Facts and whodathunkits from the world of baseball, September 18, 2021.

Home run inflation: Before 1998, no team had ever had ten or more players hit ten-plus home runs in a season; that year, the Orioles and Yankees had exactly that many players do it. Since then, it’s occurred 38 times—with 14 of the instances happening in 2019 alone. Remember the powers that be were adamant that there totally was not a juiced ball that season. The 2019 Yankees hold the record for most players with ten-plus dingers with 14. Get ready, here’s the list: Gleyber Torres (38 home runs), Gary Sanchez (34), Brett Gardner (28), Aaron Judge (27),  DJ LeMahieu (26), Luke Voit (21), Gio Urshela (21), Didi Gregorius (16), Mike Tauchman (13), Edwin Encarnacion (13), Aaron Hicks (12), Clint Frazier (12), Mike Ford (12) and Cameron Maybin (11). The 1952 New York Giants were the first team to feature nine ten-dinger hitters.

Ten game winners: Which team’s pitching staff featured the most ten game winners? It’s a tie between three clubs with seven, each. The 1914 Philadelphia Athletics were the first, with men like future Hall of Famers Eddie Plank and Chief Bender toeing the rubber. They won the AL Pennant that year but lost the World Series to the Boston Braves. The 1939 Yankees, with the likes of Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez among their number, achieved the feat; they beat the Reds in the Fall Classic. The ’76 Reds did it without any future Hall of Famers or anyone winning 15 games. They avenged their 1939 loss to New York, beating them in the World Series.

Shipke hit just .177 against right handers. (Wikipedia).

The power of placebo: Bill Shipke was a weak-hitting third baseman who batted .199 in a career that spanned from 1906 to 1909. At one point in 1908, a fan gave Shipke, then of the Senators, a piece of paper with “magical properties” with instructions to tape it to his bat. Shipke did and had an excellent month after beginning the experiment. No date was specified for when he used the paper, however I surmise it was late May to late June. He rattled off a stretch in which he batted .300 in 42 at-bats.

Just one? The only woman to manage full-time in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) was Bonnie Baker. She led the Kalamazoo Lassies to a 36-73 record in 1950. She was a more successful player, earning a couple All-Star selections.

Family affair: The AAGPBL’s Jean Faut pitched for the South Bend Blue Sox from 1946 to 1953. Her manager the final three seasons? Husband Karl Winsch. Faut was one of the best pitchers in the league’s history, tossing two perfect games and two no-hitters. Winsch played in the minors from 1942 to 1944. He managed the Blue Sox through 1954, leading them to a 232-187 record.

Grand slam for the old lady: From the Baseball-Reference.com Bullpen: “On September 14, with Bill Robinson and Ed Ott aboard, John Milner was intentionally walked by Bob Forsch to get to [Phil] Garner, who took him deep to center for a grand slam in the 7th inning. Phil’s wife rarely missed a home game but had not been there and got mad—’How could you hit the only grand slam of your career the one night I don’t come to the game?’ Garner told her he would hit one the next day. On September 15, Omar Moreno, Robinson and Willie Stargell were on base in the first inning, when Garner homered off of Woodie Fryman. It was the first time in 77 years, since Jimmy Sheckard, that a National Leaguer had hit grand slams in consecutive games; Brooks Robinson had done it in the AL in 1962.”

Won the most: The winningest manager in Negro league history was Candy Jim Taylor, who finished with 955 victories, three pennants and two league championships in 27 seasons.

Hey, you don’t belong there! The unexpected members of two elite clubs.

Willie Mays led the league in stolen bases four times and home runs thrice. (Wikipedia).

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 only had one 20-20 season. (Wikipedia).

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.

Now some less poetic analysis in light of Miguel Cabrera’s 500th dinger. Who’ll be the next to get there?

Miguel Cabrera was the first person to join the 500 home run club since 2015. (Wikipedia).

Miguel Cabrera might be the last man to join the 500 home run club for a while.

Nelson Cruz is, as of this writing, just 57 away, so two Cruzian seasons should, on paper, get him there. However, he’s also 41 with no real skills outside of hitting at this point, so if he struggles, then that will be all she wrote for his chances.

It’s unlikely teams would keep signing him just so he could try to claw his way to the magic number. Should he stumble at, say, 497, someone might give him the opportunity, but outside of that—once he’s done, he’s done.

