Finley, Sanders on the Brink of History
by Asher B. Chancey
June 8, 2006
For the first time in baseball history, two players stand one homerun away from the 300-300 club. With the possibility to rival the Dave Stewart-Fernando Valenzuela same day no-hitters, the consecutive day unassisted triple plays of 1927, and the Wade Boggs-Tony Gwynn weekend of 3,000 hits, Steve Finley and Reggie Sanders could each hit their 300th homeruns, to go with their over 300 stolen bases, on the same day or within days of each other. Once Finley and Sanders hit their historic 300 dingers, they will join Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Bobby Bonds, and Andre Dawson as the only members of the illustrious club.
The 300-300 club
is obviously a small one, but does that make its members great? Certainly Willie Mays and Barry Bonds are two of the greatest players to ever play the game, but what about Andre Dawson and Bobby Bonds? Both players were standouts in their own right, but neither is considered to be elite, neither appears on any prominent Top 100 lists
, and neither player is in the Hall of Fame
. And what about Steve Finley and Reggie Sanders? One has to wonder whether these guys would even appear in a conversation about the Top 50 hitters of the last ten years.
In all likelihood, Steve Finley is joining the 300-300 club not because of his unique blend of power and speed, but because he has played in this explosive offensive era in baseball. Unlike the other members of the club, Finley was not a power hitter in the early part of his career. In fact, by the age of thirty, Finley had amassed only 47 homeruns in seven big league seasons. Like so many, Finley discovered his power stroke in 1996, hitting 30 homeruns one year after hitting 10. Not coincidentally, Finley's first season hitting over 11 homeruns was also his last stealing more than 16 bases. Over the course of his 18 seasons in the majors, Finley only managed to go 20-20 once, which makes him unique amongst 300-300 club members, including Reggie, who have combined for thirty-five 20-20 seasons (both Bonds 10 each, Mays 6, Dawson 5 and Sanders 4).
Reggie Sanders, of course, is one of the most interesting players of the current era. After starting his career by spending eight seasons in Cincinnati, Sanders proceeded to play for seven different teams in eight years, at one point playing in three World Series in four years. In the mid-1990s, while Steve Finley was blowing up, Sanders looked like the productive part of his career was over as he managed only 167 games in the 1996 and 1997 seasons combined. Though his career has rebounded somewhat, he has never managed to play more than 140 games in 15 seasons, and has played exactly 140 games only once. Had he been able to play full seasons instead of partial seasons, he could have easily made a run at the 400-400 club and would have gone 30-30 at least three times.
Sanders and Finley are set apart from the rest of the members of the club by numerous little factoids. Of the soon-to-be six members of the club, only Finley and Sanders have failed to finish in the top five in the league in homeruns even once. Neither Finley nor Sanders ever led their league in power/speed number, while the other four made a regular habit of it.
And, though a dubious notation, Sanders and Finley will be the only members of the 300-300 club to not have more than 400 of either homeruns or stolen bases or both – Barry is 700-500, Willie is 600-300, Bobby is 300-400, and Andre is 400-300.
The interesting thing about the 300-300 club is that there have been many players over the years, particularly the last 30 years, who should have easily joined the club but for one reason or another could not manage the feat. Here are a few notable examples:
Perhaps the most fun because of his numerous comeback attempts. Knowing Rickey's ego, it was easy to imagine that he was coming back simply for the purpose of joining the club. The greatest base stealer of all time, Henderson had stolen his 300th base by 1982, when he was 23 years old, which gave him 20 years to gather the requisite homeruns.
Entering the 2000 season, the 41 year old Henderson stood 19 homeruns away from 300. After three seasons of four, eight, and five homers, Henderson looked done in 2003 at the age of 43. Nevertheless, he played with the Newark Bears in 2003, hoping for a comeback, and signed with the Dodgers towards the middle of the season. Rickey managed two more dingers, but his subsequent comeback attempts failed and Rickey forever remains stuck at 297.
Of note, Rickey played through three strike shortened seasons – 1981, 1994, and 1995. One can only wonder if he could have managed three dingers in all of those cancelled games.
Keep your chin up though, Rickey – you are the only member of the 200-1400 club!
