Top 20 Home Run Hitters of All Time: Can We Get an Asterisk Please?

David RushCorrespondent IDecember 26, 2010

Was it Selig and Fehr, or the Federal Investigators & Congress that finally shut down the steroid game?
Was it Selig and Fehr, or the Federal Investigators & Congress that finally shut down the steroid game?Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

And the answer issss no. We'll never see asterisks to mark some of the blatantly questionable performances of the denoted, approximate 15-year period ranging from the early 1990s until at least midway through the first decade of this century, because to do so is as much an indictment of Bud Selig and league ownership as it is many of the supersized players themselves.

The epic 1998 Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run race clearly brought baseball back into the first-class seating section of American sports, re-establishing the long-time fan fascination with the long ball, which goes back to the days of the charismatic Bambino, traveling through the handsome vagaries of Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Hank Greenberg, the great Teddy Ballgame, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.

Of course league ownership, media and the sensible fan knew something was going on. Forget that only two players in 70 years were able to touch the 60 plateau and suddenly Sosa, McGwire and Bonds were making successive mockeries of the mark.

For many of us with a watchful eye, it was the sudden, sensational emergence from offensive mediocrity to downright Mendoza line obscurity that can be attributed to the likes of a Brady Anderson, a .250 lifetime hitter with middling power who blasted 50 homers in 1996 or Benito Santiago who hit 30 homers for the Phils in '96 at the age of 31 after totaling 35 home runs in the three previous seasons and never more than 18 in any of his 10 major league seasons to that point.

There were countless others that hammered home the point that it was way more than Wheaties that were driving the modern ballplayers' engines in the approximate decade-and-a-half stanza when offensive statistics truly ran wild.

Certainly the issue of complicity is complicated and far reaching.

It can also be expounded upon at another time. Today we address the home run. If Major League Baseball won't do anything to engender a little statistical perspective on the greatest long ball hitters of all time, we will—with a few liberties no doubt—but those have been taken in the most plausible way and the rearranged listing may just hit you about right.


One to Five: Ruth, Aaron, Griffey, Mays, Bonds

Babe Ruth: 714, Projected 774: The fact that the Great Bambino was a dominant left-handed pitcher over his first four seasons with the Boston Red Sox, combined with his later offensive exploits, in many minds makes him the greatest baseball player of all time. 

Despite the lingering perception that Babe's training regimen included little other than hot dogs, beer and the ladies of the night, his long ball acumen—so thrilling for fans that it precipitated the use of a livelier ball and eventual elimination of the spitter to make the home run and enhanced offensive output more widespread amongst major league minions—is unsurpassed in terms of consistency over a peak period of play.  

From 1920 to 1931, 12 seasons (two of which were injury or attitude plagued), Ruth averaged 47 home runs and 150 RBI. He had six seasons where he hit .370 or better, peaking at .393 in 1923. If you add a mere 15 home runs per season for his time spent as a full-time hurler his projected total of 774 puts him on top of our reconstructed list. 

Henry Aaron: 755, No change: More of a line drive hitter than classic long ball type, "Bad Henry" still generated enough power and length on his fearsome rips to take advantage of reasonably cozy parks in both Milwaukee and Atlanta.   

He excelled in the late 50’s and 60’s during a time when major league pitching, especially in the National League (Gibson, Koufax, Drysdale, Marichal) was at its best. He hit 40 or more home runs in a season eight times, and had nine seasons with 118 or more RBI. He did his thing in a quiet way, and in the end, when he was really chasing down Ruth's ghost, he had to put up with serious racist backlash from fans all over the country.  

While he wasn't exactly the type to come out and say so, it certainly did appear Aaron, amongst numerous other purists, resented Bonds taking the career mark from him. 

At least here he doesn't have that problem.

Ken Griffey Jr.: 630, Projected 735:  As great as he was, Griff's name will always be synonymous with one thing: Injury.

Well, maybe two things, injury and unfulfilled expectations. As amazing as some of his final numbers were (1,662 runs, 524 doubles, 1,779 RBI), the man very frequently referred to as "The Kid" or "The Natural" lost approximately 500 peak career games over his 22 years in the Major Leagues.

