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Remember the days when 30 home runs was a lot?

It wasn’t that long ago, really. In 1992, 30 homers would have placed a
hitter fourth in the National League. These days, a player could hit 30
home runs and never show up on the typical fan’s radar. We’re in the middle
of the biggest home run jump in baseball history. (Big news, to you all,
I’m sure. Tomorrow’s feature: the Pope wears a skullcap!)

If the sportswriters of the future aren’t careful, then hitters of the ’90s
are going to be seriously overrepresented in the Hall of Fame, the same way
that hitters of the ’20s and ’30s are today. People looked at the gaudy
batting averages of the era (Freddy Lindstrom hit .379 in 1930! Ooooooh!)
and instinctively viewed then through the prism of their own era (a .379
average in 1976, when the Vets’ committee inducted Lindstrom, would have
been 40 points higher than any major leaguer actually hit that year).

Similarly, the writers of the future will look at Vinny Castilla‘s string
of 40-homer seasons and assume that it carries the same weight as Eddie
Mathews
‘ similar string, when we all know that it does not, both because of
the park Castilla plays in and because of the times Castilla plays in. Home
runs are dirt cheap in Colorado these days, but they’re also pretty cheap
everywhere else.

The home run numbers rise and fall, and right now, they’ve risen. A lot.
The reasons have been much speculated and debated, and I won’t add to that
here. I’ll just take the increased home run rates as a given, and move on
to the more interesting question:

If every major leaguer had had the luxury of playing his entire career
under the conditions of 1998, how many home runs would they have hit?

By way of example, let’s have a look at Gavvy Cravath, the National
League’s best home run hitter of the 1910’s.

In 1912, Cravath hit 11 homers for the Phillies. This was a very good
total for the time. The league’s leader, Heinie Zimmerman, hit only 14.
Cravath’s 11 was good for a tie for third. So don’t think "Cravath hit 11
homers;" that doesn’t sound like much. Think instead, "Cravath finished
third in the league in homers in his first full season in the majors",
which meant almost exactly the same thing then as it does now. (I say
"almost", because there were free minor leagues then, and Cravath had been
one of the finest hitters in the nation from 1910-1911. The fact that he
was playing for the Minneapolis Millers at the time only means that his
hitting talents don’t show up in Total Baseball.)

However, the National League, as a whole, only hit .468 home runs per game
(both teams) in 1912. In 1998, the average major league game saw 2.082
balls leave the field in fair territory. So, to proportionately raise
Cravath’s numbers that way, we multiply his actual homer total by
(2.082/.468), and come up with 48.92. That’s a pretty fair number of
homers.

Also, teams were only scheduled to play 154 games per season then, as
opposed to the 162 games of today. So we need to bump up Cravath’s total by
a factor of (162/154), and he inches up to 51.46, which we round off to 51.

So, if the 1912 Gavvy Cravath had played in 1998, it would not be
unreasonable to expect him to have it 51 homers. Or would it?

When comparing players in different contexts (ballparks, eras, whatever),
it is important to choose your point of comparison wisely. Looking at home
runs per season for an individual player, there are three possible points
of comparison:

  1. Comparison against the replacement level. While that’s the most useful
    in terms of assessing overall value, it doesn’t work well for individual
    stats–there’s no such thing as a "replacement-level home run hitter." Even
    today, a player can be a useful and productive regular while hitting fewer
    than 10 homers, while another player might have the ability to hit 30
    homers, but do nothing else well enough to justify getting any playing
    time. (Heck, you could probably pull Dave Kingman out of retirement right
    now, install him at first base for the Rockies, and he’d hit 30 homers next
    year. He’d also hit about .150, strike out 270 times, and be unable to
    field his position with anything like the grace and artistry of…oh, say,
    Frank Thomas.)

  2. Comparison against the league’s best. If we try this approach, we
    encounter logical difficulties–Gavvy Cravath led the league in home runs
    six times in seven seasons, and thus he would be setting the standards
    we’re comparing him against. We could widen the field a bit (average number
    of homers for the top five, say), but the sample size of the comparison set
    would be fairly small, and prone to weird skews. (George Sisler‘s 19 homers
    in 1920 was good for second in the league, and is and always will be an
    impressive achievement. The fact that Babe Ruth hit 54 that year says more
    about Babe Ruth than it does, or should, about George Sisler.) If anyone
    has any good ideas on how to properly define a cross-era comparison using a
    high-end sample set, I’d be most eager to see the results. For now, though,
    I’m going to settle for…

  3. Comparison against the league average. While taking "average" ability as
    the norm is a poor idea when assessing overall talent, it works pretty well
    for setting mathematical standards. The average National league team hit
    .246 homers per game in 1912, while the average major league team hit 1.041
    homers per game in 1998. These are facts, the set of players used to
    produce that data is thankfully complete, and it gives us nice, solid
    numbers to chew on.

