number of Times Lead League
73 1 1
70 1 1
66 1 0
65 1 1
64 1 0
63 1 0
61 1 1
60 1 1
59 1 1
58 4 3*
57 2 1
56 3 3
54 7 6
53 1 1
52 6 5
51 5 5
50 6 3


The asterisk is an unusual case – in 1997, thanks to a mid-season trade, Mark McGwire was in the unusual position of leading MLB in home runs with 58 without leading one of the individual leagues – he would hit 34 for the A’s, which ranked 9th in the AL in 1997, and 24 for the Cardinals, which ranked outside of the top 10. For the sake of this article we won’t consider that one.

This leaves 9 times that a player topped 50 HR’s without leading the league, which leads to my favorite list, the players who did not lead the league when hitting 50 HRs:

Year Player HR Rank Leader (HR)
1998 Sammy Sosa 66 2nd (NL) Mark McGwire (70)
2001 Sammy Sosa 64 2nd (NL) Barry Bonds (73)
1999 Sammy Sosa 63 2nd (NL) Mark McGwire (65)
2001 Luis Gonzalez 57 3rd (NL) Mark McGwire (70)
1961 Mickey Mantle 54 2nd (NL) Roger Maris (61)
2002 Jim Thome 52 2nd (AL) Alex Rodriguez (57)
1996 Brady Anderson 50 2nd (AL) Mark McGwire (52)
1938 Jimmie Foxx 50 2nd (AL) Hank Greenberg (58)
1998 Greg Vaughn 50 3rd (NL) Mark McGwire (70)


I feel bad for Luis Gonzalez and Greg Vaughn. They both had the misfortune of hitting a ton of HRs in years where two other player hit a ton more home runs than they did. Of course, then you have Sammy Sosa. Sosa lead the league twice in home runs – in 2000 and 2002, with totals of 50 and 49 and managed to lead the NL in HRs exactly 0 times in years that he hit 60+ home runs. Talk about bad timing.

Double X, also known as  Beast - and a beast he was.
Double X, also known as Beast – and a beast he was.

The player that intrigued me the most is Jimmie Foxx and his 1938 campaign. In that season, Foxx would reach 50 home runs for the second time, to go along with 139 runs, 197 hits, 175 RBI, 119 BB, a .349 BA, 1.166 OPS, 182 OPS+ and 7.6 WAR to win his 3rd MVP award, missing out on the triple crown in only the home run category. It would be the second time that Foxx missed out in one category – he finished 2nd in the AL to Dale Alexander in 1932 in BA by .003 points. You shouldn’t feel too bad for Foxx though, he did win the 1932 MVP award (posting an insane 10.5 WAR, a number that has only been reached 36 times in baseball history) and he did manage to secure the Triple Crown the following season as well as also winning an MVP.  The 1930’s were good for offense, what can I say, but Foxx is still arguably one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. If that isn’t enough, Foxx was also good enough to appear as a pitcher in 11 games in his career, including 9 in 1945, including 2 starts, when he was 37 years old. He posted a 1.59 ERA (albeit with not so stellar peripheral stats). It is also worth noting that when Foxx retired, he was #2 on the all-time career HR list, 170ish HR’s behind some guy named Ruth. For nearly 20 years, the 500 HR club was Foxx, Ruth and Mel Ott.

So why is this part 1 of a 2 parter? Well, it goes back to the guy who had a slightly higher BA in 1932 than Jimmie Foxx. Part 2 is going to answer the question I had when I was writing this piece – “Who the hell is Dale Alexander and why have I never heard of him?”

The 1987 NFL Rushing Leaders

By Blaidd Drwg

One of the cool things about being a sports card collector is that the cards remind you of things that you have long forgotten. I recently came across a 1988 Topps Rushing Leaders card, highlighting the 1987 season. Did you know that there were only 2 running backs that ran for 1000 yards that year (it was only a 15 game season due to a strike and most players only appeared in 12 games since 3 of them were played with mostly replacement players – about 15 % of the league did cross the picket lines)?

The card that inspired the post - the great Eric Dickerson and the forgotten Charles White.
The card that inspired the post – the great Eric Dickerson and the forgotten Charles White.

