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Adjusting the Homerun Clubs
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
April 10, 2009
Adjusting the 500 Homerun Clubs
Here’s the premise of this series of articles – many baseball fans erroneously use homeruns as a method of judging a player’s overall value. The best example is those who thought that Hank Aaron hitting his 715th homerun made him better than Babe Ruth.
I think homerun totals could be used in this respect, but I think we need to make an adjustment. So let’s do it.
Okay, so now we’ve adjusted the 700, 600, and 400 Homerun Clubs, and we’ve seen some definitely player movement. The task that now lays ahead of us is probably our most daunting one yet:
The 500 Homerun Club
Eek, eek. Twitch, twitch. Are we about to change the baseball world? Probably not, but let’s give it a try. As with the 400 Homerun Club, we should probably do this by era.
And remember, McGwire haters, this isn’t about era and it isn’t about steroids. Yet.
The pre-1993 500 Homerun Clubs had the following members: Frank Robinson (586), Harmon Killebrew (573), Reggie Jackson (563), Mike Schmidt (548), Mickey Mantle (536), Jimmie Foxx (534), Willie McCovey and Ted Williams (521), Ernie Banks and Eddie Mathews (512), Mel Ott (511), and Eddie Murray (504).
Starting at the top of the list, we look to Frank Robinson, who finished only 14 homeruns from 600. It is hard to put Willie Stargell into the 500 homerun club without putting Robinson in the 600 Homerun Club, as Robinson missed many games after the age of 30 during which he easily could have mustered 14 more dingers. But you can’t say he didn’t have a nice long career, as he ranks 19th on the career list in plate appearances.
At the end of the day, he fails the Rocky Colavito test – for his career Robinson hit 321 homeruns at home, and only 265 on the road. He is probably a lot closer to 550 than he is to 600.
Harmon Killebrew was the elite homerun hitter of the 1960s, and led the lead in homeruns six times in his career. He missed 49 games in 1965, 62 games in 1968, 93 games in 1972. He led the league in homeruns in his first full season, at the age of 23, and he played his last full time season at the age of 35. In 1957 he hit 29 homeruns in the minors and still didn’t stick in the majors until 1959. Scatter a few more games around his career, bring up sooner or leave him in longer, and he gets the 27 homeruns he needs to get to 600 easily.
In my opinion, if Reggie Jackson had begun his career in 1950 or in 1990, he would have hit 600 homeruns easily and would have gunned for 700. Again, that’s not what this is about.
Over the course of his career, Reggie had a 280/283 homerun split. He was kind of like Stargell in that he didn’t ever play full seasons – only six seasons out of 21 with 150 or moe games played. He missed a handful of games to strike in 1972, and missed a lot more due to strike in 1981. Could he have managed 37 more homeruns over 21 seasons if not for strikes and games missed? I am less willing to say “definitely” than I am with Stargell, because Jackson is not as close to 600 as Stargell is to 500, and Jackson did not miss as many games. With over 11,000 plate appearances, it is hard to say he didn’t have a full career.
Mike Schmidt finished with 548 homeruns. He hit 283 homeruns on the road, compared to only 265 at home. He led the league in dongs eight times, including with 31 in the strike year of 1981. But 52 homeruns is a lot of homeruns to find in a guy’s career, and Schmidt’s appears to have been a full one.
Mickey Mantle and Jimmie Foxx are both guys whose own ruinous behavior cost him potentially hundreds of games, and both finished about 65 homeruns away from 600.
Mantle hit 54 homeruns in 1961 at the age of 29, but then never played over 143 games again and was out of baseball at 37. If not for his own behavior, he probably would have easily accumulated 65 extra homeruns over the next seven years, and probably could have played until the age of 40.
Jimmie Foxx tumbled out of baseball even earlier than Mantle, leading the AL with 35 homeruns in 1939 (in only 124 games) at the age of 31, and then playing only two more full seasons after that. I expect that Foxx, too, could have managed 65 more homeruns if he’d been on the field every day in those years.
These are two of the greatest homerun hitters of all time, but I’d be a whole lot more comfortable if either of them had reached 550 or 560 homeruns. Ten, twenty, or even thirty homeruns can be chalked up to alcoholism, but 65 is too many.
At the bottom of the list we find Eddie Murray, trembling in his seat only four homeruns over 500. He had the great benefit of playing past 1993, and capturing his eighty-plus homeruns in the expansion/steroid era. But that’s his prerogative. He also led the league in homeruns during the strike season of 1981, and also missed about 50 games in 1994. He also hit 262 homeruns on the road. He’s fine.