But it does yield numbers which might, at first glance, be unrealistically
high. Let’s look at Cravath’s entire career here…

Year  Tm/Lg       HR   LgNorm  TmGames  "1998HR"  (rounded)
1908  Bos-A        1    0.187      154   11.71        12
1909  Chi/Was-A    1    0.176      154   12.44        12
1912  Phi-N       11    0.468      154   51.48        51
1913  Phi-N       19    0.500      154   83.23        83
1914  Phi-N       19    0.427      154   97.45        97
1915  Phi-N       24    0.361      154  145.61       146
1916  Phi-N       11    0.384      154   62.74        63
1917  Phi-N       12    0.323      154   81.37        81
1918  Phi-N        8    0.274      126   78.16        78
1919  Phi-N       12    0.371      140   77.92        78
1920  Phi-N        1    0.423      154    5.18         5

CAREER TOTAL     119                                 706

Boy, that 1915 total sure jumps out at you, doesn’t it? 146 homers! Yowza!
Could it really happen?

Possibility number 1 says "yes"–if the league as a whole hits homers
almost six times as frequently in 1998 than in 1915, why shouldn’t we
assume that individual players would also hit homers almost six times as
frequently?

Possibility number 2 says "no"–the increase in the homer total for an
entire league is not proportionately represented in the total for the top
sluggers, but rather in the middle-tier hitters who make up most of the
league.

I’ll go with answer 1–that it is possible. In most cases, the relation
between the league-leaders’ HR rate and the league’s rate as a whole is
pretty stable. 146 home runs is a lot, but his other league-leading totals
translate (in 1998 terms) to 83, 97, 81, 78 and 78. They’re high, but it is
no longer inconceivable that that total could lead the league. And Cravath
was more of a power threat, relative to the HR abilities of a league as a
whole, than McGwire or Sosa is today, so why shouldn’t his totals reflect
that?

Also, I developed this method to evaluate a player’s entire career, and a
player isn’t going to be among the league leaders through his entire
career. I needed a method which would work in the bad years as well as the
good. (Cravath’s was an unusual career, in that he didn’t have any bad
years. He finished in the top three in home runs for every season in which
he was a regular–but there were only eight such seasons. If he had had a
normal career path by today’s standards–rather than waiting until age 31
to have his first season as a regular in the bigs–he would be a certain
Hall of Famer, in my estimation.)

So, Gavvy Cravath, had he played his entire career under 1998
circumstances, would have hit (by my estimate) 706 home runs. Is that among
the best of all time?

Well, it’s pretty darn good, but not near the top ten or anything like that.

I figured the career totals, through 1998, for any player who had been
listed in Total Baseball as one of the top five home run hitters in any
one league/season. Total Baseball doesn’t list more than five names in
any league/season, so if two players tied for fifth in any one season, they
aren’t listed. I also figured totals for the four players who had hit 300
or more homers in their careers, but had never been in the top five in any
one season. (For you trivia fans out there, those four players were Al
Kaline
, Harold Baines, Jack Clark, and Chili Davis.)

This gave me a total of 398 players to work with. It’s a slightly odd data
set–it includes Count Campau, Fred Odwell, and Dave Hollins, among others,
but doesn’t include Mike Piazza or Mo Vaughn. Still, I feel that it is very
likely that, among those 398 players, I have identified all of those who
are among the top thirty home run hitters of all time through 1998.


CAREER TOTALS

By my count, twenty-two players, had they played their entire careers under
1998 circumstances, would have hit 700 or more home runs in their careers
(actual total: two), and seventy-eight would have hit at least 500 (actual
total: fifteen as of 1998. McGwire made it sixteen this year).

I’ll go ahead and list the career totals for sluggers 11 through 30 now,
and then count down the top ten. (I’ve got last name first on this list,
’cause that’s how I set up the spreadsheet.)

