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"Any umpire who claims he has never missed a play is . . . well, an umpire."
--Umpire Ron Luciano


Single Season Home Run Leaders

By Patrick Mondout

Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Maris, Babe Ruth, George Hall...

The home run record is without a doubt the sexiest record in baseball. We all know that Babe Ruth held the mark - nearly doubling the previous total in the early 20s and eventually fixing it at 60. We also know about Roger Maris and how we beat the Babe by one in an expansion year that also had a 162 game schedule, leading commissioner of baseball Ford Frick to suggest (but not actually demand) that an asterisk should be put in the record book. Almost anyone reading this remembers Sosa and McGwire easily passing Maris during the peak of the Juiced Era and, of course, Barry Bonds putting the record out of reach for perhaps another generation or two in 2001 (if for no other reason than there is more stringent drug testing now).

But who held the record before Babe Ruth? And before that person? And before him? It all starts with George Hall, or so Major League Baseball (MLB) would have you believe. He is officially the first home run king, having led the inaugural 1876 National League in homers with 5. MLB decreed way back in 1969 that the National Association (NA) (1871-1875) was not a major league. Since we do not pay a large fee to MLB for the right to call ourselves "official" (which is all anyone who claims to be official but is not actually a part of MLB does in order to claim that honor), we are not required to ignore the NA. Therefore, we have listed all of the major league single season home run record holders below, starting with Long Levi, Fred, and Lip:
#of HRs Year/League Player
4 1871/NA Levi Meyerle, Lip Pike, Fred Treacey
6 1872/NA Lip Pike
6 1875/NA 'Orator Jim' O'Rourke
5 1876/NL George Hall (see paragraph above)
9 1879/NL Charley Jones
14 1883/AA Harry Stovey
27 1884/NL Ned Williamson (see note below)
19 1887/NL Billy O'Brien
20 1889/NL Sam Thompson
25 1899/NL Buck Freeman
29 1919/AL Babe Ruth
54 1920/AL Babe Ruth
59 1921/AL Babe Ruth
60 1927/AL Babe Ruth
61 1961/AL Roger Maris
70 1998/NL Mark McGwire
73 2002/NL Barry Bonds

Fred Treacey hit more than half of his career total in 1871, finishing with 7 dingers. With a .492 batting average in 1871, he finished just 4 RBIs shy of winning the first Triple Crown (1871 league leaders).

Lip Pike not only was a home run king, he was faster than a horse too! He also he led his leagues in homers four times, ending his 10 year career with 15.

Ned Williamson benefited from a rule change in an unusually small ballpark. For this reason, we also list those who broke Harry Stovey's record on through to Babe Ruth, who finally broke the 1884 record.

Sammy Sosa briefly held the record near the end of the 1998 season before Mark McGwire pulled away. 

I'm not one to put asterisks on records, but Maris did have the advantage of playing in an expansion year with 8 additional dates and McGwire admitted to using a substance that would soon be banned and made it clear in Congressional testimony on steroid use that he wasn't "here to talk about the past." Sosa pretended he didn't know how to speak English at the same hearing to avoid tough questions and was caught using a corked bat. Bonds has also admitted to rubbing a mystery cream from the bad boys of BALCO on his leg. No asterisks here, but you decide who deserves the honor.

Here are the chronologies for the American and National Leagues individually:

#of HRs Year/League Player
5 1876 George Hall
9 1879 Charley Jones
10 1883 Buck Ewing
27 1884 Ned Williamson (see note above)
19 1887 Billy O'Brien
20 1889 Sam Thompson
25 1899 Buck Freeman
42 1922 Rogers Hornsby
43 1929 Chuck Klein
56 1930 Hack Wilson
70 1998 Mark McGwire
73 2002 Barry Bonds
#of HRs Year/League Player
14 1901 Nap Lajoie
16 1902 Socks Seybold
29 1919/AL Babe Ruth
54 1920/AL Babe Ruth
59 1921/AL Babe Ruth
60 1927/AL Babe Ruth
61 1961/AL Roger Maris

As you can see, only four players have ever held the American League record in its over 100 years of play. Also worthy of note is that Hack Wilson's record of 56 NL homers held for 68 seasons - longer than any other home run king for either league. Roger Maris' record will have to stand until the year 2029 to match the feat!

We also have the all-time single season home run leaders for each league below. For fun, we have also listed the minor league, Japanese, Negro Leagues, NCAA, Mexican and South Korean records:

#of HRs Year/League Player
6 National Association Lip Pike (1871), 'Orator Jim' O'Rourke (1875)
73 National League Barry Bonds (2001)
19 American Association Bug Holliday (1889), Harry Stovey (1889)
14 Union Association Sure Shot Dunlap (1884)
14 Players League Roger Connor (1890)
61 American League Roger Maris (1961)
17 Federal League Hal Chase (1915)
55 Japanese Sadaharu Oh (1964), Tuffy Rhodes (2001), Alex Cabrera (2002, Seibu Lions)
56 South Korean Lee Seung-yeop (2003)
72 Minor League Joe Bauman (Roswell, New Mexico of the class C Longhorn League, 1954)
54 Mexican League Jack Pierce (1986, for the Leon Braves)
84 Negro Leagues Josh Gibson (1936, includes totals from well over 100 games against semipro teams)
48 NCAA Pete Incaviglia (1985, in 75 games for Oklahoma State)

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--Patrick Mondout



Barry holds the all-time HR record for a single season in any professional league. While it had only been three years since the previous mark was set, it may be a very long time before it is bettered.

Photo by Lou Sauritch, 2006

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