Minneapolis Millers fans had good reason to be excited over the team's acquisition of first-baseman Joe Hauser in the spring of 1932. With a right-field fence only 279 feet from home plate, Minneapolis's cozy Nicollet Park seemed a perfect fit for the man who had many years before established a reputation as a bona-fide longball threat.
Hauser had begun his professional career as an outfielder with Providence of the Eastern League in 1918. It was two years later, while playing for the American Association Brewers in his hometown of Milwaukee, that Joe acquired the moniker that would stay with him throughout his career: Unser Choe (a German expression for "Our Joe"). "Because I lived in Milwaukee, nobody was supposed to ride me," Joe explains, "but when I had a bad day and some fans did, others would tell them to knock it off because 'Das ist Unser Choe.'"
Hauser came up to the majors with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1922 and had his best year in 1924, at the age of 25, when he hit .288 with 27 home runs and 115 RBIs. But a chance to follow up on that performance in 1925 was missed when he broke his leg in spring training and spent the entire season on the shelf. A comeback attempt in 1926 was hampered by his still-crippled leg; Hauser played in only 91 games and saw his average plummet to .192.
Another season in the minors followed, but in 1928 Hauser returned to the A's. With six home runs and a .400-plus batting average during spring training, Joe appeared ready to resume what he had started in 1924. Hauser said he continued his torrid hitting through the first two months of the regular season until a sudden-and seemingly inexplicable-turnaround in his hitting ensued. One year later, he was back in the minors-this time to stay.
Hauser blames the premature end of his major-league career on a 1928 teammate with the A's-Ty Cobb. "Cobb had told me during spring training that he would help me with my hitting when we got up north," Hauser recalled 56 years later. "About 35 to 40 games into the season, he started getting on my back to crowd the plate. I had to nearly hit the ball with my elbows, and I could not hit like that." Although Cobb remarked, in his 1960 biography, "In all modesty, I could teach hitting," Hauser laments that "he drove me out of the big leagues by trying to teach me how to hit when I was already hitting .365."
(The facts don't back up Hauser's recollections of his torrid hitting at the beginning of the 1928 season. Bob Hoie of the Society for American Baseball Research reports that Hauser was hitting in the .290s after 35 to 40 games, not .365 as Hauser remembered. "Hauser hit .286, 12-for-42, in the first three weeks of the season," says Hoie, "went 10-for-17 from May 7 to 12, then hit .238, 20-for-84, for the next four weeks. He was hitting in the .280s a month later and .270 a month after that." He was hitting .375 on May 12, nineteen games into the season.)
Far away from Cobb in 1930, Unser Choe regained his batting touch with the Baltimore Orioles of the International League, setting an organized baseball single-season record with 63 home runs. Hauser led the International League in home runs again the following year, but in 1932, just prior to the opening of the season, he was sold to the Millers of the American Association.
Envisioning what the sinewy southpaw-swinging slugger would do to the fences of Nicollet Park, Millers owner Mike Kelley was prompted to ship the team's incumbent first baseman, George "High Pockets" Kelly, to the Brooklyn Dodgers in exchange for pitcher Clyde (Pea Ridge) Day.
Hauser delivered, but not before causing Kelley to second-guess his decision to swap a future Hall of Famer (George Kelly) for the champion hog caller of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, to make room for Joe. Homerless and struggling to keep his average over .200, Hauser finally flexed his muscles and hit his first two home runs as a Miller in the team's 18th game. The log-jam broken, Hauser went on to lead the Association with 49 round-trippers. With the pennant-winning Millers bound for the Junior World Series against the champions of the International League, manager Donie Bush kept Hauser on the bench to rest a groin injury the final three weeks of the season, costing Joe a shot at the league record of 54 home runs, set by Nick Cullop of the Millers in 1930.
Despite losing the Junior World Series to the Newark Bears in six games, the Millers were again picked as the team to beat in the American Association in 1933. Dave "Beauty" Bancroft had replaced Bush as manager, but still had most of the 1932 arsenal: Andy Cohen, Joe Mowry, Spencer Harris, Foster "Babe" Ganzel, and Hauser.
