Definition: Baseball Records...?

How do we measure “career homeruns”? Since the number of seasons played can vary, can we compare apples to apples?

  • Jinx
  1. Count the number of home runs a player hits in the major leagues, starting with his first at bat.

  2. Continue counting major league home runs until his last major league at bat.

  3. Write down the number in a column captioned “Career Home Runs.”

Home runs in a career are defined as “number of home runs hit in a career,” whether the career is one game or twenty-three seasons. We don’t REALLY think that Roe Skidmore would have hit as many homers as Henry Aaron if he’d played as many years.

To compare “apples to apples,” as you put it, you’d have to compare home runs per season (dividing through by number of years played); or, better yet, homers per game (since some seasons are partial seasons); or, best of all, homers per plate appearance (McGwire leads all comers by a hefty margin). Even that figure is situation dependent: ballpark, era, and more can influence the number fairly seriously.

But there’s nothing wrong with “career home runs” as a measurement, anyhow. Mr. Aaron was a pretty damn good ballplayer, you know.

Career length is a function of quality. You don’t play for 20 years if you suck.

That said, most baseball fans know that Henry Aaron’s career home run record is a function of both his skill and his incredible durability. Other players have been superior home run hitters in terms of the rate at which they hit homers, but none hit homers long enough to match the great Aaron. Mark McGwire, who just retired, is the perfect example. NOBODY hit more homers than McGwire per at bat. But he still didn’t even get close to Aaron.

A better way to judge is home runs per at bats. Takes the length of career out of it.

Not to take anything away from Aaron, but remember that Babe Ruth pitched for many years before he was a full-time batter (he had about 97 career wins). He would surely have broken a thousand homers had he started his career in the field.

Not in the dead ball era. Remember, when they built Fenway Park (just about the time Ruth was joining the Red Sox), the green monster was considered too far away to be a factor in hitting home runs. Ruth might have gotten to 800 or so, but that’s it.

1 out of 3 ain’t bad.

How about 17 years?

Don’t you dis Rafael Belliard. He might not have been much of a hitter, but in the postseason he… well, he didn’t hit well then either, but with the glove he… ah, forget it. Okay, you can play 17 years if you suck.

(Especially if Bobby Cox decides you’re a good luck charm.)