2. Steroid Era Home Runs
How impressive are the HR accomplishments of the
steroid era? Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds set single-season home run
records, but admitted they used testosterone-enhancing substances that
turned them into humanoids. As baseball is a human endeavor, any
accomplishment that is at least partially attributable to technological
changes to humanness that result in improved athleticism should
not be accepted by MLB or its fans. Some of the stupendous offensive
statistics established in recent years need to be marked with asterisks
or considered with many grains of salt. The problem with doing that is
that we don’t know which ones and probably never will. However, the
recent high single-season home run totals are much less special than
they seem anyway.
In its preview of the 2003 season (March 30), the New
York Times noted, “Since the two-league system began in 1901, a
player has 50 or more home runs in a season 36 times. Half of those 36
were in the past 8 seasons.” The Times charted the 50-HR
seasons and Murray Chass wrote an accompanying article. Chass quoted
baseball people to illustrate the variety of obvious reasons why home
runs have increased. Those include smaller ballparks, steroids, cycles,
and willingness to strike out and other hitting strategies.
Although home runs are far from the most
interesting events in baseball, the Times feature inspired me to
analyze the relative significance of the high home run totals.
Obviously, Bonds didn’t hit more home runs than every other team
in the league as Babe Ruth did, but we have no yardstick for measuring
how special 73 home runs is. HR per AB neutralizes the differences in
season-length, but doesn’t create a perspective.
I analyzed the top 113 single-season home run
totals to learn how special each was. The top 100 stretches to 113
because 45 home runs were achieved 16 times.
Chart 8. Top Single-Season Home Run Totals