Saturday, May 07, 2022

This Week in 1966: Willie Mays Breaks NL HR record


Willie Mays breaks the National League Home Run record with number 512 breaking Mel Ott’s record of 511 — also with the Giants.

Which is of course over 200 fewer than Babe Ruth’s total of 714. 

Hank Aaron had 406 at the time and would go on to lead the league with 44 that year, and pass Mays in 1972 and ultimately break the most cherished and sought after record in professional sports — the Babe’s — on April 8, 1974.

Mays finished with 660 after retiring at the completion of the 1973 season (with the Mets).

But ultimately every career home run total discussion gets around to Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, the only two guys to hit 700+ HR in the pre-steroid era.

When Babe Ruth retired at the end of the 1935 season, with 714, the guy in 2nd, Lou Gehrig, was 336 behind (from what I can tell by piecing it together at the wonderful site).

The list at that time:

714   Babe Ruth 

378   Lou Gehrig (still active - career total 493, retired during 1939 season)

302   Jimmy Foxx (still active - career total 536, retired 1947)

242   Mel Ott (still active - career total 511, retired 1947)

And Ruth is still the all-time leader in Slugging Pct and OPS, after 86 years, despite Bonds, Griffey Jr, ARod, and all those kinds of guys we hear about all the time for the last 20 years. 

In fact the top 3 in Slugging Pct have remained unchanged for 60 years: Ruth, Williams, Gehrig. 

Top 3 in OPS? Ruth, Williams, Gehrig.You could make a solid argument those are still the three greatest hitters of all time. 

Of course in 1935 many other great hitters — who would later end up very high on the all time HR list at retirement in the 50s, 60s, and 70s — had yet to play a single inning, like Mays, Mantle, Williams, Musial, Killebrew, F. Robinson, Matthews, and Banks.

Hank Aaron, by the way, is still the career RBI leader with 2297, with 301 more than Barry Bonds in the same number of seasons. He retired nearly 50 years ago. 

But the most impressive career RBI total based on per-season productivity has to be Lou Gehrig with 1995 in only 17 seasons — 16 is closer to reality since he only played 8 games in ‘39 with just 1 RBI — compared to Aaron’s 23, and with over 4000 fewer plate appearances (9,965 vs 13,941). 

That’s 124 RBI per year, every year, for 16 years in a row.