Not even accounting for the overall impact or toll the injuries took on his career, if you measure him up for a mere 35 homers per during a time when he was readily bashing 50, you come to the projected total of 735, and in truth that is a very conservative estimate.  

Willie Mays: 660: Projected 720: One of the five greatest all-around players in the history of the game, Mays could beat you any way: bat, arm, legs, glove.

Like fellow superstars Aaron, Frank Robinson and Roberto Clemente, his career spanned a pitching-rich period for the NL, so his seasonal numbers are not consistently mind-boggling, but more so highlighted by incremental extraordinary achievement.

Long ball-wise, he twice hit 50 home runs in a season, and from 1961 to 1966, between the ages of 30 to 35, he averaged 44 HR a year amidst some of the toughest home run hitting conditions in the majors in San Francisco's Candlestick Park.

He gets his adjustment for a pair of missed seasons to the Korean war effort in 52 & 53. You can say that's a conservative number but he was still young and developing his power, hit 20 in 1951 and 40 in 1954, so an average of 30 in between seems fair.

(It was 250 ft. to the hanging tier in left that Bobby Thompson immortalized in '51, so any further adjustments for the tough conditions in S.F. have to be countermanded by the less than plush, but ultra friendly home run confines of the once renowned Polo Grounds.)   

Mays was a two-time MVP and finished in the top six 12 times. Whatever the adjustment the man struck fear in the collective hearts of the opposition like few players ever have and even if the Say Hey Kid never hit a homer in his life, he'd still be one of the greatest to have ever stepped on the field!  

 "Baseball is a game, yes. It is also a business. But what it most truly is, is disguised combat. For all its gentility, its almost leisurely pace, baseball is violence under wraps." - Willie Mays


Barry Bonds: 762, Adjusted Downward Number 679: Through the age of 27, Barry Bonds averaged 25 home runs a year in a ballpark, Three Rivers, that was reasonably cozy dimension-wise, especially down both lines at 335 feet.

He was 28 when he moved over to San Francisco, and his 46 home runs, 123 RBI and .336 average, all career-highs, seemed plausible enough for a great young player coming into his prime.

Simply, Bonds dominated the game for the next 10 years, and at the age of 36 had what has to be considered one of the top two or three seasons in the history of the game, hitting 73 home runs, walking 177 times, hitting .328 with an on- base of .515.

At the age of 39, Bonds hit 45 HR, hit .362 and walked a mind-boggling 232 times. He was on base 61 percent of the time.

Try and fathom that last figure.

There is no disputing Bonds' greatness. Early on he was a five-tool player, and late in his career he became the greatest power hitter the game has ever known. Of course that's where the serious question marks rise.

Nobody will ever know to what extent Bonds’ game was elevated by the use of steroids, but in lieu of the fact that we only know of one player, Roger Maris, who definitively was not on steroids and managed to top Ruth’s single season mark, albeit in 162 games, one has to presume marginally in the least.

Yes, it undoubtedly requires inherent skills to play the game. I don’t think steroids positively impact the eyes, but as far as bat speed and strength, at 35+, even the most ardent Bonds fan can’t argue that his latter career stats were an enhanced anomaly, and that he really never should have been able to break Aaron’s career record, much less Ruth’s.

Bonds averaged just slightly over 30 home runs per season through the age of 34. Even if you give him 35 per season for 2000-2004 and you leave his last two seasons be, where he totaled 54 home runs at the age 41/42 coming off what might have been a career-ending injury in 2005 at the age of 40, you very generously come up with the figure of 679 home runs.

And even that supposes the greatest late career production of any player in the history of the game.


Six to Ten: Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Jim Thome, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew.

Ted Williams: 521, Projected 671: The rivalry between the Great DiMaggio and Boston's Ted Williams was certainly notable. DiMaggio was once asked, "Joe, what do you think of Ted Williams as a ballplayer?"

DiMaggio's response, "Greatest left-handed hitter I've ever seen."

DiMaggio was then asked the same question, "But, Joe, what do you think of Williams as a ballplayer?"

DiMaggio's response, "Greatest left-handed hitter I've ever seen."