Player              actual HR         "1998HR"
11. Schmidt Mike        548             852
12. Crawford Sam         97             843
13. Mays Willie         660             837
14. Cobb Ty             117             813
15. Baker Frank          96             748
16. Jackson Reggie      563             743
17. Robinson Frank      586             739
18. McCovey Willie      521             727
19. Killebrew Harmon    573             716
20. Wagner Honus        101             708
21t. Brouthers Dan      106             706
21t. Cravath Gavvy      119             706
23. Mantle Mickey       536             698
24. Connor Roger        138             693
25. Simmons Al          307             692
26. Stargell Willie     475             689
27. Mize Johnny         359             682
28. Musial Stan         475             674
29. Davis Harry          75             659
30. Kingman Dave        442             657

The first things to keep in mind when looking at this list is that I
rounded off the home run totals each year, so small differences are not
significant. Willie Stargell may be ahead of both Roger Connor and Al
Simmons
, but got shafted on the rounding errors. Or he may not. Any totals
which are within 10 of each other, then, should be interpreted as
indicating roughly comparable home run-hitting ability over the course of a
career.

Looking at this list, then, the players mostly fall into two categories:
either they genuinely hit a ton of home runs (400 or more), or they played
before 1920. Al Simmons and Johnny Mize are the only ones to resist either
group. (It’s nice to see a list where Home Run Baker gets to live up to his
nickname, rather than being a reminder of a quaint, power-free era.)

The ordering is interesting, and helps bring to light certain trends. Mike
Schmidt finishing ahead of Willie Mays surprised me a bit, but the NL of
the fifties and early sixties (Mays’ prime years) homered at a much higher
rate than the NL of the seventies and early eighties (Schmidt’s prime
years). This chart reflects that.

If you’re wondering if anyone in major league history hit 500 home runs but
didn’t make the list, the answer is yes, and there are three of them. Ernie
Banks
just misses the list at 645, Eddie Murray is not far behind at 633,
and Eddie Mathews is just behind that at 623. Banks and Mathews, of
course, got the bulk of their homers in the fifties and early sixties (the
same time as Mays), while Murray played enough in the homer-happy late
eighties to fail to get too much of a boost. Mark McGwire, of course,
hadn’t hit 500 as of the 1998 season, but it’ll still be a while before he
makes the list. His best seasons were in 1987 and 1996-1998, which were the
best single seasons for home runs ever. He gets no extra credit for his
era.

Of the twenty players above, the only one who wasn’t on my instinctive list
of (era-adjusted) sluggers was Harry Davis. The longtime Athletics first
baseman led the American League in homers for four consecutive years during
the first decade of this century (the ’00s? the Aughts?), including the
AL’s all-time low year of 1907. Given all that, he wasn’t a particularly
great player or anything–Total Baseball only gives him a Total Player
rating of 11.9 for his lengthy career. Given his strikeout totals in 1896,
he may have been sort of the Rob Deer of his era. Still, his peak years
were fine, he had a fairly long career, and, as with any career totals, a
lengthy career counts more than a great one.

Okay, on to the top ten…

10. Ted Williams. (Actual HR: 521. "1998 HR": 870)

No real surprise there.

9. Rogers Hornsby (Actual HR: 301. "1998 HR": 881)

A bit a of a surprise, but he did play six-plus seasons before the first
home run boom hit the National League in 1921, and he did lead the league
in slugging percentage ten times in his career, and those weren’t all
doubles and triples.

8. Cy Williams (Actual HR: 251. "1998 HR": 884)

This is a surprise. The Williams who winds up with the highest adjusted
home run total isn’t Ted or Billy or even Ken, but Cy. The longtime Cubs
and Phillies outfielder played in the same league as Hornsby for sixteen
years, and here’s how he did, in raw numbers, compared to one of the finest
sluggers of all time:

Year    Hornsby     Williams
1915     0              13
1916     6              12
1917     8               5
1918     5               6
1919     8               9
1920     9              15
1921    21              18
1922    42              26
1923    17              41
1924    25              24
1925    39              13
1926    11              18
1927    26              20
1928    21              12
1929    39               5
1930     2               0

Once the home run totals went up in 1921, Hornsby pulled ahead, but not
consistently far ahead, and Williams’ advantage during the homer drought of
the teens kept him in the lead.

Williams wasn’t one-fifth the player Hornsby was–he couldn’t hold a candle
to Hornsby’s batting average, his doubles and triples power was nowhere
near, he didn’t have as good a batting eye, and he appears to have been a
terrible baserunner. But as a home run hitter, he really was more than
Hornsby’s equal.

