If you listen to the PosCast — new episode just released on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Audioboom or a podcast filling station near you — you know that Michael Schur and I like creating pretty random statistical combinations.
This began when we spent 2017 rooting for Tommy Pham to achieve The Pham which, as everyone knows, is a .300 batting average, .400 on-base percentage, .500 slugging percentage. It may seem odd that this statistic was called “The Pham” before Tommy Pham actually achieved it.
But, that isn’t odd at all. No, what’s odd is that in 2018, we rooted for Scooter Gennett to achieve The Scooter, that famous combination of 45 walks, 35 doubles, 25 homers and 15 grounded into double plays. The reason that’s odd is that Gennett did not achieve it — did not in fact reach ANY of the thresholds — and yet it’s STILL called “The Scooter.”
Baseball is a funny game.
This year, we have created several new “statistics” — and you can follow along on this amazing PosCast Player Tracker, created by brilliant reader Alan Clements. We have the Baylor (30 walks, 30 hit by pitch and 30 home runs) and the Double Baylor (30 walks, 30 hit by pitch, 30 home runs and 30 doubles) and what we are now calling the Half Baylor though I’m thinking we should actually call the Michael Bay(lor) (more hit by pitches than walks).
We got the Gallo — 40 home runs and fewer than 100 hits.
The Quad-Franmil would be given to a player who hit four times as many home runs as doubles, though Franmil Reyes probably blew his chances Friday night by hitting a double.
And so on.
I bring it up because as silly as all this is, I do think Mike and I were deeply influenced by an odd combination of statistics that filled our imaginations when we were young. I’m talking, of course, about the 30-30.*
*OK, this has nothing to do with this 30-30 post but you probably know that I have publicly announced on the PosCast that if the current two-homer streak reaches 19 games, that I will pick it up again. The streak is now at two because five players hit two homers on Friday night — Minnesota’s Miguel Sano and Jake Cave, Boston’s J.D. Martinez, Miami’s Starlin Castro and the Yankees’ Didi Gregorius. We need this to end before it begins.
The 30-30, as you undoubtedly know, means hitting 30 home runs and stealing 30 bases in a season. We had our first 30-30 season achieved on Friday night when the wonderful Ronald Acuña Jr. stole a base in the eighth inning of the Braves 2-1 victory over the Mets. It was his 30th stolen base of the season, and he already has hit 36 home runs. He has an outside shot at 40 homers, 40 stolen bases, though I don’t think it’s important enough for him to actually steal 10 more bases.
Either way, he became the 41st player in Major League history to pull off a 30-30, and he was promptly welcomed into the club by the sixth player to do it, the marvelous Dale Murphy.
Atlanta Braves @BravesWelcome to the club, @ronaldacunajr24! #ChopOn https://t.co/YEKLrW4OKd
Murph plays a pretty big role in the 30-30 story for reasons that have as much to do with storytelling as anything on the baseball diamond.
Let’s take a quick trip down the 30-30 rabbit hole.
A St. Louis Browns player named Ken Williams was the first 30-30 guy in Major League Baseball history. Williams was an interesting character; he didn’t get a chance to play full-time in the big leagues until he was 30 — and in the decade after he hit .325/.400/.547 for a 141 OPS+. Nobody knew him. There’s a famous story that a photographer was sent to get a photo of Williams hitting. He happened to go on the day that Williams hit three home runs in a game.
The photographer sent back photos of his teammate Bill Jacobson instead.
In 1922, Williams led the American League with 39 home runs — this was one of only two years between 1918 and 1931 that Babe Ruth did not lead the league in homers. He also 37 bases, which was second in the league to his teammate George Sisler.
That’s the first 30-30 season.
And nobody cared. Nobody even noticed. That was the same year Sisler hit .420 so he was the one who got the attention. Being overlooked was just Ken Williams’ destiny.
It would be another 34 years before the next 30-30 season … and that one belonged to Willie Mays. In 1956, Mays hit 36 home runs and stole a league-leading 40 bases. The next year, Mays did it again, this time hitting 35 home runs and stealing and league leading 38 bases. He never went 30-30 again, but that’s only because he didn’t know 30-30 would ever be considered a thing.
Years later when Jose Canseco became the first to go 40-40, someone asked Mays about it. He said that if he had known anyone cared about such combinations, he would have gone 50-50 … and I have no doubt that he would have.
Henry Aaron had his lone 30-30 season in 1963. So he was the third to do it.
In 1970, Tommy Harper — who led the Major leagues in steals twice — had a bizarre power surge and hit 31 home runs (he’d hit nine homers the year before). Paired with 38 stolen bases, he had a 30-30 season and put up a legitimate MVP season.
Then came Bobby Bonds. Well, Bonds actually had his first 30-30 in 1969, one year before Harper, but the point is not hit first 30-30. It is that he had FIVE of them. In many ways, he was the one who INVENTED the 30-30.