The point being, Ted Williams may not have had DiMaggio's all-encompassing skills, but with a bat in his hand, the Splendid Splinter could really do no wrong. A .344 lifetime hitter and the last Major Leaguer to hit .400, he slugged 521 career home runs despite missing five peak seasons to the mid-20th century war efforts in Europe and Korea.

Without a doubt, you could bag up 30 home runs a year during that period for a total of 671, and that's also a conservative number. Williams might have challenged Ruth's record if not for his time as a fighter pilot.

If you ever get a chance, the HBO special on "The Kid" is simply must see T.V.  

Mickey Mantle: 536 ~ Projected 600: Idolized by children everywhere, loved by as many women while still being revered by adult males. 'The Mick' played through almost every imaginable injury and nearly as many states of debilitating inebriation.

He was a three-time MVP with nine top-five finishes. He won the Triple Crown in 1956 and led the league in eight different offensive categories. His natural ability to play the game was otherworldly, but his broken body left him as a mere shell of the great ballplayer enshrined in Cooperstown and forever commemorated in the Yankees' own Hall of Fame—Monument Park. 

What could he had done if not for the injuries and ample proclivity for one hellbent nightlife?

Mantle's long ball power was the impetus for the term "tape measure home run" as his 565-foot shot out of old Griffith Stadium in Washington was actually measured just this way by traveling secretary Red Patterson. He was reputed to have hit one 635 feet out of Tiger Stadium in Detroit and twice hit the upper facade at old Yankee Stadium—a feat only accomplished by one other man, mythical Negro League catcher Josh Gibson.

He was without a doubt one of the single most feared hitters ever to step to the plate. A switch hitter with astonishing power from either side, 600 home runs would have been a walk in the park if the man would have been the beneficiary of better health and the practitioner of a slightly more conservative night life.  

Jim Thome: 589 and counting: I guess you could call Jim Thome an unspectacular player who has put up some pretty spectacular numbers. One-hundred ninety homers between 2001-2004. Hit 25 last year in a surprise for the Twins, and looks like a good bet to surpass 600.   

Frank Robinson: 586: No Change: Two-time MVP (six times in the top four), hands down the toughest late inning out I ever saw live and in person. (The guy killed the Yankees like nobody else.) Didn't get the notoriety of a Mays, Aaron or Clemente, but what a five-tool ballplayer!

They called him "The Judge," basically because you couldn't get away with anything when he was at the plate. Definitely one of the great nicknames in baseball lore for one of the greatest players to ever grace the green pastures.

Harmon Killebrew: 573, No change: As pure a home-run hitting force that exists on this list. From 1959 to 1970, he hit 40-plus eight times. Six top-four MVP finishes and the winner in 1969 when at the age of 33, he hit 49 and drove in 140. The man simply destroyed baseballs and was very aptly nicknamed "Killer" Killebrew. 


A Tainted Five: A-Rod, McGuire, Sosa, Palmiero, Manny

A-Rod: 613, Projected 555: There's no denying A-Rod's greatness. He's a five-tool player with incredible instincts for the game. He was the best shortstop in baseball and has turned himself into a pre-eminent third sacker with the Yanks.

People love to hate him, but he’s definitely one of the best players to ever cross the lines. There's no way you can lend any credence to his claims of short-term juicing though. We maxed him out at 40 per year outside of Seattle, and that may or may not be generous.

Sammy Sosa: 609, Projected 509: Sosa's blatant steroid-enhanced production has, along with McGwire and Bonds, made a mockery of seasonal home run marks. He went from hitting 35 a year (1993-1997), to 58 a year over a five-year stretch 1998-2002.

Still, his battle with McGwire in ’98 and general enthusiasm for the game has been credited with bringing fans back to the ballpark after the disappointing strike-shortened season in 1994. That, and all the big numbers notwithstanding, the only way Sosa sees the inside of the Hall of Fame is as a glorified visitor.

Although we were loathe to even include him in the 500 club, he was only docked a straight 100, basically 20 per year over the last mentioned five-season stretch.  

Mark McGwire: 583, Projected 548: Really, one of the best guys in baseball and unlike Bonds' mocking of Babe Ruth, he paid big-time respect to Roger Maris and his family during the epic '98 run.

