by Harold Friend
In 1930, Hack Wilson hit 56 home runs to set the National League's single season home run record. The mark stood until Mark McGwire's 70 home runs in 1998. In 1930, the eight National League teams hit 892 home runs, for an average of 112 home runs per team. In 1998, the 16 National League teams hit 2,565 home runs, for an average of 160 home runs per team. Hack Wilson hit 6.3 percent of National League home runs. Mark McGwire hit 2.7 percent of National League home runs.
Comparing Hack Wilson's and Mark McGwire's home run totals to their league's home run totals is misleading. It puts McGwire at a disadvantage, since there were twice as many teams in 1998, but comparing their home run totals to team totals is more revealing. Wilson hit 50 percent of a 1930 National League team's home run total, while McGwire hit 44 percent of a 1998 National League team's total.
Other Top Home Run Hitters
In 1930, Chuck Klein was the only other National Leaguer to hit as many as 40 home runs, which was his total. Wally Berger hit 38, Gabby Hartnett hit 37, and Babe Herman hit 35. Only five players hit at least 30 home runs.
In 1998, Sammy Sosa, who finished second to McGwire in home runs, also broke Hack Wilson's single season record, hitting 66. Greg Vaughn hit 50, Vinny Castilla hit 46, Andres Galarraga hit 44, and there were 14 others who hit at least 30 home runs. Nineteen players hit at least 30 home runs.
Home Run Totals Must Be Taken in Context
The point is that home run totals must be taken in context. While 1930 was one of the National League's most offensive seasons, the league's home run total pales in comparison to 1998. Thirty home runs in one season may be a much greater accomplishment than 40 home runs in another season (not including the dead ball era).
Willie Mays' 51 and Mickey Mantle's 52
When Willie Mays hit 51 home runs in 1955, he was one of only eight National Leaguers to hit as many as 30. National League tams averaged 158 home runs. The following season, Mickey Mantle hit 52. Vic Wertz hit 32, and Yogi Berra hit 30. No other player hit as many as 30 home runs. American League teams averaged 134 home runs.
Joe DiMaggio's Contrasting Seasons
The most home runs Joe DiMaggio hit in a single season was 46, in 1937. Hank Greenberg hit 40. Lou Gehrig hit 37, Jimmie Foxx hit 36, Rudy York hit 35, and Hal Trosky hit 32. Teams averaged 101 home runs. DiMaggio's 46 home runs in 1937 compare favorably to McGwire's 70 home runs in 1998.
In 1942, DiMaggio hit only 21 home runs, but Ted Williams was the only American Leaguer to hit more than 30. Williams hit 36, Chet Laabs hit 27, Charlie Keller hit 26, and Rudy York and DiMaggio hit 21. American League teams averaged 67 home runs.
So Many Players Hit at Least 50 Home Runs Since 1995
Hitting 73 home runs in a season is a fantastic feat that will never be matched for many reasons, but when comparing home run hitters, many factors must be considered. Since 1998, Roger Maris' mark of 61 home runs has been broken six times. Since 1995, players have hit at least 50 home runs in season 21 times. There is more to a player's home run total than its absolute value.