The demise and departure of another great designated hitter happened within the past year, in fact. Edwin Encarnacion was chugging toward 500 when his bat died last season to the tune of a .157 average. No team signed him and he is stuck at 424 dingers.

He’s still just 38, which for an effective hitter is about 34 in DH years, so a comeback isn’t out of the question. But for a player with a skillset that includes one severely eroded primary skill—hitting—the market is thin.

Nelson Cruz is less than 60 home runs away from 500. (Wikipedia).

Had Encarnacion maintained his pace, he would’ve reached 500 homers in late 2022 or early 2023, meaning he could have gotten there before he was even 40.

So who reaches 500 home runs next if it’s not Cruz? Who knows. No one else has over 340 and no members of the active 300 homer club are under 30 years old.

Giancarlo Stanton, despite his weak past few seasons, has the ability to get there. It’s a matter of whether his body holds up. With 332 home runs to this point, he could reasonably trudge his way to 500, since he did so much when he was young. He helped beat time by getting the bulk of the work out of the way before time could beat him.

Though he’s known as a slugger because of his 59-home run 2017 campaign, the honest reality about Stanton is that his power is very inconsistent. For every year he’s led the league in slugging, he’s posted a mark below .500. Since 2018, he’s slugged .492 and his number has been at or below .500 four of the past six seasons.

Giancarlo Stanton’s power and health have declined in recent years. (Wikipedia).

If he is in the midst of a slow-but-accelerating power decline, and in a cycle of injuries that he, because of age, will likely never fully recover from (save for a rebound season here and there), then 500 dingers might just be a dream.

But if he can find balance and average 20 per season through his early 40s, then he can get there. A move to DH will probably be necessary to facilitate his run to 500. At the earliest, Stanton would join the club in 2026 or 2027.

Robinson Cano is the next-closest batter after Cruz, but he’s 38, has just 334 homers, is out the rest of this year due to a steroid suspension and—if his past six or so seasons are any indication—is in the midst of a steady decline. He’s not reaching the mark.

Neither is Justin Upton, who, though he’s only 33, can’t hit anymore, can’t field and can’t stay healthy. Even if he maintained his pace from his earlier years, 500 home runs would still have been a challenge because, though he had good pop, he was never really a slugger.

Joey Votto, who has never hit 40 dingers in a season, is 37 and more than 170 away. He’s declining, he’s had injury issues. He’s a no.

Evan Longoria—see what I just said about Votto.

Ryan Zimmerman—see what I just said about Longoria.

Then there’s Mike Trout. I’ll be the pessimist and say he’s going to have a hard time getting to 500. If anyone has a chance, it’s him, but after averaging 158 games per year from 2013 to 2016, he hasn’t appeared in more than 140 in a season since. He averaged just 110 per year from 2017 to 2020 and is on the 60-day injured list at we speak.

Mike Trout’s path to 500 could be difficult. (Wikipedia)

He started falling apart when he was 25 and still hasn’t fully put himself back together—tick tock, tick tock, Mike, you’re 30 years old now, the end of your peak is approaching fast.

From this point forward, he could go in one of two directions. The Frank Robinson route is more optimistic. Robinson was traded from the Reds to the Orioles in December 1965 because he was considered past his prime. Reds general manager Bill DeWitt called him an “old 30.”

He went on to hit 262 home runs the rest of the way and finish with 586 dingers.

Or, he could go the Ken Griffey Jr. route. Over the final ten seasons of his career, in his 30s, Griffey averaged just 19 home runs and 57 RBI per year. Albert Pujols also fell off dramatically in his 30s. So did Frank Thomas.

But they all reached 500 home runs, didn’t they? Yes. Griffey and Pujols reached 600, in fact. Pujols, with a little luck, could get to 700.

But neither Griffey nor Pujols nor Thomas had any major issues until they were in their 30s. From age 20 to age 30, Griffey averaged 141 games per year; he averaged 99 after that. From age 23 to age 32, Thomas averaged 147 games per year; he, too, averaged 99 after that. From age 21 to age 32, Pujols averaged 155 games per year; he averaged 121 after that.

Trout, just a couple weeks past his 30th birthday, is already in the after that phase of his career. Though his production hasn’t suffered when he’s been on the field—he still owns a superhuman OPS+ of 185 since the beginning of 2017—the ravages of time will soon, inevitably, take advantage of his injuries.

