The Greatest Baseball Spans Ever
OK, so the essential Baseball-Reference has yet another incredibly cool new feature called “Spans,” which allows you to take a look at a player or team over a span of games. It’s incredibly useful for something small, such as “Who hit the most home runs over five games?*”
*Answer: Shawn Green, who in 2002 hit nine home runs in a five-game span against Arizona and Milwaukee. This included his four-homer game on May 23, and also two other two-homer games. Six other players hit eight homers over a five-game span:
Kyle Schwarber, 2021
Josh Hamilton, 2012
Barry Bonds, 2001
Manny Ramirez, 1998
Frank Howard, 1968
Ralph Kiner, 1947
But I think it’s especially fun to look at the greatest 162-game spans in baseball history:
Most home runs
Barry Bonds, April 2001-April 2002 — 80 homers.
Yeah, that’s right, over 162 games, Bonds hit .353/.545/.924 with, brace yourself, 80 home runs. That’s right. Barry Bonds hit 80 home runs over 162 games. Now, we obviously know that Bonds was using performance-enhancing drugs. So you can disqualify him for that if you want (and I’m sure some of you already have).
But I will say that even if you want to take Bonds’ remarkable performance at something close to face value, there is still a reason to mark this down. Yes, Bonds is the only player in baseball history to hit 80 home runs in a 162-game span, but only barely. Mark McGwire, from May 1999 to May 2000, hit 79 home runs.
And Sammy Sosa, from May 1998 to May 1999, hit 76 home runs.
So while 80 home runs in 162 games looks like an optical illusion now, in context it was not entirely out of the ordinary in his time, before drug testing, when the strike zone was wallet-sized, when ballparks were scaled for home runs, etc.
In case you are wondering (and I know you are) here are the most home runs over 162 games for a few of your favorite all-time sluggers:
Babe Ruth (1927-28): 71 homers
Ken Griffey Jr. (1997-98): 66 homers
Roger Maris (1961-62): 64 homers
Jimmie Foxx (1931-33) 61 homers
Mickey Mantle (1960-61): 61 homers
Mike Trout (2019-2021): 59 homers
Henry Aaron (1969-70): 57 homers
Willie Mays (1964-66): 57 homers
Albert Pujols (2005-2007): 55 homers
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Napoleon Lajoie, April 1901-June 1902 — 281 hits.
George Sisler, May 1920-June 1921 — 281 hits.
I really expected to see Ichiro at the top here, but he’s actually nowhere near the top. In Ichiro’s remarkable 2004 season, when he set the record with 262 hits, he played in 161 games. His best 162-game span was from May 1 that year to April 30 the next, at 272 hits — that’s the most hits for the span over the last 90 or so years (it’s below Lajoie, Sisler, Lefty O’Doul (280) and Ty Cobb (275)).
I would take Lajoie’s record less seriously than the rest — that was in 1901, the first year of the American League, when the level of competition was exceptionally low. Lajoie that year hit .426/.463/.643 and basically led the new league in everything — runs, doubles, homers, RBIs, etc. He was just that much better than everyone else.
During Sisler’s span, he hit .421/.469/.675 with 58 doubles, 23 triples, 22 home runs and 47 stolen bases. That will play. But you know what stands out for me in that? The .469 on-base percentage. Sisler was no fan of walking.
Most Stolen Bases
Rickey Henderson, August 1981-August 1982 — 141 stolen bases.
Well, you knew the answer here would be Rickey. The only real question was if anyone else would be close.
And the answer is: No. Nobody else is even close. Vince Coleman (1986-87) and Lou Brock (1973-74) had 123 stolen bases over the span. Rickey was a man apart — and our pal Howard Bryant has a must-read new book about Rickey coming out in a couple of weeks, and I want to point out the Amazon page simply to show that the book is currently No. 4 on Amazon in “soccer biographies.” I simply cannot imagine anything more Rickey than his book being listed in soccer biographies.
The most stolen bases over the span in this century is 89 — Billy Hamilton and Scott Podsednik both did that.
Here, by the way, are the Molina leaders:
Yadier Molina, 2012-13, 15 stolen bases.
Jose Molina, 2010-12: 6 stolen bases.
Bengie Molina, 2006-08, 1 stolen base.
Lou Gehrig, September 1930-September 1931 — 198 RBIs
Gehrig, interestingly enough, was a better RBI man than Babe Ruth. Yes, Ruth ended up with more career RBIs, but per 162 games, Gehrig averaged 149 RBIs and Ruth 143. Ruth’s career high in RBIs was 168; Gehrig topped that number three times.
Of course, a big reason why Gehrig was a better RBI man was that he hit BEHIND Ruth, who was on base all the time because of the walks. There were just more RBI opportunities for him. For example, based on the best information we have, Gehrig came to the plate 79 more times with the bases loaded than Ruth did (and he hit 10 more grand slams).
Since 1969 (the Divisional Era), the most RBIs over a 162-game span is 190 — that was achieved by MannyBManny between June 1998 and July 1999. In 1999, Ramirez drove in 165 runs — the most for any player in the Expansion Era. In fact, if you want to find the last player to drive in that many runs, you have to go back to 1938 and Jimmie Foxx.
I bring this up because Ramirez did not win the MVP in 1999, even though RBIs had long been the top indicator for MVP voting success. Pedro Martinez, who went 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA with 313 strikeouts and 37 walks — I’d argue this was the greatest pitching season of my lifetime — did not win the award, either.
Instead it went to Ivan Rodriguez, who certainly had a fine offensive year and was a defensive dynamo but … I don’t think that one holds up too well.
Highest Batting Average (Divisional Era)
Tony Gwynn, July 1993-May 1995 — .402 batting average.
In that stretch, Gwynn had 251 hits in 624 at-bats with 53 doubles, 1 triple, 15 home runs and — get this — 22 strikeouts.
The only other player in the Divisional Era to hit .400 over 162 games probably won’t surprise you — it was Wade Boggs, from June 1985 to June 1986, when he hit .401. Boggs had a lot of plate appearances over his stretch — 755 to be exact* — but he walked a lot more than Gwynn (and struck out more, too).
Rod Carew ALMOST hit .400 from May 1977 to May 1978 — he ended up at .399. He needed just one more hit.
Here’s an interesting side note — George Brett never really came all that close to hitting .400 over a 162-game span. Part of what made his 1980 season — when he hit .390 and was pushing for .400 almost to the very end — was that he was hurt much of the season. For a time, there was a chance he would not get enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title (which, weirdly, might have opened the door for Miguel Dilone to win a batting title).
The best average that Brett ever managed for 162 games was .378, from July 1979 to September 1980.
*The most plate appearances over a 162-game span is a ridiculous 814 by Frankie Crosetti, from 1937 to 1938. Crosetti was the leadoff hitter for those dominant Yankees offenses, so he just kept coming up repeatedly. Red Rolfe, who hit second in that lineup, had an absurd 795 plate appearances over that same period.
In the Divisional Era, the most plate appearances over the span is 793 by Jimmy Rollins.
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