For a decade, he ALWAYS went 30-30 or at least came close:
1969: 32 homers, 45 stolen bases
1970: 26 homers, 48 stolen bases
1971: 33 homers, 26 stolen bases
1972: 26 homers, 44 stolen bases
1973: 39 homers, 43 stolen bases
1974: 21 homers, 41 stolen bases
1975: 32 homers, 30 stolen bases
1976: 10 homers, 30 stolen bases
1977: 37 homers, 41 stolen bases
1978: 31 homers, 43 stolen bases
1979: 25 homers, 34 stolen bases
That’s five 30-30 seasons, and 11 straight seasons where he achieved at least one of the 30s. Other than Harper’s surprising season, Bonds was the only 30-30 guy in the 1970s — he OWNED the number.
But here was the thing: Bobby Bonds was also intensely unpopular. He was traded six times between 1974 and 1979. So the idea of the 30-30 as a measure of greatness didn’t really take off with him.
No, it took off with Murph.
Dale Murphy was a great player. It begins there. I’ve been a longtime advocate for Murph as a Hall of Famer because of the height of his peak, the positive impact he had on baseball and because voters who are so ready to invoke the Hall of Fame character clause to disqualify certain players do not use it to enough to celebrate others like Murphy. From 1980-1987, in full seasons Murphy hit .289/.383/.532 and averaged 36 homers, 105 RBIs, 110 runs. He won two MVP awards and five Gold Gloves in the process. He picked up the mantle from Henry Aaron in spreading a love of big league baseball throughout the South.
But there was something else to be said about Murph — something we have seen in players from Pete Rose to Steve Garvey to Jim Rice to Dave Winfield to Jack Morris to Don Mattingly to Dennis Eckersley to Derek Jeter to Omar Vizquel to Bryce Harper: We WANT these guys to be great. We look away from their weaknesses, and, even more, we hungrily salute their achievements.
So when Dale Murphy had 30 homers and 30 stolen bases in a season, well, that number suddenly felt like a big deal. It suddenly felt like a confirmation of what we already knew — the Murph was AWESOME. He won his second-consecutive MVP award with that 30-30 season (and deserved it, I think) and for a time was this sense that one of the most thrilling things a player could do was hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in the same season. Murphy opened the door.
And a whole bunch of players walked through.
In 1987, four years after Murph set the stage, four different players — Eric Davis, Darryl Strawberry, Joe Carter and Howard Johnson — all had 30-30 seasons. The next year, Canseco had his historic 40-40 season, the first in baseball history.
And then came Barry Bonds, Bobby’s son, to take it all to an even higher level.
Twelve different players had 30-30 seasons in the 1990s led by Barry, who, like his father, did it five times. Four other players had multiple 30-30 seasons in the decade and each of them is interesting to me:
— Ron Gant did it in 1990 and 1991. It’s easy to forget just how good a player Ron Gant was, particularly before the strike. In 1990, he hit 303/.357/.549 with 32 homers, 33 steals and 107 runs scored. I tend to believe that if he’d pulled off that EXACT same season the next year, when the Braves went from last to first, he might have won the MVP award. As it turns out, in 1991 he had another 30-30 season, but his batting average tumbled to .251 and he finished sixth in the MVP voting behind his teammate Terry Pendleton.
— Raúl Mondesi had 30-30 seasons in 1997 and 1999. Remember when Mondesi was basically EVERYTHING? He hit for power, he stole bases, he hit .300, he had that Roberto Clemente arm, etc. This guy was going to be an all-time great. That doesn’t seem so long ago and yet it obviously was because now his son Adalberto leads the American League in triples.
— Jeff Bagwell also had 30-30 seasons in 1997 and 1999. I think Bagwell represents a certain type of player, one who inspires a feeling that goes something like this: “Whoa! I had no idea that Jeff Bagwell/Paul Goldschmidt/Christian Yelich/Carlos Lee/Shin Soo-Choo stole bases!”
— Sammy Sosa had 30-30 seasons in 1993 and 1995. There was this feeling in the home run summer of 1998 that Sosa had just kind of appeared out of nowhere. He had that zany June when he hit like 493 home runs and around the country people said: Who is this guy? But by then, Sosa already had two 30-30 seasons and, separately, a 40-homer season.
Twelve different players had 30-30 seasons in the 2000s, led by Alfonso Soriano’s four. Vlad Guerrero and Bobby Abreu were the only other players to have multiple 30-30 seasons … I think the most surprising players in the bunch were sons of famous players. Preston Wilson, Mookie’s stepson, did it in 2000. José Cruz Jr. did it in 2001.
One player has had multiple 30-30 seasons this decade. It’s a great trivia question: See if you can name him. He’s DEFINITELY a Bagwell.
In the meantime, I will tell you that Acuña Jr. was the eighth player to go 30-30 this decade. The 30-30 season as become more a curiosity than a sign of greatness — few care about it anymore, in large part because few care about stolen bases. Nobody is going to steal 50 bases this year. It’s unlikely that anyone in the National League will even steal 40. With all the home runs flying out, why would you EVER try to steal a base?
Put it another way: Yelich absolutely could have a 30-30 season — he has 41 homers and 24 stolen bases — but is it really worth it to send Yelich? If he got hurt trying to steal a base, there would be a whole long SERIES of firings in Milwaukee.
But Acuña got there, and he really is incredibly exciting to watch. Say what you want about the value of a 30-30 season — those guys really are exciting.
By the way, the player who has multiple 30-30 seasons this decade? It’s Ryan Braun. I wouldn’t have guessed that.