Sandberg would absolutely have joined the 300-300 club if not for the odd turn his career took in 1994. Sandberg finished with 282 homeruns and 344 stolen bases, but he retired after 57 games in 1994. Granted, he was not playing well - .238/.312/.390 – and was apparently plagued by a nasty divorce proceeding. Sandberg missed most of 1994 and all of 1995 before returning in 1996 for two more seasons and 37 more homeruns.
In the six years leading up to 1994, Sandberg hit 19 dingers or more five times, excluding an injury season in 1993. In fact, he hit 26 or more for three out of four years. When he returned, he hit 25 homers in 150 games in 1996. It is almost certain that Ryne Sandberg would have managed 18 dingers in the season and a half he missed during his retirement.
It may come as a surprise to baseball fans in 2006 to learn that Don Baylor was once very fast. Heck, it comes as a surprise to me, and I watched baseball when he was still an active player. In 1976, Baylor stole 52 bases in 64 attempts, finishing fourth in the American League. By 1980, Baylor had already begun to develop the body that would lead to the nickname "Big Don Baylor." Baylor stole 45 bases in his last nine seasons of baseball to finish his career with 338 homeruns and 285 steals. If he could have managed to steal two more bases a season over that stretch (actually, less than two), he would have joined the 300-300 club.
Eric Davis is a perfect paradoxical player. If not for his frequent injuries, Davis would have been one of the greatest power speed combinations in history. But if his body weren't as lean as it was – 6'3" 185 pounds – a condition which led to his many injuries, perhaps he would not have been the player he was.
In 1986, Davis went 27-80 in 132 games. In 1987, Davis went 37-50 in 129 games. In 1988, he went 26-35 in 135 games, and in 1989 he went 34-21 in 131 games. He should have easily gone 30-30 every year. He should have easily gone 40-40 in 1987, becoming the first to do so by one year. He might have gone 50-50 in 1987.
In 1991 and 1992, Davis missed a combined 161 games – almost an entire season out of two. In 1994 he only played 37 games before retiring and, like Sandberg, sitting out all of 1995. He returned in 1996, only to be diagnosed with colon cancer and miss most of the 1997 season. After a full 1998 season in which he hit 28 homers, Davis spent three more partial seasons in the majors before retiring in 2001 at the age of 39.
In 18 years, Davis was never on the field for more than 135 games. During his career, Davis missed an average of 72 games per year! That means, on average, Davis played about 90 games per season. Despite all this, he finished with 282 homeruns and 349 stolen bases. Speculation as to what he would have accomplished had he played 150 games per year would be unfair – 470 homeruns, 581 stolen bases – but suffice to say that Davis probably could have eked out 18 more homeruns if he had been only slightly more healthy over the course of his career.
The parallels between the careers of Darryl Strawberry and Eric Davis, childhood buddies, have been well chronicled, right down to the colon cancer. What you need to know about the Straw man is this – in 1991, at the age of 29, Strawberry had 280 homeruns and 201 stolen bases. He had never hit fewer than 26 homers, and he had never stolen fewer than ten bases. Strawberry played for eight more years, hitting 55 more homers and stealing 20 more bases.
If not for a horrendous stretch of bad luck, bad decisions, and bad advice, Strawberry should have easily hit 500 homers and stolen 300 bases. Strawberry without a doubt had some fragility issues – he played 150 or more games three times in his first nine years – but he also made some terrible decisions and suffered greatly for them.
Remember Ron Gant? He was the enigmatic second baseman turned outfielder who burst onto the scene in 1988 with the Braves. Gant went 19-19 his rookie year, then proceeded to go 30-30 in 1990 and 1991. Gant was one of the promising, and exciting, young stars of the early 1990s, and in the off-season of 1994 he signed the largest single season contract in major league history. Unfortunately, one week later he would severely break his leg in a motorcycle accident and end up missing the entire 1994 season.
Gant's return gives an indication of just how talented he was – he had 29 homers and 23 steals in 119 games at the age of thirty for the Cincinnati Reds. But Gant would never quite be the same, and he never managed to play more than 139 games in a season for the rest of his career. He ended with 321 homers and 243 steals. Had he not broken his leg in 1994, he would have easily joined the club.
Looking back on the players who should have made the club but didn't, maybe we should view the 300-300 club not as a testament to greatness, for its members have a speckled record in that regard, but rather as a testament to health, and to good decision making. These two qualities probably have more to do with 300-300 club membership than any other factors.
Except, of course, for power and speed.
Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Asher resides in Alexandria, VA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org