In baseball, a player can get by with just one standout offensive skill. Dave Kingman hit lots of home runs … and didn’t do much else. Juan Pierre stole a lot of bases … and that was about it.
So when a man combines multiple talents into one package, well, that’s just icing on the cake.
Power-speed guys aren’t necessarily hard to come by. There have been 431 instances of a player hitting at least 20 home runs and stealing at least 20 bases in a season, and quite a few men have racked up substantial career totals in both categories. Though later known primarily as a slugger, Barry Bonds was the best at doing it, stealing 514 bags to complement his 762 home runs.
In fact, many players remembered as home run hitters were multi-skilled athletes, with the likes of Hank Aaron stealing 240 bases, Willie Mays swiping 338 and Sammy Sosa pilfering 234.
Frank Robinson. Gary Sheffield. Reggie Jackson. All speedsters at one point in their careers.
But to manage a truly substantial total of each statistic, that’s difficult. Only eight players have reached 300 home runs and 300 steals, for example. Try to name them.
Let’s start with the easy ones: Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez (696 HR, 329 SB) and Willie Mays (660 HR, 338 SB) did it. But then it gets a little more challenging. Hall of Famer Andre Dawson (438 HR, 314 SB) got there, and so did future Hall of Famer Carlos Beltran (435 HR, 312 SB).
Bobby Bonds, Barry’s dad, had 332 home runs and 461 steals, and is one of just two members with more swipes than dingers. Okay, so it’s getting tougher.
Now for the last two. If anyone illustrates why being a member of an illustrious group is not a surefire indicator of Hall of Fame worthiness, it is them.
Steve Finley was a speedster early in his career, swiping 136 bases before ever hitting 10 home runs in a season. From 1996 to the end of his career, he found his power stroke and pulled off six 25 home run campaigns to just one 20-steal season.
Three hundred home runs was never a given, even after he became a slugger, and he only got there by dragging his career into his 40s and smacking 7 homers over his final two campaigns. He finished with 304 home runs and 320 steals.
*An argument for Cooperstown could reasonably be made for Steve Finley, and his being a member of the 300-300 club would be a major part of it. For most it would be tenuous at best, though those with a “big Hall” mentality might be swayed.
And then there’s Reggie Sanders. Never a star and a name largely forgotten today, he had less than 1,700 hits, made just one All-Star team, and received nary a vote in his one try on the Hall of Fame ballot.
Granted, he rattled off nearly 15 seasons of impressive consistency.
Though he hit 30-plus home runs and stole 30 or more bases just twice each, he crawled his way into the 300-300 club by hitting no less than 11 home runs and swiping no fewer than 14 bags per season from 1992 to 2005. He had four 20-20 seasons but, interestingly, never led the league in power-speed number.
More so than career HR-SB clubs, those of the single season variety get a bit more attention. The 40-40 club is known for its rarity, having been established by Jose Canseco in 1988 and since joined by Barry Bonds (1996, 42 HR, 40 SB), Alex Rodriguez (1998, 42, 46) and Alfonso Soriano (2006, 46, 41).
The 30-30 club has 41 members; it is to power and speed what 50 dingers is to home runs. It’s the hallmark of an excellent season. (40-40, then, could be considered analogous to a 60 home run campaign).
Then there’s the 50-20 club. It’s as rare as its 40-40 counterpart but receives no press.
It has four members:
In 1955, Willie Mays smashed 51 home runs and totaled 382 bases to lead the league in both categories. He added 24 stolen bases—one of his lowest totals at that point in his career—and finished fourth in Most Valuable Player voting.
From 1997 to 1999, Ken Griffey Jr. was the yearly home run champion. In 1997, he socked 56 and in 1998, he walloped the same amount—and swiped exactly 20 bases. Welcome aboard, Ken. Like Mays, he was fourth in MVP balloting, one year after winning the award. He nearly joined the 50-20 club again in 1999, falling just two home runs short.
And in 2007—how can anyone forget this historic campaign?—Alex Rodriguez launched 54 dingers and stole 24 bases, pacing the loop in home runs, runs scored (143), RBI (156), slugging (.645), OPS (1.067), OPS+ (176) and total bases (376) to bring the MVP home. In one of the most sparkling careers in big league history, it was perhaps Rodriguez’s greatest showing.
And that should be all of ‘em—hold on, 1-2-3- … we’re missing one here.
Oh, wait a minute, who let this guy in?
In 1996, Brady Anderson joined the fraternity when he hit 50 home runs and stole 21 bases in one of the most unexpected seasons ever. Give credit where it is due, Anderson had a great year. A career year. About a quarter of the home runs he hit in his 15 seasons were mashed in ’96 alone.
But it wasn’t a season for the ages. Mays, Griffey, Rodriguez—their campaigns were for the record books. Anderson’s, well, hey, he joined the 50 home run club and stole a bunch of bases. That’s cool.
While the other members led the league in at least one major category, Anderson paced the loop in … hit by pitches.
While the other guys scored and drove in at least 120 runs, Anderson’s totals were 117 and 110, respectively, a bit more pedestrian.
Rodriguez and Griffey each won a Silver Slugger. Mays and Griffey each finished fourth in MVP voting; Rodriguez won the dang thing.
Anderson finished ninth.
For three of the four men, the feat was a cherry on top of a Hall of Fame-quality career. For Anderson, it was an interesting historical footnote.
But that’s the way it goes. Unless a club is itself a marker of greatness—500 home runs, 3,000 hits, 300 wins—it often, if not usually, has at least one member that’s a head scratcher, one that does not quite belong. Even the 40-40 club has Soriano, who, though excellent, was no Bonds, or Rodriguez, or even Canseco.
Baseball, ain’t it grand. It allows a man to rank among a pantheon of greats—even when he, himself, is but a mere mortal.
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