Again, using the 40-a-year max formula, we docked him 85 home runs from 1996 to 1999 when he hit 245. We gave him back 50 though for dramatically injury-shortened seasons in '93 and '94, and kind of looked the other way when he hit 61 in 186 games over two injury-plagued years in 2000 and 2001 when he finally retired at the age of 37.

Maybe he was juicing in the very early days in Oakland as Canseco claims and doesn't even belong in the 500 club. He had all the power hitting tools though, a short stroke and explosive power. If he had played in Fenway or Wrigley instead of windy, cavernous Oakland or spacious Busch, he could have hit 600 in walk.

Steroids were legal during his career, so it's hard to say he made a mistake. But he's another guy who will carry around the stigma and will never make the Hall of Fame.

Rafael Palmeiro: 569, Projected 462: We maxed him at 30 a year, which seems pretty fair considering the guy made a complete idiot out of himself with his finger-pointing before Congress, and barely distinguished himself in a more flattering light by pitching Viagra at the age of 35 before a nationwide audience.

It's a shame too because all the Havana-born Palmiero—1,835 RBI, three Gold Gloves, 569 home runs—had to do was keep himself clean at a time he should have really been retired anyway, and he might have been looking at the Hall of Fame.

He's lost that, and we think he's lost his Viagra ad-man status as well.

Palmiero's definitely a guy who should lay low for awhile.

Manny Ramirez: 555, Projected Unknown: Who wold have thought a major league player wearing his hair down to the middle of his back for this long could have gotten away throughout without being called a pansy?

It's had something to do with that electrifying bat. As a Yankee fan, I've watched Manny Ramirez lay wood to the ball for way too long to write him off as a steroid-using anomaly. Maybe he went from more of a power alley, 40-45 doubles, 25-30 home run guy, but there's just no way to tell.  

During his prime years from 1998-2008, an 11-year period when he wasn't even always playing his top game, he hit more than 400 home runs. Granted, his fairly recent indictment and a total of 28 home runs the past two years speaks volumes, but the last time I checked, steroid use doesn't affect the batting eye. I've also seen stretches of games where there was just no way to get Ramirez out.   

If there's one guy besides A-Rod on this tainted list who might slip by and make the Hall, it's Ramirez. No matter how you break it down, he's one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game.     


The Best Of The Rest: Reggie, Schmidt, Jimmy Foxx, Stretch McCovey, Frank Thomas

Quickly now, because my head is spinning. No projections here, just career numbers.

563: Reggie Jackson: His three-homer performance against the Dodgers in the ’77 World Series is as memorable as any in the history of the game. The moniker Mr. October says it all.

548: Mike Schmidt: Only A-Rod’s switch precludes his consensus choice as the best third baseman ever. Three-time M.V.P.

534: Jimmy Foxx: As ominous a right-handed power hitter as has ever played the game.  A .325 lifetime B.A., knocked in more than 160 runs three times, 58 homers in 1932 for the old (Connie Mack) Philadelphia Athletics.

That team won three straight A.L. titles from 1929-1931, two World Series and finished second to the Yanks in ’32 before being sold off in parts post-1933 by a cash-strapped Mack, with both Foxx and southpaw ace Lefty Grove heading to the Boston Red Sox.

521: Willie "Stretch" McCovey: One of the most ominous left-handed power hitters to ever play the game. At least by appearance. Five hundred-plus home runs, with half his games coming in a windy Candlestick, is no mean feat.

521: Frank Thomas: At his peak, Thomas could do it all with the bat. Back-to-back A.L. M.V.P. in 1993 and 1994.

And that's all, hope you enjoyed it.


    Theo: Papi Requested Trade from Sox in 2003

    MLB logo

    Theo: Papi Requested Trade from Sox in 2003

    Scott Polacek
    via Bleacher Report

    Kershaw on 300 Wins: 'Don't See That Happening'

    MLB logo

    Kershaw on 300 Wins: 'Don't See That Happening'

    via Yahoo

    Biggest MLB Surprises and Disappointments in April

    MLB logo

    Biggest MLB Surprises and Disappointments in April

    Zachary D. Rymer
    via Bleacher Report

    Padres' $144M Risk Is Giving Tanking Credibility

    MLB logo

    Padres' $144M Risk Is Giving Tanking Credibility

    Jacob Shafer
    via Bleacher Report