Eventually the aches and pains will start to affect his play. A peak only lasts so long. The body always wears down, and injuries push that along.

With sluggers, reaching age 30, rampant health issues and a swift decline in performance often correlate. Trout has two of those three already locked in. It’s just a matter of time before they catalyze the other.

Do I think he won’t reach 500 home runs? Well, I didn’t say that. I just don’t think it will be easy. Don’t be surprised if he takes a long, discouraging, Cabrera-esque path to that number. At the earliest, I think he’ll get there in 2030 or 2031.

Moving on.

Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt are on pace for Hall of Fame careers, but they’re both likely to fall short of 500. They’re good home run hitters, but like Upton, not your prototypical sluggers. Save for Eddie Murray, each member of the 500 home run club slugged at least 40 in a season. Neither Freeman nor Goldschmidt have accomplished the feat.

Anthony Rizzo could be clumped in with those two, but it’s still too soon to say whether he’ll have a Hall of Fame career. But 400 to 450 dingers for him isn’t out of the question.

Bryce Harper is the most likely slugger to reach 500 home runs next. (Wikipedia).

The only other players one can comfortably discuss here are Bryce Harper, Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado.

Harper has the best shot at getting there. He already has a 40-home run season under his belt, has yet to have serious injury issues, isn’t yet 30 and, with 255 dingers to his name, is already halfway to the milestone. Assuming an average decline, he’ll probably make it.

Same with Arenado. He already has three 40-homer seasons, 260 dingers for his career and is just a few months past his 30th birthday—without any major injury issues yet. Even with a somewhat alarming decline in power these past couple seasons, he’s still trending toward 500, but if his power continues to decrease, he might settle somewhere in the 450 range.

Machado’s not yet had a 40-home run season, but his recent health history is top notch and his power consistency is among the best. Not even 30, he could reasonably compile his way to 500 dingers without ever having a truly standout campaign, like Eddie Murray.

More than likely, however, he’ll mirror Fred McGriff, who hit 493 home runs, and finish within sniffing distance of the mark. In fact, per Baseball Reference, one of Machado’s most similar players through age 28 is Adrian Beltre, who fell just 23 home runs shy of 500.

After nine players joined the 500 home run club in the 2000s, including three in 2007 alone, many fans lamented the elite group was no longer so elite, that it was quickly becoming watered down.

Since 2010, however, things have stabilized and just three men—Cabrera, Pujols and David Ortiz—have powered their way into the ranks. Two more players joined in the 1960s than in the 2010s and 2020s, combined.

And a strong potential exists that no new members will join for another decade, at least.

If everything goes right for him, Nelson Cruz should get there in a couple seasons. But he’s 41—one misstep, and he’s done. If his power of old returns and his health doesn’t collapse, Giancarlo Stanton could get there in less than a decade, but his present career swoon puts that into question. If he recovers from his health woes, Mike Trout could get there in five years or he could slog his way there in a decade, or he could completely fall apart. His injury history at so young an age is concerning.

The only player I can comfortably say will reach 500 home runs is Bryce Harper. He has age and health on his side, he’s a true slugger, and he’s yet to show any major decline.

But even that will is tentative. More or less, it’s shorthand for will, barring … As in, he will reach 500 home runs, barring injury (or decline, et cetera).

A few years ago, I would’ve said Stanton will get there; I would’ve said, without considering any X factors, that Mike Trout will, invariably, reach 500 homers. Because, at the time, there were no X factors to consider.

But eventually, that will became well.

Well, he’ll get there if he regains his health, if he recovers his power stroke, if he plays to 40, if he ups his batting average.

If, if, if.

Harper doesn’t have any X factors yet. Once they start cropping up, the projection becomes a little muddier. But, at its core, that’s really all this is right now. Pure projection.

He’s still 245 homers away; between now and 500, anything could happen. One freak injury might end it all. Albert Belle looked like a sure thing for 500 home runs. By 2000, he’d averaged 37 per season for a decade, and he was just 33 that year. But his hip became debilitatingly arthritic and he was forced to retire—with just 381 dingers—after that season.

With milestones, nothing is a given. With 500 home runs, that’s especially so.

So welcome to the club, Miguel Cabrera, enjoy your stay. Looks like you might be the new guy for a while.

