51 was a foreign number to me. At the age of seven, an emboldened 51 on the back of a baseball card simply didn’t belong in the home run column. It was absurd and grotesque. Hitting 50 bombs was something I read about in baseball history books (yeah, I was a weird second grader). It belonged to Jimmie Foxx and Ralph Kiner. Players didn’t do things like that anymore.
Except in 1990, Cecil Fielder hit 51. Being born in 1983, no one in my lifetime had scaled the 50 home run mountain. Mark McGwire and Andre Dawson both reached 49 in 1987, as I well knew, but that merely seemed to reinforce the barrier. If those guys topped out at 49, surely no one can breach 50.
50 home runs turned out not to be so unreachable after all. Four years later, Albert Belle hit 50 in spite of a 144-game season. That set of a string of 18 50+, six 60+, two 70+ homer seasons over the next eight years (under dubious circumstances), by the end of which we were all so numb to obscene home run figures that we forgot how special they used to be.
2019 is another obscenity, much like what we experienced from 1995-2002. No one knows which home run records will remain come October, but many of them are in peril. Based on projections through Sunday’s games, here’s how this ridiculous season compares to MLB history.
30+ Home Runs
Through August 18, there are already 17 players with at least 30 home runs. Six more have 29, so by the time you read this article, some of them may have joined the 30 club as well. Barring injury, all of them will before the end of the season. They’ll probably get there by the end of the week.
The most prolific season for 30+ bombs was 2000. That year, 47 different players blasted 30 or more homers. Sammy Sosa led MLB with 50. Compared to my feelings with Cecil Fielder’s 51 a decade earlier, Sosa’s 50 seems impossibly low for the MLB leader in 2000. It was surrounded by Mark McGwire’s 70 in 1998 and 65 in 1999, as well as Barry Bonds’ 73 in 2001. No matter; they made up the difference in quantity. 26 teams featured a 30 homer hitter, only excluding the Baltimore Orioles, Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies, and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
2019 laughs in the face of 2000. This year, no less than 65 players are on pace to circle the bases at least 30 times. Some of them won’t make it, such as Fernando Tatis, Jr. (sob), but that is still an insanely high number. Ridiculously, it includes Aristides Aquino and Yordan Álvarez! The former has 11 home runs in 17 games, and the latter 19 in 53 games. If they were to maintain their paces while playing everyday, they would finish with 35 and 32 home runs, respectively.
40+ Home Runs
There have only been 32 seasons in MLB history in which four or more players hit 40+ home runs. 2019 is already one of them. Cody Bellinger, Christian Yelich, Mike Trout, and Pete Alonso have all reached 40 as of this writing. That’s one more player than last year, when only Khris Davis, J.D. Martinez, and Joey Gallo hit the 40 mark.
The first 162-game season after the strike— 1996— was the peak for 40 home runs. 17 players achieved that milestone. McGwire led the pack with 52, despite missing about a month’s worth of games. With a full, healthy season, Roger Maris’ record might have fallen a few years earlier. Even more surprising was Brady Anderson’s 50. His previous career high was 21 and he would never again hit more than 24. He is the only 50 home run hitter to finish his career with more stolen bases (315) than homers (210).
The 1996 record is likely to remain standing for a while longer, though it’s far from certain. 15 players are on pace for 40 in 2019. All of them have already reached 30, but Edwin Encarnación’s injury will preclude him from hitting many more. Still, there are nine players on pace for either 38 or 39, so with a few hot streaks, the 1996 record could fall.
50+ Home Runs
Only twice have more than two players hit 50 home runs in the same season, and each year it was four guys. In 1998, McGwire (70), Sosa (66), Ken Griffey, Jr. (56), and Greg Vaughn became the first quartet to hit 50 in the same season. That feat was matched in 2001 by Bonds (73), Sosa (64), Luis Gonzalez (57), and Alex Rodriguez (52).
It seems pretty likely we could witness four more 50 home run hitters in 2019. Bellinger, Yelich, Trout, and Alonso are all on pace to join Cecil Fielder in that exclusive club (Prince Fielder too, for that matter). None of them appear to be slowing down either, so they all stand a reasonable chance of achieving 50.
None are likely to reach 60, however, but for the sake of completion, the record for 60+ home run hitters in a season is two. 60 has only been reached eight times in MLB history: once each in 1927 and 1961, and twice each in 1998, 1999, and 2001. Sosa hit 60+ three times, and didn’t lead the league in any of those seasons!
Franchise Records (and a bonus record!)
Naturally, several franchises could see their single season home run records broken. As alluded above, Prince Fielder set the Brewers record with 50 home runs in 2007. Yelich is nine away right now, and is on pace for 55.
Remarkably, in the long history of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, no one has ever reached 50 home runs. The Dodgers, Twins, and White Sox are the only three original 16 teams without a 50 home run season. The franchise record for all three is 49, held by Shawn Green for the 2001 Dodgers, Harmon Killebrew for the 1964 and 1969 Twins, and Albert Belle for the 1998 White Sox. Bellinger leads MLB with 42 currently, and is on pace to break Green’s record with 55.
It seems unfathomable that there is an Angels record not yet held by Mike Trout, but he’s never come close to Troy Glaus’ 47 home runs from their championship season of 2002. Trout’s 41 this year matches his career high. He’s on pace to finish with 54, which would put him comfortably ahead of Glaus, as well as the rest of the American League.
Alonso will almost certainly break the Mets’ record by the end of August. Todd Hundley and Carlos Beltrán share that record with 41 home runs. Alonso already has 40, and is on pace to hit 52. The more interesting race will be whether he can break Aaron Judge’s rookie record of 52 home runs, which was set in 2017.
Other than playoff races, record chases are one of the most fun aspects of late-season baseball. These are just a few of them— the byproduct of the most prolific home run season in baseball history.
Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. Tweets @depstein1983.