The 2 running backs? Eric Dickerson and Charles White.  Charles White led the NFL with just under 1400 yards and Dickerson was second with just under 1300.

The story gets a bit more bizarre – White was actually Dickerson’s backup. Here is how that happened. Dickerson started the season as the Rams #1 RB, with White as his backup. After the 2nd week of the season, most of the players went on strike, but some crossed the picket lines to keep playing. Dickerson stayed away, White crossed the picket line. White became the starter. After an inauspicious debut of 9 carries for 18 yards, White busted out in week 4 with 166 yards vs. the Steelers. Charles White had, up until that point, managed 1 – 100 yard game and just 1400 yards in his 6+ year NFL career. He tore off another 100 yard game in Week 5 and then the strike ended. Dickerson was back for week 6, had about half as many carries as White in the game and then was summarily traded to the Colts. In case you don’t remember 1987, Eric Dickerson was the best RB on the planet, having just run for 1800 yards in 1986 and he was just 27 years old. With Dickerson gone, White retained the starting role and reeled off 5 more 100 yard games. Dickerson in the meantime, got off to a slow start with the Colts, but then managed to average 122 yards a game for the rest of the season to not only finish second in the league in total rushing yards, but to lead the AFC in rushing yards despite having played 3 games less than Curt Warner.

Dickerson would have just 2 more great seasons before turning into a pumpkin at age 30. Charles White would manage just 323 more yards in the NFL, getting hurt early in 1988 and losing his starting job to Greg Bell before retiring.

When Steve Carlton was the Strikeout King

By Blaidd Drwg

Really Goosh? How?
Really Goosh? How?

I recently decided to buy back a small piece of my youth and purchased a 1984 Topps complete set. It was fun reliving the memories of the 1983 season and my 10 year old self putting together the set. Living in NJ in 1983, there was excitement over the big rookie in NY that took the league by storm – Darryl Strawberry. His rookie card is in that set, along with another NY rookie who wouldn’t really make an impact until the next season – Don Mattingly. There are also cards of a very young Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken, Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg, a very old Pete Rose and my all-time favorite name Doug Gwosdz (pronounced GOOSH, had the nickname “Eyechart”).

One of the cards that caught my eye was a highlights card that had Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan and Gaylord Perry on it. I had forgotten this, but 1983 was the year that Walter Johnson’s 55+ year old record for strikeouts in a career fell, and 3 pitchers managed to pass the total of 3,509. Here is the way things stacked up going into the 1983 season:

Player Age Strikeouts
Walter Johnson n/a 3,509
Nolan Ryan 36 3,494
Gaylord Perry 44 3,452
Steve Carlton 38 3,434
The card that inspired the post.
The card that inspired the post.

Obviously Nolan Ryan was the one who was going to break the record first give he was just 15 behind Johnson going into the season. Ryan was starting to look like it might be near the end for him – he had been good but not great for a couple of seasons, so 4,000 strikeouts looked like it might be his upper limit. Perry was a bit of a longshot to catch Johnson because of his age and general ineffectiveness over the previous few seasons. Carlton, despite 1983 being his 38 year old season, had come off this 1982 season:

  • Cy Young Award
  • 295 IP
  • 23 Wins
  • 19 CG
  • 286 K
  • 5.5 WAR

Ryan passed Johnson first and then Carlton and then Perry. Something strange then happened at the end of 1983. Here is how Ryan and Carlton pitched that season:

Carlton 15-16 3.11 283.2 275
Ryan 14-9 2.98 196.1 183

Carlton again led the league in IP AND SO, at age 38! So despite being the first pitcher to pass Walter Johnson, Nolan Ryan was not the all-time strikeout leader at the end of 1983:

Player Age Strikeouts
Steve Carlton 38 3,709
Nolan Ryan 36 3,677
Gaylord Perry 44 3,534
Walter Johnson n/a 3,509

Carlton was not nearly as good at age 39 in 1984 (nor for the rest of his career) and Ryan was about as good as he had been the previous 4 seasons, allowing Ryan to finish up 1984 as the all-time strikeout leader, a spot from which he never looked back, adding 1840 strikeouts to his career total after age 37. Since Johnson’s record was initially broken, 5 other pitchers passed the 3,509 total. For one brief season, Steve Carlton was baseball’s all-time strikeout king.