Miguel Cabrera smashes his 500th home run.

Cabrera is the 28th member of the 500 home club. (Wikipedia).

He kept us waiting a little bit. In quick succession, a matter of a few games, he hit home runs 495, 496, 497 and 498. About a week later, 499 left the yard.

 500 was one swing away. One swing and Miguel Cabrera would join an elite club, whose membership numbers less than thirty, whose ranks include names like Aaron and Mays.

A game passed, then another, then another. It was August 11 that his last dinger soared over the fence. By August 18, his bat had gone cold. In the past week, he’d had just two hits.

Each day that passed without another homer intensified the anticipation tenfold. Each day without another homer was a letdown, adding to the crush of disappointment.

His bat woke up on August 19. Cabrera went 2-for-5 against the Angels that day, driving four runs in. But just as quickly as it had been jolted to alertness, it fell back asleep.

0-for 5 on the 20th. 0-for-3 on the 21st.

Then 1-for-5—with a home run—on the 22nd.

Steven Matz has allowed just two hits against Cabrera—both home runs. (Wikipedia).

After a ten-day span that felt like ten years, Cabrera finally clobbered number 500, a sixth inning solo shot off Blue Jays hurler Steven Matz, his first hit in 13 at-bats.

Twenty-seven sluggers had done it before him, and none since David Ortiz in 2015.

But the trek to 500 wasn’t easy. Not just the jump from 499 to 500, either—it took a while for Cabrera to get to the magic number at all.

One of the game’s premier stars early in his career, he debuted with the Marlins in 2003 and lit up the stage in 2004, earning his first of 11 All-Star selections. From that point through 2014, he averaged 34 home runs and 119 RBI per season. He won the Triple Crown in 2012. He took home two MVPs and five Silver Sluggers. Only twice he drove in less than 110 runs, and never less than 100; only twice he had less than 30 homers, and never less than 25.

By the end of his age-25 season, he had 175 home runs. Just triple that and he’d be at 500 by his mid-30s, with a few years to add to his total. At the end of his career’s first decade—he wasn’t even 30 yet—he already had more than 300 dingers. 321, to be exact. Just double that and he’d be up there with Griffey and Thome, and not even 40 years old.

Cabrera spent five years with the Marlins. (Wikipedia).

One of the game’s most reliable players during that 11-year stretch, Cabrera played no less than 148 games in any given season, averaging 157. But in 2015, he hurt his calf, played just 111 games, and slugged 18 home runs.

Sure, he was still an All-Star and he led the league in batting average, but it was a portent of worries to come.

A confluence of two distressing issues, one involving health and the other a sudden decline in power, contributed to Cabrera’s downfall. The latter started in 2014, when his slugging percentage dropped more than 100 points from the year before. The prior season, he had led the loop with a .636 mark; the next, it was .524.

But the problem went from inconvenient to concerning in 2017, when the number fell to .399. It hasn’t reached .450 since.

Then there’s health. Cabrera has had problems with his calf, his groin, his hamstring. In 2018, he missed most of the year after undergoing surgery to repair a bad biceps.

And as his power was failing and his body was falling apart, time kept marching forward. He kept getting older. More than anything else, it seems, age drags a player down hardest.  On April 18, 2021, he turned 38.

Cabrera’s ascension to the 500 home run club went from a no-brainer to a maybe.

In 2017, he hit 16 home runs to put him at 462—a good 2018, a Cabrera-esque 2018, would get him there. He hit 38 home runs as recently as 2016, a one-off rebound campaign.

He hit three home runs in 2018. 465 for his career; 35 away. A good 2019 would get him there. He’d hit 35 home runs five times in his career. It could be done.

He hit 12 home runs in 2019. 477 for his career. 23 away. Did he even have 23 left in the tank? Was he finished?

He hit 10 home runs in 2020. 487 for his career. 13 away. His contract was up after 2023; would the Tigers keep him that long?

His batting average declined each year from 2018 to 2020, from .299 to .250. As late as July 27 this year, it was in the .230s. Cabrera hadn’t just lost the ability to hit home runs, he couldn’t hit anymore, period.

It wasn’t only his power that suffered. About halfway through his career, he had over 1,800 base hits. At this point, he might be looking at 3,500 had he not faltered; he just recently passed 2,950.

But one swing made us forget all that.