7. Charley Jones (actual HR: 56. "1998 HR": 954)

Who?

WHO??

Charles Wesley "Baby" Jones, that’s who. One of the finest hitters of the
first eleven years of what we now recognize as major league baseball,
that’s who.

In 1876 Charley Jones finished second in the National League in home runs,
with 4. The league leader was George Hall, who hit 5. The entire league hit
40. In other words, two players, in an eight-team league, combined for
22.5% of the league’s homers. For McGwire and Sosa to have done that in
1998, they would have had to have combined for 289 home runs.

And unlike Hall, and most of the other good players of the 1870s, Jones
stuck around. He hit nine homers in 1879, setting a league record, and when
the first major leaguers hit double digits in home runs in 1883, Jones was
right there, hitting ten.

If you look at the "Adjusted Production" leaders in Total
Baseball
–basically OPS adjusted for park–Jones is there among the top
five in the league for each of his first eight seasons in the National
League or American Association. He didn’t play in either in 1881-82,
presumably because a "minor league" team was willing to pay him more money.
That’s a world-class hitter, friends, and the first great slugger the game
ever knew.

6. Harry Stovey (actual HR: 122. "1998 HR": 960)

And here’s the second great slugger the game ever knew. Stovey was the
first player to hit 100 homers in his career, and one of the first three to
break double digits for a season. (In 1883, when Charley Jones hit ten,
Stovey hit fourteen.) What’s more, he spent his prime in the American
Association, where homers were, on average, about one-third scarcer than in
the National League at the same time.

5. Hank Aaron (actual HR: 755. "1998 HR": 998)

You’ve heard of this gentleman, I suppose. Aaron played at a time when home
runs were more plentiful than ever before. (This makes sense–most
significant records are set, in large part, because the circumstances are
optimal for setting them.) Even though he’s the most productive home run
hitter the game has ever recorded, and even though he played at a time when
home runs were easier to get, he still would have hit almost one-third
more homers had he played his entire career under 1998 circumstances.

4. Jimmie Foxx (actual HR: 534. "1998 HR": 1036)

3. Lou Gehrig (actual HR: 493. "1998 HR": 1080)

Yes, four players would have broken the 1000 mark for their careers. Foxx
and Gehrig, of course, were contemporaries. It’s a little startling, at
first, to see them rate so high–after all, we think of the twenties and
thirties as a golden age for home run hitters, mostly due to the efforts of
Foxx and Gehrig (and the shorter-careered Hank Greenberg). However, they
weren’t really. The leaders’ totals were certainly pretty high, but the
league as a whole wasn’t clobbering them out the way they do today.

From 1925 (Gehrig’s first full season) to 1941 (Foxx’s last), the American
league team average of home runs per game ranged from a low of 0.344 (in
1926) to a high of 0.713 (in 1940). In general, the rate crept upward
through the twenties and thirties, which is why Gehrig, with fewer actual
dingers in his career, wound up ahead of Foxx–his career, and his
productive years, were a few years earlier.

In 1998, American League teams hit 1.102 homers per game. So even in the
"golden age of sluggers", balls were flying out of the park, on average,
about half as frequently as they did last year.

The only suspense left, really, is who wound up in second. Can anyone out
there guess?

2. Mel Ott (actual HR: 511. "1998 HR": 1136)

Oh yes, Mel Ott. And here we encounter an incompleteness in my methodology.
Namely: Mel Ott has Larry Walker‘s problem.

Larry Walker is, legitimately, one of the best players in the National
League today. He hits for a high average, he’s got great power and
excellent strike zone judgement, and is, by reputation, a superior glove in
right field. Imagine Larry Walker’s prime lasting about sixteen seasons,
knock about six inches off his height, and you have Mel Ott.

Oh, in case you forgot: Larry Walker, who would be a legitimate All-Star
wherever he plays, happens to play in the ballpark which most inflates his
statistics from the superb to the astronomical. That’s Mel Ott too.

As you probably know, Ott gained more home runs through park illusions than
any other player in history. In his career, he hit 323 HR at home, and 188
on the road. My little calculations don’t compensate for this. If we’re
projecting Ott’s career into 1998, we’re also, implicitly, projecting it
into Coors Field.

