Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Next Homerun Mark: National League Career Homeruns

The National League career homerun leader is a homerun mark with a lot of Giants tradition. Original Giant Roger Conner, who was the all-time career homerun leader when Babe Ruth passed him up, was the NL career homerun leader briefly from 1893-1895. This happened in spite of him being the all-time career leader because he left the NL in 1890 to play in the Player’s League for one year, which cost him from holding the lead longer as he was not far behind the next leader.

Sam Thompson, who did not play in the Player’s League, passed him in 1895 but fell short of the career mark that Roger Conner held. And Conner ended up with 124 homeruns in the NL, short 3 of Sam Thompson’s 127 homeruns. This held for a long time, until Cy Williams hit 41 homers in 1923 to reach 149 career NL homeruns.

Howver, he held it very briefly because Rogers Hornsby – himself briefly a Giant in 1927 - next took the lead in 1929. He passed Cy Williams when he hit 39 homers that season for the Chicago Cubs, leaving him with 278 for his career at the end of the season. While it was his last year of high homerun performance, it was enough to hold the career lead in homeruns for the NL for a few years. Rogers Hornsby ended up with 301 career homeruns when his career ended in 1937.

He held the NL lead until Giants Great Mel Ott took over the lead in 1937 – Hornsby's last year - with 31 homers. Ott eventually ended up with 511 homeruns when his career ended in 1947. Mel Ott held the title for 29 years, for many years after his career ended.

Ott led until a fellow Giants Great, Willie Mays, took over the lead in 1966 when Mays hit 37 homers. The Say Hey Kid was not even playing MLB when Ott played his final game as a player/manager. However, Mays just kept the title warm for the next leader when he becamse one of the few leaders of the 20th Century to have lost the lead while he was still playing.

Hammering Hank Aaron took the lead from Willie Mays with 34 homers in 1972. And when Aaron played his last season in the NL in 1974 with Atlanta, he ended with 733 career homers in the NL, as he moved on to the American League after that. He, obviously, has held the lead since then.

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. (sorry for the formatting but blogger does not support tables at all).

NL Career HR Leader/Years in Lead/Total Years in Lead
George Hall / 1876-1877 / 1
Charley Jones / 1877-1886 / 9
Dan Brouthers / 1886-1893 / 7
Roger Conner / 1893-1895 / 2
Sam Thompson / 1895-1923 / 28
Cy Williams / 1923-1929 / 6
Rogers Hornsby / 1929-1937 / 8
Mel Ott / 1937-1966 / 29
Willie Mays / 1966-1972 / 6
Hank Aaron /1972-present / 34

Barry May Not Make It

Barry Bonds is at 715 homers, only 18 homers away. Previously, he would have been a shoo-in to reach the National League career mark but with his relatively poor play, particularly in the outfield, he may not reach it because most NL teams would not want him on their team, not just because of the Balco-Steroid controversy but because his offense is not so off the charts that his defense can be ignored anymore.

At his current homerun pace, he will end up short of the mark by about a handful (4 if he stays exactly at the same pace) and would need to play next season for an NL team in order to take this lead away from Aaron. But obviously, with it so close, he doesn't need to pick up his homerun pace by much to catch Aaron by season's end, and he has been hot lately so perhaps he's ready to bust out, he used to start seasons off coldly then started hitting everything, when we first got him.

If Bonds is able to take the lead, he might break the past historic pattern of the next leader after a long-term holder only holding the title for less than 10 years. There are no NL only players out there today who could pass Bonds up in the next 10 years. Vlad Guerrero would have been one strong possibility had he not signed with an AL team. And Pujols, who looks like he could pass Bonds eventually, is still very early into his career and could take another 15 or more years to catch up with Bonds. And obviously if Bonds falls short, Aaron will hold it for a lot longer than another other player before, he's already the leader in that with 34 seasons, which currently beats out Ott's 29 seasons by a little.

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