When that 500th moonshot finally thundered off Cabrera’s bat on August 22, 2021, those struggles to get there, the questions and concerns and worries all went away.

Miguel Cabrera, the Detroit Tigers legend, the best player in Marlins history, now stands among the elite.

History won’t care how long it took him to join the club. The ghosts of Babe Ruth and Mel Ott don’t tut-tut because Cabrera took a winding path to their fraternity.

All that matters is he’s in the fraternity, today, now, in this moment—and forever.

493.

Fred McGriff. (Wikipedia).

He was just seven home runs away from immortality.

Fred McGriff, the Braves, Blue Jays and Devil Rays star first baseman who plied his trade mostly in the 1990s, stopped at the doorstop of greatness.

Or, de jure greatness, at least. Greatness made official. Greatness as decided by a handful of scribes.

Just seven home runs. That’s all he needed to get there, to be let in, to be included among heroes and legends, names that transcend sport and roll off the tongue as readily as Michael Jackson and Jack Nicholson.

Just seven home runs.

Over the course of 19 seasons, from 1986 to 2004, McGriff hit .284. He had nearly 2,500 hits and 1,550 RBI—an average of over 80 per year.

He slugged over .500 and scored more than 1,300 runs—more than Barry Larkin and Vladimir Guerrero and Harmon Killebrew. He drew over 1,300 walks, t00, and a full 171 of them were intentional, because he was so feared a batsmen. In 1991, he led the league in such free passes, with 26.

Tim Raines, Ted Simmons and Harold Baines never finished fourth in Most Valuable Player voting. Fred McGriff did.

Neither Robin Yount nor Jeff Bagwell made five All-Star Games. Fred McGriff did.

Jim Thome, who clobbered over 600 career home runs, won one, single, solitary Silver Slugger. Fred McGriff won three.

Among all players, ever, he ranks near the top in slugging percentage and extra base hits and, heck, even putouts.

And all those RBI. He had more than Mantle and DiMaggio and Stargell, not quite as many as McCovey, but more than Berra and Piazza and Bench.

From 1991 to 2001, a span of 11 seasons, he averaged exactly 100 per year; he reached the triple digit mark eight times, including 2002, one of his final campaigns, as he was winding down his career.

Just seven home runs.

McGriff hit .435 in the 1993 American League Championship Series, his second postseason appearance, and .333 in the 1997 NLCS, his last.

In between, he reached the playoffs three more times, and played 33 more games, posting a career slash line of .303/.385/.532. He slugged 10 dingers. He drove 37 runs home.

A World Series ring would’ve been a dream for Atlanta in 1995, instead of a reality, without McGriff leading them. In that year’s NLDS, he hit .333; in the ALCS, his on-base percentage was .526; in the Fall Classic, he slugged .609.

In 2010, McGriff became eligible for the Hall of Fame; Andre Dawson was elected that year, and Bert Blyleven was just a few votes short. McGriff—Crime Dog—appeared on 116 ballots. 423 writers didn’t vote for him. Barely a fifth of them did.

And so it went for the next decade. In 2014, with Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine debuting on the ticket, he hit his nadir, with less than 70 voters choosing his name. Jeff Kent earned more votes. If it’s any consolation, Larry Walker earned less.

Come their final try on the ballot, players usually see a boost in support. Often, it’s substantial—Walker jumped over 20 points in his last year to earn election. Tim Raines’ support popped more than 16 points; Edgar Martinez’s, 15 points exactly.

McGriff, too, spiked in his ultimate chance. As much as Raines, in fact.

He earned less than 40 percent of the vote and fell off the ballot.

Just seven home runs.

During his career, McGriff was one of the game’s premier sluggers—no, actually, that’s an understatement. He was one of the best sluggers of all time.

He averaged one home run every 17.6 at-bats—better than Mel Ott and Johnny Mize!—and led the league in that statistic twice. From 1987 to 2002, a span of 16 seasons, he averaged 30 homers per year and never had less than 19 in a season.

Consistency was his trademark. Knock 1987 off that stretch and for 15 years he had no less than 81 RBI or 135 hits in any given year—and his hits fell that low only because it was a strike-shortened season, 1994, and he played just 113 games.

He slugged 30 or more home runs 10 times, or for more than half of his career and though he never reached 40, well, neither did Eddie Murray or Stan Musial. And Ted Williams, Mel Ott and Frank Robinson did it just once, each.

