The statistic of the year reads: 72 HOME RUNS. It belongs to 32-year-old Joe Bauman of the Roswell (N. Mex.) Rockets, whose batting record at season's end last week sounded like something out of Paul Bunyan—72 home runs, 224 runs batted in, 188 runs scored, a .398 batting average.
Bauman demonstrated a Ruthian flair for the dramatic by hitting 10 homers in the last nine games, three on the last day, to set a new home-run record for organized ball (old record: 69—Joe Hauser, Minneapolis, 1933; Bob Crues, Amarillo, 1948). He was by far the most popular player in the league, principally because of his size (6 ft. 5 in., 245 lb.) and his slugging, but also because of the appealing home-town fact that he is now a permanent Roswell resident—he owns a service station there—and has no apparent desire to move back up the baseball ladder (he once played with Hartford in the Class A Eastern League).
Bauman was certainly the most spectacular minor leaguer but even better players were found higher up:
•The best pitcher was a tall, fast-balling left-hander named Herb Score who won 22 and lost 5 with the Indianapolis Indians, struck out 330 batters to break the American Association mark of 264 set in 1906 by Charles Henry Berger, and was named the Most Valuable Player in the league. Last weekend after striking out 16 men in his final regular season game Herb Score came down with pneumonia and was unable to start in the post-season play-offs.
•In nine years of minor-league ball, Bob Lennon had never hit .300, never more than 24 home runs. This season, his third with the Nashville Volunteers, he shortened his grip, lengthened his confidence and suddenly became a star. Last week as the season ended he had 64 home runs, 161 runs batted in and, with a .345 average, the Southern Association batting championship.
•Elston Howard, who may become the first Negro ever to play for the New York Yankees, was converted into a catcher in spring training and optioned to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Last week, his team trailing, Howard hit a two-run homer to clinch the pennant for the Leafs. Next day popular Elly Howard, his eye on the Yankees, was named Most Valuable Player in the International League.
•First Baseman Jim Marshall is probably the most valuable player on the Oakland Oaks: he is a superb fielder and a powerful hitter (he led the Pacific Coast League in home runs and runs batted in). But his greatest value lies in the fact that Marshall is owned outright by Oakland. His forthcoming sale to a major-league team will take the Oaks out of the red for 1954.
•And there were others. Branch Rickey offered no alibis for the last-place Pittsburgh Pirates but with an eye on his farms (10 of 14 teams were third or better, five finished first), he warned "A new day is coming." Prize Pirate farm hands included Bob Garber, Denver, who won 14 straight games; one-eyed Whammy Douglas, Brunswick, who won 27; Ramon Mejias, Waco, who hit in 55 straight games; Floyd Faust, Brunswick, who stole 73 bases. Prize of prizes: 20-year-old Gene Freese, New Orleans second baseman who in his second year of pro ball jumped from Class D to Class AA, batted .332 and was called by Rickey "the best ballplayer in the minor leagues today."
MINOR LEAGUE HERO: Joe Bauman collected fistful of cash from delighted Roswell, New Mexico fans after hitting record-tying 69th homer, showed money to two wide-eyed kids.
THESE MINOR LEAGUERS ARE DUE FOR MAJORS
Herb Score, 21, Indianapolis, pitcher.
Bob Lennon, 26, Nashville, outfielder.
Elston Howard, 25, Toronto, catcher.
Jim Marshall, 22, Oakland, first base.
To: high bidder.