Nearly two-thirds of Major League teams (19 of 30) have had at least one player hit 50-plus homers in a season, and four others have had 49-homer seasons. Three teams have seen players go beyond 60 homers in a season.
But only one team not only hasn’t had a 50-homer season, they haven’t even had someone reach 40 homers in a season. Or even a single year of 37 homers.
That team is the Kansas City Royals, who have been a Major League team for nearly 50 years. They’ve had some great players – George Brett, Carlos Beltran, Bo Jackson – and some players who for at least a few years were known for the pop in their bats – Danny Tartabull, Dean Palmer and John Mayberry. None of them came particularly close to 40 in a season, and none of them hold the team’s best home run season.
Bye Bye Balboni
That distinction belongs to Steve “Bye Bye” Balboni, who hit 36 long balls in 1985, the year the Royals won the World Series.
Lumbering is the adjective that comes to mind when describing Balboni. He was a 6-3, 225-pound first baseman who came up with the Yankees, but became expendable when Don Mattingly entered the picture. He was traded to the Royals after the 1983 season. He belted 119 homers for Kansas City, but 1985 was the only year that he had more than 30.
Teams with 50-plus Homer Seasons
Not surprisingly, the team with the most 50-plus homer seasons is the New York Yankees. Eight times a player from the Bronx hit 50 or more, topped by Roger Maris with 61 in 1961. Babe Ruth accomplished the feat four times, including 60 in 1927, Mickey Mantle did it twice and Alex Rodriguez once.
The Yankees are also the only team with two different players reaching 60. The Cubs had three seasons with a player over 60, but all by Sammy Sosa, and the Cardinals had two such seasons, both by Mark McGwire.
The Cubs have the second-most 50-plus seasons at five, four by Sosa and one by Hack Wilson. The Giants have had four such seasons, two by Willie Mays, and one each from Barry Bonds and Johnny Mize. Other teams with two 50-plus homer seasons are the Tigers (Hank Greenberg and Cecil Fielder); the Red Sox (David Ortiz and Jimmie Foxx); the A’s (Foxx and McGwire); the Indians (Jim Thome and Albert Belle); the Mariners (Ken Griffey Jr. twice); the Orioles (Chris Davis and Brady Anderson); the Rangers (Alex Rodriguez twice); the Cardinals (McGwire twice); the Giants (Barry Bonds and Willie Mays); and the Pirates (Ralph Kiner twice).
Barely Better Than KC
Two teams have had only one player ever top 40 homers, two of the newest franchises – the Rays (Carlos Pena) and the Marlins (Gary Sheffield).
Surprisingly, the highest output for the Mets is 41, done by both Todd Hundley in 1996 and Carlos Beltran in 2006. Mike Piazza is the only other Met to reach 40.
Each Team's Single-Season Homer Leader
Ken Griffey Jr.
1996 & 1997
Todd Hundley & Carlos Beltran
1996 & 2006
Larry Walker & Todd Helton
1997 & 2001
1964 & 1969
Bits of Homer Trivia
A few other tidbits:
• As might be expected, most teams have had their single-season mark set in the past 20 years – 23 of the 30 teams had the record set or tied since 1995, 17 of them since 2000. The newest team record came in 2013 when Chris Davis hit 53 for the Orioles, eclipsing Brady Anderson’s record of 50. The oldest record belongs to the A’s, when Foxx set their mark at 58 in 1932.
• Of the original 16 teams who have been in the Major Leagues for more than 100 years, only three have never had a player reach 50 homers in a season – the Dodgers, Senators/Twins and White Sox. Each had at least one 49-homer season.
• Three players have hit 50-plus homers for two different teams: McGwire (A’s-Cardinals), A-Rod (Rangers-Yankees) and Foxx (A’s-Red Sox).
• Harmon Killebrew came close to joining the 50 club twice, hitting 49 in 1964 and again in 1969. In 2016, when Brian Dozier hit 42 homers, it was the most for a Senators/Twins player not named Killebrew.
• The Fielders are the 50-homer family. Cecil Fielder belted 51 for the Tigers in 1990 and son Prince hit 50 for the Brewers in 2007.
• McGwire had the distinction of hitting more than 50 homers in a season without hitting 50 for a single team. In 1997 he hit 34 for the A’s before being traded to the Cardinals, where he hit 24 more for a total of 58.
• The consistency award goes to Ken Griffey Jr., who hit 56 homers in back-to-back seasons, 1997 and 1998.
Hope for KC?
Hitting 50 homers in a season is still relatively unusual, having occurred just 43 times in more than 100 season, although 25 of those have happened since 1994. It’s been accomplished by 27 players. Will someone else join that group this season, like Aaron Judge or Khris Davis?
A note of hope for Kansas City fans this season: Mike Moustakas is currently on a pace to hit 41 round trippers, making it possible to say bye-bye to Bye Bye Balboni’s dubious record.
Brian Lokker from Bethesda, Maryland on May 31, 2017:
Very interesting article, Gary. I love the fact that the single-season leaders for both the A's and the Tigers are from way back in the 1930s. But Foxx and Greenberg set the bar for those teams really high, so it's not surprising! For the Mets (my team), I was hoping that Cespedes might hit over 40 this year but of course he's injured again. Maybe Conforto will do it, if not this year, then soon.
Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on May 31, 2017:
Your baseball history pages are extremely well done, but my favorite thing is being reminded of persons I hadn't thought about in several years. I hadn't thought of Balboni or Albert Belle in a long time.