Just seven home runs.

The 500 home run club has 27 members. Barry Bonds sits at the top with 762 and it tails off with Murray at 504. In between, there’s Jimmie Foxx and Ernie Banks and, of course, Babe Ruth.

Each player who reached 500 home runs before 1997 is in the Hall of Fame, elected resoundingly, with little hesitation. Eleven of those 15 men joined on the first ballot; six earned 90 percent of the vote, three earned 95 percent.

Since then, Ken Griffey, Jr. was chosen, just a couple votes shy of a unanimous selection. Frank Thomas got in, and so did Jim Thome.

Of those not yet there, Albert Pujols is still active and might join Henry Aaron and Willie Mays with more than 95 percent of the vote when his chance arrives. Two, David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez, are not yet eligible, having been retired too short a time to appear on the ballot.

Everyone else was swept up in the anti-steroid witch hunt, having been caught or accused of juicing, and the baseball moralists who predominate the voting class refuse to grant them election.

Rightly or wrongly, Bonds and Sheffield and Ramirez still wait their turns. But even they’ve had better luck with the writers than McGriff ever did. Bonds appeared on nearly 62 percent of the ballots last year, his second-to-last chance and—if recent history is any indication—he might yet see a spike of 15 points and walk into Cooperstown. Sheffield passed 40 percent for the first time in the most recent election, his seventh, and he, too, is trending toward eventual induction. Even Ramirez, who was suspended twice for steroid use, earned more than 28 percent of the vote in his fifth try.

McGriff took home 11.7 percent of the vote his fifth go-around.

And he was never even accused of or associated with steroid use. He never tested positive. He appeared in no reports. He can’t be grouped with Sheffield or McGwire, Bonds or Palmeiro.

He’d fit more alongside Griffey and Murray, Mays and Aaron.

Just seven home runs.

But McGriff hit only 493 home runs in his 19 seasons. With a few more, he’d be mentioned in the same breath as Foxx and McCovey, his baseball cards would be set aside and not tossed in a shoebox. You have more fingers than McGriff needed home runs to join a club of elites, a pantheon that would bestow on him legendary status, that would forever transform him from a consistent slugger to one of the best home run hitters of all time.

Each eligible man with 500 or more home runs not associated with performance enhancing drugs is in the Hall of Fame. To maintain that uniformity, McGriff would have been elected, first round, no doubt, if he reached the mark. Because that’s what the voters do. They select members of that club for Cooperstown. Seven home runs, that’s all McGriff needed to get there.

Just seven home runs.

Max Muncy’s 2019 was pretty unusual (introducing the Muncy Ratio).

Max Muncy, the father of the Muncy Ratio. (Wikipedia).

Slugging infielder Max Muncy doesn’t match up with some of the names who have done it, but in 2019 he achieved a thrice-in-a-decade feat.

That year, he had 122 hits and crossed the plate 101 times, an astonishing hit-to-run ratio of 1.21, which was accomplished by only two other players in the 2010s (minimum 100 hits).

In 2011, Curtis Granderson scored 136 runs on 153 hits and in 2017, Aaron Judge scored 128 runs on 154 hits. Since 1950, the Muncy Ratio, as we’ll call it, happened just 25 times, and only 46 times since 1900.

But, historically, it isn’t rare. In the small ball, high-steal, often wonky days of  19th century baseball, it happened 114 times. Ross Barnes did it first in 1873, when he had 125 runs on just 138 hits, then he did it again in 1876, with 126 runs and 138 hits.

In 1884 Billy Hamilton, the renowned speedster, had 198 runs on 225 hits, and Hall of Famer King Kelly nearly hit the magic ratio of 1:1 in 1885, scoring 124 runs on 126 hits.

If a Hall of Famer couldn’t do it, some lesser names could. Emmett Seery—whose claim to fame still hasn’t been established nearly a century-and-a-half later—scored 104 runs and had the same number of hits for the long-since forgotten Indianapolis Hoosiers in 1887.

Honestly, if we were discussing this feat in the 1800s, no one would be impressed. Eight men scored more runs than had hits between 1884 and 1890 alone. George Gore did it twice. Seery’s accomplishment is unique, sure, but the Muncy Ratio—the very reason for this article!—eh, it’d be nothing to write home about about.

Harry Stovey achieved the Ratio more than anybody. (Wikipedia).