Athlete in Retrospect — Lester Hayes

by A.J. Coltrane

In honor of the Raiders revival, one of the coolest and most famous cornerbacks of the 80’s — Lester Hayes:

Note the header text: Gerry Cooney, next Heavyweight King. The press was borderline desperate for a white champion in the 80's -- back when anyone cared about boxing. has a cool video featuring Mike Haynes and Lester Hayes, declaring them the greatest cornerback duo of all time:  Top Ten Cornerback Tandems: Mike Haynes and Lester Hayes

Watch the video — At one point Hayes has a free blindside shot at a quarterback and pretty much tries to rip the guy’s head off.   That was normal at the time, or even encouraged.  The only legal place to hit a quarterback now is between the waist and the shoulders.  The game has really changed the last 30 years.

Lester Hayes was a big, strong guy for a db.  He played linebacker in college at about 6′ and 200 lbs.  His size and strength fit well into the Raider’s defensive schemes:  The Raiders have always played “Bump and Run” coverage — their db’s try to “jam” the wide receiver at the line of scrimmage.  Lester was strong enough that he could maul guys before they could get into their routes.

Lester had 13 interceptions in 1980, good for 2nd all-time, winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award.  (He did this in a 16-game season.)   The remarkable thing is that he had another five interceptions in four playoff games, giving him 18 in total for the year.  (Night Train Lane holds the regular-season record, with 14 interceptions in 12 games as a rookie in 1952.  Lane’s listed position was “RDH”, which I assume means Right Defensive Halfback in Precambrian Football Terms.)

The other enduring image of Hayes is the stickum.

Ew. The NFL outlawed this stuff, because it's disgusting. This was called The Lester Hayes Rule.

Athlete in Retrospect — Vern Stephens

by Coltrane

100th post.  It could be about anything!   I was strongly considering yet another Howard Schultz rant, but we’ll save that for another day.

Boycott Starbucks!  Howard Schultz is a traitor to the community that made him filthy stinkin’ rich!  He’s a back-stabbing…backstabber!

There.  I got it out of my system.

Onto the subject of the post — Vern Stephens.

Stephens came up as a 20 year-old in 1941 with the St. Louis Browns.  He avoided service in the war due to bad knees, instead working at a shipyard when he wasn’t playing baseball.  In the winter of 1947 he was traded to the Red Sox.  By 1949 he was in his prime, as a 28 year-old playing shortstop and hitting the cover off of the ball.  The Red Sox that year went 96-58, finishing 2nd in the American League, one game behind the Yankees.  Here’s his age 28 season as compared to the age 28 seasons of some other well-known-and-fairly-recent shortstops:

Age 28 Year Average HR RBI OPS+
Vern Stephens .290 39 159 138
Barry Larkin .304 12 78 132
Alex Rodriguez .286 36 106 131
Miguel Tejada .308 34 131 128
Nomar Garciaparra .310 24 120 127
Alan Trammel .277 21 75 120
Derek Jeter .297 18 75 111
Cal Ripken .257 21 93 105

39 HR!  159 RBI!  (And yeah, RBI is a flawed stat, but 159 RBI is a huge total.)

In 1949 he totalled 8.2 WAR — a figure Barry Bonds or Albert Pujols would be happy with.  Stephens totalled 53.7 WAR for his career.  By comparison, Bill Buckner (the subject of the last Athlete Restrospective) totalled 24.6, and Buckner was a really good player who played seven more seasons than Stephens.  (Stephens’ knees quit on him.  His last good, healthy year was his age 29 season in 1950.)

Why am I so hooked on Vern Stephens?  I really have no idea.  He hit for average, he hit for power, and he did it while playing shortstop.  He played with Ted Williams and was a comparable hitter.  I probably learned about him in 1985 from reading the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, so in my consciousness he predates A-Rod and Jeter and the rest.  I didn’t see a picture of him until maybe 15-20 years later, which added to the intrigue.  For a while he was one of the all-time greats, and nobody really remembers him any more. 

That’s kind of what this series of posts are about.

Athlete Retrospective — or, Being Bill Buckner

by Coltrane

This is the first in what I expect to be a series of posts, featuring former athletes that for one reason or another captured my attention and never really went away.