In 1933, a decision by the league was made to reduce the schedule from 168 to 154 games, and, when Hauser failed to clear the fences in the first nine of those games, Joe's prospects for eclipsing his 1932 output seemed dim. In the Millers' home opener, though, Unser Choe went the opposite way with a three-run homer over the left-field fence in his first at-bat of the season at Nicollet. Three more home runs, including a grand slam, followed the next day, and Hauser was on his way.
By the end of June, his total had reached 32, far in front of all rivals. Homers in seven straight games in mid-July gave him 41, within striking distance of the league record with barely more than half the season gone. Joe surpassed his previous year's total and reached the half-century mark on July 27 in Milwaukee. Two weeks later, his 54th and 55th home runs, in consecutive games off Mud Hen pitching in Toledo, tied and broke Cullop's standard. Joe Hauser now held the single-season home run record in both the International League and American Association. His August 20 round-tripper gave him the distinction of being the first player to hit 60 home runs in a season twice.
Hauser stalled momentarily after number 62, only one shy of his own all-time record, as the team went into the traditional Labor Day doubleheader with the St. Paul Saints. The new record did not appear likely to occur in the morning game at St. Paul. With a 30-foot high wall at the top of a ten-foot embankment, measuring 365 feet down the line, Lexington Park's right-field fence was the most uninviting target in the league for left-handed hitters.
"You big bohunk, you can't hit a home run anywhere except that pillbox in Minneapolis," shouted a fan as Hauser, hitless in his first three at-bats, stepped to the plate in the seventh. Joe answered the heckler with a long drive over the distant wall, then followed it up with another shot in the ninth, thereby breaking the record that he himself had set only three years earlier with the Orioles. In doing so, Hauser also became the first player to hit two home runs in a game over Lexington's right-field fence since the park was rebuilt in 1915.
Hauser added five more during the following week, but his shot at 70 was washed out when rain cancelled the Millers' final game of the season. In addition to the new benchmark of 69 home runs, Joe also led the league with 182 RBIs and established a new league record, which still stands, with 439 total bases.
In 1934 Hauser produced the long ball early, avoiding the power shortage that had plagued him in each of the previous two seasons' starts. With 11 home runs in the Millers' first ten games, Joe seemed destined to rewrite the record book before the ink had even dried on the old mark.
A knee injury in June sidelined Hauser for three weeks, but he picked up the pace upon his return to the lineup in July (even adding two home runs and six RBIs in the Association All-Star Game at Nicollet Park), and appeared certain to be his league's home-run leader for the fifth consecutive year. On July 29, however, with 33 home runs already under his belt, Hauser fractured his kneecap while rounding third base in Kansas City. With his leg in a cast, Hauser could do nothing the final two months of the season but helplessly watch teammate Buzz Arlett surpass his total and go on to take the league crown.
Hauser played two more seasons for the Millers before retiring from the game and moving to Sheboygan, Wisconsin in 1937. He came out of retirement in 1940, playing three more seasons for Sheboygan in the Wisconsin State League. He lived in Sheboygan the rest of his life, operating his own sporting goods equipment store, the Joe Hauser Sports Shop, until May of 1984.
Despite all the long balls, Hauser said he could not recall ever receiving a handshake for his heroics. Now, he added with a chuckle, "These guys get embraced when they hit a long fly ball."
Hauser's home-run record has since been tied and later broken at lower classifications of the minor leagues-by Bob Crues with Amarillo of the West Texas-New Mexico League in 1948 (69 home runs) and by Joe Bauman with Roswell (New Mexico) of the Longhorn League in 1954 (72). It was not until 1998 that Hauser's total was topped in the big leagues, by Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals, who hit 70 home runs.
With home run records still standing in two different leagues, and 478 round-trippers racked up during a 21-year career in organized baseball, Joe Hauser remains-to this day-a deserving recipient of the title "Home Run King."
Hauser died July 11, 1997 at the age of 98. He is buried alongside his wife, Irene, who died in 1986, in Calvary Cemetery in Sheboygan.
Letter from Hauser to author, August 1984.
Phone call between Hauser and author, December 1984.
Letter from Bob Hoie to Jim Summers, July 26, 1991.
George A. Barton. "Hauser Establishes New All-Time Record of 65 Home Runs". Minneapolis Tribune, September 5, 1933.
Newspaper accounts from the 1933 and 1934 seasons.