He’s still very very good, though: if we do the quick-and-dirty calculation
to park-adjust his home run total (that 1136 times (188+188) divided by
(323+188), kids) he winds up with 836 "1998 park-neutral homers", which
still might place him thirteenth on the all-time list. I say "might"
because I haven’t done park adjustments on anyone else yet! (The actual
calculation would be a tad more complicated, though, giving Ott one-seventh
credit for the homers he did hit in the Polo Grounds.)

(Okay, coming attractions! As soon as I get the numbers, I’ll get out a
follow-up list on the best era-neutral, park-neutral home run hitters in
history. Watch this space.)

1. Babe Ruth (actual HR: 714. "1998 HR": 2205)

Yes, he damn near laps the field, he does. Babe Ruth singlehandedly made
the early twenties look like a good era for home run hitters, where in fact
it was just a fantastic era for him and him alone.

Looking back at the overall list of the top 30, 24 are in the Hall of Fame.
The missing six: Harry Stovey, Charley Jones, Cy Williams, Gavvy Cravath,
Harry Davis, and Dave Kingman. Am I implicitly arguing that they should all
get more serious consideration?

Not as such. Kingman, of course, will probably reign for a while as "the
eligible player with the most home runs who isn’t in the Hall," and, well,
someone’s got to hold that title, and a one-dimensional slugger like Kingman is
the perfect player to do it.

As for the others…we do have to consider how their abilities contributed
to their teams’ performance. Let’s face it–Charley Jones’ 9 homers in 1879
is a tremendous achievement, but didn’t necessarily help the team all that
much. He did hit a rate much higher than the average player, but that’s
still just 8 home runs better than the average player.

Basically, Jones had an ability which didn’t have a lot of outcome on the
games he played. The National League of 1879 was a league of pitching,
fielding, and the ability to get on base. Jones’ ability to hit home runs
helped his team only slightly more than his ability to shoot free throws or
toss a salad.

If Jones had played in the mid-20th century, his ability to hit home runs
at a rate much greater than the league average would have led more directly
to more wins for his team, and there’s a good chance he would have put
together what is more obviously a Hall of Fame career.As it is, he would
have been a more justifiable candidate if his career had been about six
years longer–he was only a major league regular for 10 seasons. The same
can be said for Cravath (8 seasons). The peak of his career was marvelous,
but his entire career just wasn’t long enough. On the other hand, you could
sort of say the same things about Hank Greenberg and Ralph Kiner if you
wanted to…

Harry Stovey has a much stronger claim. It also wasn’t an especially long
career, but he was a regular for 13 seasons, and if you look at his record
you see black ink everywhere. If I had to push for the enshrinement of any
of the above six, it would be Stovey, but it’s based on his whole record,
not just his home runs.

Davis and Williams just plain ol’ weren’t of Hall of Fame caliber, no
matter how you slice it.


SINGLE-SEASON LEADERS

This list is more just for fun, but also shows how the ability of the best
sluggers to distance themselves from the rest of the league has dimished
over time–the Law of Competitive Balance at work! If the numbers seem
vertiginously high, then just cut them in half and announce that they’re in
a 1935 context. (Or, cut them by a third and say that it’s 1992.)

Best Single-Season Home Run Totals If They Played in 1998:

1. Charley Jones, 1879   200
2. Babe Ruth, 1920       198
3. Babe Ruth, 1927       185
4. Paul Hines, 1878      180
5. Lip Pike, 1877        169
6. Harry Stovey, 1883    165
7. Babe Ruth, 1919       162
8t. George Hall, 1876    157
8t. Babe Ruth, 1924      157
10t. Babe Ruth, 1918     156
10t. Tilly Walker, 1918  156
12. Babe Ruth, 1928      151
13. Babe Ruth, 1926      150
14. Gavvy Cravath, 1915  146
15. Lou Gehrig, 1927     145
16. Buck Freeman, 1899   144
17. Dan Brouthers, 1881  142
18. Charley Jones, 1878  135
19t. Jim O'Rourke, 1879  133
19t. George Wood, 1882   133

There’s one notable omission from this list–the biggest single-season home
run total of the nineteenth century. Ned Williamson‘s park-aided 27 dingers
in 1884, however, translates to "only" 115 home runs by 1998 standards.
Lakefront Park, with its legendary short fences, distorted the league’s
stats so much that the home run total of the entire National League more
than doubled in that one year. (Note the National League’s 1884 home run
spike in the chart.)