Bill Buckner is a player who always gets talked about when the Red Sox are in town. He’s well-known, but it occurred to me that I didn’t really know how valuable he was over the course of his career. I decided it would be fun to do a little digging…

Exhibit One–

Bill Buckner played four decades in the major leagues, from 1969 (one AB) up through his age 40 season in 1990. When he was young he played for the Dodgers, in mid-career the Cubs, and in the twilight of his career he played for the Red Sox (and the Royals and the Angels.)  He played 22 years in total, mixing some big seasons in with years that were less than great.

Buckner totalled 24.6 career WAR, good for 735th all-time among position players. As the chart illustrates, he would have had a great career, rather than a really good one — had his production just resembled a bell curve a little more than it did.

Exhibit Two– Hitters that rank just ahead of Buckner on the Career WAR list:

Mike Bordick

The future was wide open..

Irish Meusel
Sammy Strang
Johnny Kling
Charlie Hollocher
Gus Suhr
Joe Cunningham
Ed Charles
Jeff Conine
Bill Buckner

Bordick, Conine, and Buckner were all “good” players for a long time. Catcher Johnny Kling had a more sustained peak but shorter career. Kling played from 1900 to 1913, his good years coming with the Cubs.

Exhibit Three– The 10 most similar hitters to Buckner (using career totals) from

The sky was the limit..
1. Mickey Vernon (876)
2. Al Oliver (866)
3. Steve Garvey (855)
4. Mark Grace (853)
5. Willie Davis (850)
6. B.J. Surhoff (839)
7. Buddy Bell (838)
8. Vada Pinson (833)
9. Jose Cruz (828)
10. Julio Franco (826)

This one is fun. I had guessed Steve Garvey and Mark Grace would be comps — they shared many traits with Buckner: marginal speed, middling power, and no patience at the plate.  Buckner’s career highs were 18 HRs and 39 walks. He’d usually hit around .300, finishing his career with a .289/.329/.408 slash line, 174 career HR. Buckner could run when he was young, topping out at 32 stolen bases. As he got older his legs abandoned him.

Interestingly, Buckner and Garvey both had their fist cup of coffee with the Dodgers in 1969.  They remained teammates through the 1976 season.  Buckner was traded to the Cubs in the winter of 1977, along with Jeff Albert and Ivan De Jesus.  In return the Cubs sent back  Mike Garman and Rick Monday.

Exhibit Four– Hall of Fame Voting:

Buckner became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 1996. In order to remain on the ballot a player must receive at least 5% of the vote. The results:

Finish Name Year on Ballot Votes Percent
22 Fred Lynn 1st 26 5.50%
23 Bobby Bonds 10th 24 5.10%
24 Rusty Staub 6th 24 5.10%
25 Keith Hernandez 1st 24 5.10%
26 Frank White 1st 18 3.80%
27 Dan Quisenberry 1st 18 3.80%
28 Bill Buckner 1st 10 2.10%
29 Jerry Reuss 1st 2 0.40%
30 John Tudor 1st 2 0.40%
31 Chet Lemon 1st 1 0.20%
32 Jeffrey Leonard 1st 0 0.00%
33 Johnny Ray 1st 0 0.00%
34 Claudell Washington 1st 0 0.00%
35 Bob Knepper 1st 0 0.00%

There’s a first baseman who was a contemporary of Buckner’s on the list — “I’m Keith Hernandez“. (Link is to the Youtube “JFK” Seinfeld episode.) It’s an interesting peer group.  Seattle Mariners fans will remember the revolving door in LF, starring such players as Jeffrey Leonard. 

Frank White really got the shaft in the voting that year.

Other Bill Buckner facts:

Buckner won the batting championship while playing for the Cubs in 1981. He led the league in doubles twice.

Buckner retired with 2715 hits. He had nearly as many career walks (450), as strikeouts (453.) These are both incredibly low totals for a 22-year career.

He was once traded for Mike Brumley and Dennis Eckersley.

He made one All-Star team.

In April 2008 Buckner threw out the first pitch in Fenway park.

Mookie Wilson and Bill Buckner, 2006

I believe the picture above was taken at a sports memorabilia show — Buckner and Mookie Wilson were signing pictures together at the event.   Beats working I guess.