While getting lost in the infinite sea of baseball knowledge, history, and numbers that is baseball-reference.com, I found myself browsing some of the best individual seasons in Major League Baseball history. Throughout all the 50+ home run, .330+ batting average, and 200+ hit seasons, I came across a handful of amazing seasons that seem to have escaped the public eye of affection: The elusive 100 extra base hit season.
Did you know that have been 13 fewer individual seasons with 100 or more extra-base hits that there have been .400 batting average seasons? Or that there have been 25 more individual seasons of 230 or more hits than individual seasons of 100 or more extra base hits? How about steals or home runs? There have been 5 more individual seasons of 100 more steals than there have been of 100 or more extra base hits. There have been 26 more individual seasons of 50 or more home runs than there have been of 100 or more extra base hits, but it’s worth mentioning that home runs are perhaps the most tainted of all statistics from the steroid era and likely steroid users Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Alex Rodriguez flood the list of players to have hit 50 or more home runs in one season. Think about it. Getting 40 home runs and 40 doubles in a season is a phenomenal year, and that still puts you 20 extra-base hits short.
Want to compare some pitching statistics? There have been 147 seasons of 30 or more wins and 37 seasons of 40 or more wins (I know, mostly in the pre-1900 era, but still, they all count). There have been 23 more individual seasons in which pitchers had WHIPs under 0.90 than there have been seasons in which hitters had 100 extra-base hits. Need I go on? To answer the question that many of you are asking, if you’ve read this far, there have been only fifteen individual seasons of 100 or more extra base hits in baseball history. Just fifteen. We have statistics dating back over 125 years, yet this incredible feat has been performed way less than many more celebrated statistical achievements. To put it in even more perspective, let’s look at what it would take to place among the Top 15 all-time in a single season for some of the most popular statistics.
Batting Average: To have a season that reaches Top 15 status in batting average, one must top the .4081 Shoeless Joe Jackson hit in 1911. That’s just for 15th place, and a far cry from the .4397 that Hugh Duffy hit in 1894 for the number one spot.
Home Runs: To place Top 15 in dingers, one must hit 57 round-trippers, tying the mark shared by Luis Gonzalez and Alex Rodriguez hit in 2001 and 2002, respectively. Number 1, as we all know, is held by Barry Bonds. Still, in this post steroid era of baseball, 57 will be tough to achieve unless your name is Albert Pujols.
Steals: To crack the Top 15 in steals, one has to equal or best the 104 bags Maury Wills swiped in 1962. Hugh Nichol tops the list at 138 steals way back in 1887 and just to put it in perspective, Jose Reyes, one of the current game’s premier base-stealers, has thus far peaked at 78 SB’s (2007), still over 20 swipes away from cracking the Top 15.
RBI: Making the Top 15 in single season RBI requires a gargantuan 165 runs batted in, and in the last 64 years only Manny Ramirez in 1999 has achieved. Even Juan Gonzalez in 1998, when he had 101 RBI at the all-star break, failed to crack even the top 25 in single-season RBI.
So who are these prodigious bashers of extra-base hits? 12 players combined to achieve the illustrious 100 extra-base hit season 15 times, with 3 of these stalwarts performing the feat twice. Interestingly, two-thirds of the 100 extra-base hit seasons were by left-handed hitters, with 100 extra-base hits only being reached 5 times by right-handed batters. 47 seasons elapsed between 1948 and 1995 without a single 100 extra-base hit season, and then in 2001 four players turned the trick in one season alone (Probably no coincidence that 2001 was perhaps the height of steroid era, but this is not an accusation against any of the players on this amazing list).
Starting at the top of the list, the legendary Babe Ruth smashed a record 119 extra-base hits in 1921, when he hit 59 home-runs, 16 triples, and 44 doubles. 1921 was arguably the Sultan of Swat’s best season, as the Great Bambino combined those extra-base hits with a .378 batting average, a career-high 171 RBI, a career-high 17 stolen bases, and 145 walks versus only 81 strikeouts. He also went 2-0 on the mound that season just for good measure.