Basically, what we’ve got here is nineteenth-century players and Babe Ruth.
Let’s knock out one of those groups…

Best Single-Season Home Run Totals (1901-1998) If They Played In 1998:

1. Babe Ruth, 1920         198
2. Babe Ruth, 1927         185
3. Babe Ruth, 1919         162
4. Babe Ruth, 1924         157
5t. Babe Ruth, 1918        156
5t. Tilly Walker, 1918     156
7. Babe Ruth, 1928         151
8. Babe Ruth, 1926         150
9. Gavvy Cravath, 1915     146
10. Lou Gehrig, 1927       145
11. Tim Jordan, 1906       128
12. Babe Ruth, 1923        125
13. Harry Davis, 1906      118
14. Wally Pipp, 1916       114
15. Ty Cobb, 1909          112
16. Jimmie Foxx, 1932      111
17t. Tim Jordan, 1908      108
17t. Rogers Hornsby, 1922  108
17t. Lou Gehrig, 1931      108
17t. Babe Ruth, 1931       108

Jimmie Foxx is, chronologically, the last entrant on this list. The
following year (1933), he would be the last player (so far, at least) to
record the 1998 equivalent of 100 homers.

Getting even more recent…

Best Single-Season Home Run Totals (1946-1998) If They Played In 1998:

1. Hank Greenberg, 1946     92
2. Mike Schmidt, 1981       85
3t. Ted Williams, 1946      79
3t. Ralph Kiner, 1949       79
5t. Ralph Kiner, 1947       78
5t. Johnny Mize, 1947       78
5t. Mike Schmidt, 1980      78
8t. Joe DiMaggio, 1948      74
8t. Mark McGwire, 1998      74
10t. Willie Stargell, 1971  70
10t. Kevin Mitchell, 1989   70
10t. Sammy Sosa, 1998       70
13t. Hank Aaron, 1971       69
13t. Mike Schmidt, 1976     69
15t. Willie McCovey, 1968   68
15t. Dave Kingman, 1979     68
17t. Roger Maris, 1961      67
17t. Willie Mays, 1965      67
17t. Frank Howard, 1968     67
17t. Dave Kingman, 1976     67
17t. Cecil Fielder, 1990    67
17t. Matt Williams, 1994    67

The astute will notice that McGwire’s and Sosa’s "1998" home run totals
have crept upwards from the actual number they posted last year. This is
because the National League homered at a less frequent rate than the AL,
and when we project players into 1998, we project them into an
all-major-league-wide context.

I think we’ve got McGwire accurately pegged here–he’s about as great a
home run threat, relative to his league, as Ralph Kiner and Mike Schmidt
were. That sounds about right.

In case you’re wondering…the lowest league-leading "1998" total was
recorded in 1965. If the 1965 American League had somehow been transported
into the 1998 major leagues, no one would have hit more homers than Tony
Conigliaro
‘s 39.


CONCLUSION

So. What does this all mean?

Well, there are a few conclusions we can draw from this:

  1. Babe Ruth, was, comparing across eras, far and away the most dominant
    home run hitter in major league history.

  2. Before 1940, the best home run hitters stood out from the league average
    far more than they do today.

  3. If the 1998 circumstances hold for long enough, Aaron’s career record
    will very likely be broken, and possibly be broken repeatedly.

Let’s look at it this way: by 1998 standards, 14 players (including, of
course, Aaron himself) would have hit more than 755 home runs. That’s over
125 years of baseball history, so one of these players shows up, on the
average, about every nine years.

So, if the 1998 circumstances are in play for the next twenty years or so,
there’s a one-ninth chance (about 11%) that someone who played his first
game in 1999 will break the record. If you expand it to a two-year sample
(players who debut in 1999 and 2000), the chances go up to about 21%. If
1998 HR rates hold for the next 30 years or so (enough for ten years’ worth
of players to enter the majors and have careers long enough to have a
shot), then the odds are about 70% that Aaron’s record will be broken, and
there’s about a 31% chance that it will be surpassed more than once. (And
that’s just counting the theoretical players who haven’t played a game yet,
so it doesn’t count Griffey, McGwire, A-Rod, and other current players who
have established a shot.)

Which is very interesting, but that ain’t gonna happen that way. Nothing in
baseball stands still for five years, let alone thirty.


James Kushner lives in Los Angeles, and is an irregular contributor to
Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached at
myhill@ucla.edu.

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siddhartha6543
4/10
This article is so crazy fun to look back on.