Forrest (Frosty) Kennedy died three months ago, without so much
as a moment of silence at any ballpark in the country. That was
a shame, because on Sept. 6, 1956, Kennedy, then a 30-year-old
first baseman for the Plainview (Texas) Ponies of the Class B
Southwestern League, blasted his 60th home run of the season,
against the San Angelo Colts. Kennedy was the last of three
sluggers to hit 60 in '56. Dick Stuart of the Lincoln Chiefs of
the Class A Western League, who would later destroy major league
pitching--both as a batter and as Dr. Strangeglove at first
base--and Ken Guettler of the Shreveport (La.) Sports of the
Double A Texas League had both reached 60 in August. Guettler
would finish with 62 homers and Stuart with 66, including 23
during a 28-game binge at midseason.
All of this underscores the fact that the monster homer season
once wasn't such a rarity, at least not in the minors. In 1930
Joe Hauser socked 63 homers for the Double A Baltimore Orioles,
then of the International League, and three years later he hit
69 for the Double A Minneapolis Millers of the American
Association. Between his 31st and 35th birthdays Hauser averaged
53 homers a season.
The fascinating thing about these forgotten sluggers is that the
American professional record for home runs in a season has
virtually always been held by a minor leaguer. When Babe Ruth
hit 54 for the 1920 Yankees, he surpassed Perry Werden's mark of
45 for the Minneapolis Miners of the Western League in 1895.
Ruth extended the record to 59 in 1921, but a future teammate,
second baseman Tony Lazzeri, answered with 60 for the Double A
Salt Lake City Bees of the Pacific Coast League in '25. Before
Ruth matched Lazzeri in '27, Moose Clabaugh of the Tyler Trojans
of the Class D East Texas League hit 62 in '26.
Hauser and others would eventually surpass Clabaugh and Ruth.
Bob Crues hit 69 for the Amarillo Gold Sox of the Class C West
Texas-New Mexico League in 1948 (driving in 254 runs--take that
Juan Gonzalez!), and Bob Lennon belted 64 for the Nashville Vols
of the Double A Southern Association in 1954. But the king of
home run hitters remains an obscure man named Joe Bauman who
played for the Roswell (N.Mex.) Rockets. In '54 Bauman became
the only one of the hundreds of thousands of men who have played
professional baseball in the U.S to hit as many as 70 homers in
one season. All the standard disclaimers apply: It was "just the
minors," the Roswell Rockets' Park Field stood 3,573 feet above
sea level, and most of the stadiums in the Class C (a step above
Class D, then the lowest classification in the minors) Longhorn
League were laid out to give hitters the advantage of the
Southwest's fairly constant 15- to 20-mph winds. On the other
hand, by '54 most minor league games were being played at night
under feeble lights that favored the pitchers. The
lefthanded-batting Bauman also had to contend with a 329-foot
rightfield corner in Roswell. Most convincingly, the 6'5",
235-pound Bauman hit his 72 homers in 138 games, a rate that
would have produced 85 of them in a 162-game schedule.
Bauman, who like Crues, Guettler and Kennedy never spent a day
in the majors, didn't dwell on his achievements. The ball that
he hit for his 72nd tater was on display at a Roswell museum,
and when asked about it later in life, he'd explain, "I've never
been over there, and I haven't seen it."
Wait a minute. The museum is in Roswell, N.Mex.? Near the site
of the alleged UFO crash in 1947? You don't suppose....
B/W PHOTO: COURTESY OF JOE BAUMAN [Joe Bauman]