Harry Stovey managed it eight times, including four years in a row. Bid McPhee, a Hall of Famer, and George Gore—who should be in the Hall if you ask the right folks—did it five times each. Even Tom BrownTom who??—did it four times.

Then the 20th century dawned. The Ratio, which was achieved eight times from 1895 to 1899, didn’t occur again until 1911—it happened four times that decade, and Donie Bush owns two of its instances.

It saw a resurgence in the high-flying 1920s and 1930s, occurring 15 times. Of course Babe Ruth accomplished it, three times in fact, but so did Oscar Charleston and Cool Papa Bell, twice, each. In 1930, Max Bishop, known for being a walks machine, was the first player to score more runs than have hits in a season since 1890. That year, he trotted home 117 times on just 111 hits. He was also the last player to manage a hit-to-run ratio of less than one-to-one.

As offenses came down to earth, the mark again became a rarity. Only two men did it in the 1940s, none in the 1950s, two in the 1960s and one in the 1970s, with Jim Wynn the only man to do it that decade. He also achieved it in 1969.

Rickey Henderson and Eric Davis tried to bring the trend back in the 1980s and it worked, sort of. Both did it twice, and Henderson did it five times overall.

As the game became offensive again in the 1990s, it saw an uptick in the hit-run phenomenon. It was achieved six times by four players in that ten-year span.

Then 2000s Barry Bonds happened. With hurlers pitching around him at record rates, he was getting on base with superhuman frequency—and, with guys like Jeff Kent batting behind him, scoring a lot. He accomplished the feat four times in a five year span, but still doesn’t own the most impressive season of those who did it that decade: In 2000, Jeff Bagwell led the league with 152 runs scored on just 183 hits.

While nearly all the players who reach the Ratio rank as very good-to-great and have or had All-Star potential, sometimes a total outlier crops up and joins the club. In 2005, David Dellucci did just that, scoring 97 runs on just 109 hits. It was one of only two seasons in which he had 100-plus knocks.

And here we are today. Max Muncy was the last player to reach the ratio he established, and though he’s managed it just once, he’s gotten close in other years, as well. In 2018, he had a hit-to-run ratio of 1.41-to-1. This year, he’s at 1.31. And last year, had he played a full season, he would have bested the Muncy Ratio with a mark of 1.08.

Fernando Tatis, Jr. is on the verge of qualifying for the Muncy Ratio. (Wikipedia).

There are a few factors that allow for the phenomenon to unfold. Drawing walks is key—58 of those who achieved it had on-base percentages of .400 or better when they did. Speed helps, too, especially for those who hit a lot of singles or don’t have a good eye at the plate. Sixty-nine of the players who achieved the Muncy Ratio had stolen at least 40 bases.

Home runs contribute. By dint of what they are they achieve a H:R ratio of 1:1 each time they’re hit. And triples, they’re not quite home runs, but they get a player as close to scoring as possible without going all around the bases. Sixty-two of those who managed the Ratio had 10 or more when they did it.

And most importantly, batters need other solid hitters in the lineup to drive them in—a triple is only a run scored if someone else pokes one into the outfield or himself hits a big fly. Otherwise, it’s a wasted opportunity.

Sure, it’s a novelty, the Muncy Ratio. But those who achieve it, in the 21st century at least, are in fairly rare territory. And though the club’s membership might expand by two this year, with Fernando Tatis, Jr. (98 H, 83 R) and Joey Gallo (81 H, 70 R) right at its doorstep, do recall—

It’s a group neither Willie Mays, nor Joe DiMaggio, nor Frank Robinson, nor Hank Aaron, nor Ken Griffey, Jr., nor Lou Brock, nor Ty Cobb ever managed to joined.

He can mash, but does he ever score? Players with 10-plus homers and fewer than 20 runs scored.

I recently did a piece on batters with seasons of 10 or more home runs and fewer than 20 RBI. Just eight guys have done it, with designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion the most recent in 2020.

That got me thinking – how many players have hit 10-plus dingers and scored fewer than 20 runs in a season? Would the list be as exclusive as the other one?