Mel Ott has 511 homeruns and led the NL in homeruns six times. He played 22 seasons and had over 11,000 plate appearances, so he gets no credit for being done at the age of 36. Ostensibly, I would give Ott the benefit of the doubt until I saw his splits officially. Unfortunately for Ott, numerous sources state that he hit 323 homeruns at the Polo Grounds. If this is true, it leaves only 188 homeruns on the road. Not only does Ott not make the 500 Club without the Polo Grounds, but he is dangerously to failing the Rocky Colavito Test for the 400 Homerun Club. Sorry Mel.
Ernie Banks, on the other hand, needs no benefit of the doubt. Banks hit 512 career homeruns, but only 221 of them on the road. If not for Wrigley Field, he would not have hit 450 homeruns.
Eddie Mathews, on the other hand, hit at least 20 more homeruns on the road while playing his career in Milwaukee County Stadium, and was out of baseball at age 36. His spot in the 500 Homerun Club is well earned.
Can’t take anything from Willie McCovey – he was robbed of homeruns by playing time, injury, and arriving late to the league. At the same time, can’t give him 79 homeruns to get to 600 for any reason either.
Which brings us to Ted Williams.
For the record – 9791 plate appearances, 521 homeruns. We only have split data for his last seven years, and during those seven years he hit 22 more homeruns on the road than at home (81/103). So out of the gate, his numbers are already incredible. We’re not dropping him, and he’s probably already up to 550 homeruns.
Williams, of course, went to World War II from 1943 to 1945 – three full seasons. In 1941 he had one of the greatest hitting seasons of all time, and he led the league in homeruns in each of the two years before he left with 37 and 36, respectively. Upon his return, he hit 38 and 32 in consecutive years. It would be conservative to say he lost 100 homeruns to World War II.
Then Williams got called back to the military in 1952, and missed most of 1952 and 1953 due to the Korean War. His performance in seasons around Korea were less impressive than those around WWII, but he hit 30 homeruns in 1951, and then hit 29 in 117 games in 1954. It would be reasonable to say he missed about 50 homeruns due to Korea.
So, let’s add it up – a bump to 550, then 100 for WWII, and 50 more for Korea. Low and behold, he’s a 700 Homerun Clubber!
Actually, I have a hard time adding 179 homeruns even for Ted Williams. But I have no problem at all bumping him up 79 homeruns to the 600 Homerun Club.
Adjusting the Post-1993 500 Homerun Club
The post-1993 500 Homerun Clubs had the following members: Mark McGwire (583), Rafael Palmeiro (569), Alex Rodriguez (553), Jim Thome (542), Manny Ramirez (527), Frank Thomas (521), and Gary Sheffield (499).
This is actually a really easy group to deal with. Right away, you take Mark McGwire and put him in the 600 Homerun Club. Even with the injuries, if he cared about the club he’d have played the one more year to get there. A case could be made that he is a 700 Homerun Club guy, but you only spot a guy so many homeruns because of injuries.
Palmeiro is a bad person. He lied to Congress, and he got busted. He also hit 311 homeruns at home and only 258 on the road. But he is a 500 Homerun Club member, nothing more, nothing less.
A-Rod will soon be a 600 Homerun Club member, and then maybe a 700 Homerun Club member. Right now, he is right where he deserves to be. Jim Thome has a shocking split – 301/241. Still reasonable though. He’s still in. Manny Ramirez currently has 527, with a 267/260 split. He got an outside shot at 600. With a 257/242 home/road split, Sheffield is legit, assuming he gets his one more homerun to get off the honorable mention list.
Frank Thomas is a problem. On the one hand, with 521 homeruns he could have gunned for 600 if he’d been healthier from age 32 to age 40. However, Big Frank managed to hit only 209 homeruns on the road during his career. The Rocky Colavito Test tells us that a player whose road homerun total is 19 less than half the number required to be in the Club falls out of the club. Thomas has 41 fewer homeruns than half of 500 on the road. Even injuries can’t make up for 41 homeruns. Sorry Big Frank.
So, after all of that adjustment, where are we:
600 Homerun Club
500 Homerun Club
400 Homerun Club
I am very interested to hear the thoughts and comments of anyone reading this – not as to premise, but as to adjustment.
Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at email@example.com.
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