Lou Gehrig was one of the three players to have done it twice, getting 117 extra-base hits in 1927 before getting exactly 100 in 1930. His 1927 season, eclipsed only by the Babe six years prior, was Gehrig’s first MVP season (he won again in 1936) and consisted of 47 home-runs, 18 triples, and a league-leading 52 doubles. What’s remarkable about Gehrig is his tremendous consistency. If you adjust his career statistics to reflect 162 game averages, what you get is a typical season for Gehrig consisting of 37 homers, 12 triples, and 40 doubles, or 89 extra-base hits. That’s better than even the Babe.
Barry Bonds, one of the four to reach the 100 extra-base hit plateau in 2001, hit 107 the same year he hit 73 home runs. He tied Chuck Klein for 3rd on the single-season extra-base hit list, but I’ll bet Klein just might have socked his 59 doubles, 8 triples, and 40 home-runs with a little less chemical enhancement.
Rounding out the Top 5 is name that really surprised me, and I’m sure many others will have the same reaction: Todd Helton. Sure, Helton’s always been a great player, but has he ever been regarded as an all-time great or even a Top 5 player in the game at any time? I’m not so sure that he has, but maybe he should be. Not only did he crack the 100 extra-base hit list, but he’s do so twice and in back-to-back seasons in 2000 and 2001 (With 105 and 103 extra-base hits). Those seasons were undoubtedly the prime of Helton’s career and he hit 113 doubles and 91 homers in those two years. While I acknowledge that Helton definitely received a home-field edge of playing in the thin-air of Coors Field, perhaps it’s time to recognize him as a potential Hall-of-Famer (Note: I’m not ready to induct him yet, I’m just saying he’s in the discussion).
Matching Helton and Klein (who appears on the list for a second-time for his 1932 season) at 103 extra-baggers are Albert Belle (1998), Hank Greenberg (1937), Stan Musial (1948), and Sammy Sosa (2001). Belle did it with just 1 triple to go with 52 doubles and 50 home-runs. Greenberg also had 183 RBI in 1937 but finished not 2nd but 3rd in MVP voting (Charlie Gehringer won). Musial did win the MVP in ’48, leading the league not only in extra-base hits, but also in runs, hits, doubles, triples, RBI, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and total bases in one of the most impressive seasons of all-time. 2001 was Sosa’s final of three seasons with 60 or more home-runs.
Good for the 12th spot, Rogers Hornsby and his 102 extra-base hits in 1922 edged the exactly 100 extra-base hits that Jimmie Foxx (1932), Gehrig (1930) and Luis Gonzalez (2001) hit to round out the spectacular list of individual seasons with 100 or more extra-base hits. Hornsby’s ’22 season was similar to Musial’s ’48 season, as “Rajah” led the league in runs, hits, doubles, home runs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage just like his fellow St. Louis Cardinal Stan the Man would 26 years later. Foxx, who hit a career-high 58 home runs in 1932, also took home the MVP that year. Gonzalez, who also hit a career high 57 home runs in 2001(obliterating his previous high-water mark of 31), did not take home the MVP award (he finished 3rd in voting) but delivered the infamous game-winning, broken-bat single off of Yankees closer Mariano Rivera to win Game 7 of the World Series.
Many players have just missed joining this exclusive club of 100 extra-base in a single season members, including several of the game’s current stars. Carlos Delgado in 2000, Albert Pujols in 2004, and Derrek Lee in 2005 all finished a single extra-base hit away from the century mark. Pujols also threatened in 2003, when he hit 95 extra-baggers. Pujols is surely the favorite among current players to crack the 100 extra-base hit threshold, but Grady Sizemore (92 in ’06), Prince Fielder (87 in ’07), Alex Rodriguez (85 or more in 4 seasons), and Mark Teixeira (87 in ’05) seem like other good bets to challenge the illustrious plateau. While the 100 extra-base hit has been an achievement that has flown under the public’s radar in recent years, it is certainly the mark of a rare, MVP-caliber single season performance that has only been seen a little more than dozen times before.