Catcher Ernie Lombardi was the first player to have fewer than 20 runs in a season with 10-plus homers. (Wikipedia)

Spoiler alert: It’s not. Thirty-two men have accomplished the feat, with notoriously slow-footed Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi the first to do it. In 1943, the backstop hit .305 with 10 home runs, 51 RBI … and just 19 runs scored. Which makes sense, I guess. When a player is too slow to even leg out doubles (he had 30 or more just once in 17 seasons), then it is reasonable to assume he won’t be sprinting himself past home plate much, either.

The next man to manage the feat was … well … Lombardi. In 1946, he had 12 home runs and 19 runs scored, with just 4 of his 69 hits going for doubles.

Since then, the feat has been generational. It did not happen again until 1953, but that year, three players – including Ted Williams – did it. Then nearly a decade passed before it happened again, in 1962. Then in 1964 and 1969, it happened twice each year.

Catcher Bob Tillman achieved the mark in 1969 and 1970, becoming just the second player to do it twice – with no one managing it more than once since. In addition, he was the only man to do it in the 1970s.

In fact, for a while it was a once-in-a-decade rarity. Outfielder Oscar Gamble did it with the Yankees in 1984, then it didn’t occur again until outfielder Shane Spencer had 10 home runs and 18 runs scored in 1998, also for the Bronx Bombers.

It happened four times in the 2000s, but the feat is disproportionately a product of the 2010s and beyond. Nearly half of its instances occurred after 2010, with it happening four times each in 2019 and 2020.

And three of the four occurrences in 2020 were parts just atrocious seasons. Gary Sanchez batted .147 in 49 games, while Encarnacion hit .157 and Rougned Odor managed a knock in one of every six at-bats, posting a .167 mark. The year before, Jung Ho Kang joined the ranks with a .169 mark and in 2014, Zach Walters batted .181.

True, the feat happens more in seasons of low average and poor performance, but a few batters bucked that trend. When Williams did it, he batted .407 in 37 games, while Spencer hit .373 in 27 games.

Frank Thomas is in the club, too. (Wikipedia)

While seasons with 10-plus homers and fewer than 20 RBI have mostly been accomplished by no-names, membership in the > 10 HR, < 20 R club is more inclusive. For every Manny Jimenez, there is a Frank Thomas; for every Mike Jacobs, there is a Gary Sanchez.

And if a player is a member of the HR/RBI club, then he’ll likely be a member of the HR/R club, as well. Six of the eight names in the former populate the latter – Walters, Curt Casali, David Ross, Todd Greene, Adam Duvall and Encarnacion – with corner infielders Wayne Gross and Randy Ruiz the only exceptions. Casali was the closest to achieving the improbable, as nearly all his runs came off home runs when he did it in 2015. He had 10 dingers and 13 runs scored, meaning just 3 came from sources other than the longball.*

*the record for most runs in a season in which all were scored on home runs is 3, which has happened 16 times, most recently by Matt Davidson in 2020.

Below is a list of all the players who have accomplished the feat.

A feat for the little guy

Zach Walters hit 10 home runs and just 17 RBI in 2014.

The joy of baseball is that even when you’re not looking for them, you can stumble upon random statistical anomalies just about anywhere. While perusing the stats of former pinch hitter and utilityman Zach Walters, I noticed he hit 10 home runs and had just 17 RBI in 2014.

Walters’ career was largely inconsequential – he played for three teams from 2013 to 2016 and hit .176 in 170 career at-bats – but that feat was not. In fact, just eight players have ever hit at least 10 home runs and had fewer than 20 RBI in a season.

It is a relatively recent phenomenon – the Orioles’ Wayne Gross first achieved it in 1985, when he had 11 dingers and just 18 RBI, but it didn’t happen again until 2002, when catcher Todd Greene had 10 home runs and 19 RBI.

Since then, it has occurred once every few years, with catcher David Ross doing it in 2003 (10 HR, 19 RBI), first baseman Randy Ruiz doing it in 2009 (10 HR, 17 RBI), Walters doing it in 2014, catcher Curt Casali doing it in 2015 (10 HR, 18 RBI), outfielder Adam Duvall doing it in 2019 (10 HR, 19 RBI) and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion doing it in 2020 (10 HR, 19 RBI).

The feat is a popular one among high-strikeout, low-average, low-walk batsmen, with only Ruiz hitting better than .270 in the year he did it. He batted .313. Indeed, it is a feat for the little guy, as only a couple of the names could be considered stars (loosely or otherwise), while most of the others were flashes in the pan or career bench players.