A Chronology of the Best Leadoff Home Run Hitters

This article was written by Herm Krabbenhoft

This article was published in 2004 Baseball Research Journal

Undoubtedly, the best beginning (from the batting team’s perspective) to a baseball game is when the leadoff batter belts a home run. While the result is “only” one run, it is an instantaneous run which gives the batting team an immediate opportunity to win the game—“Ya can’t win if ya don’t score!”

So, which players have performed the best in terms of hitting leadoff homers throughout the history of major league baseball? In this article the chronology of the best leadoff home run hitters is provided.

To ascertain the best leadoff home run hitters, a two-part evaluation process is used. In Part 1, the focus is on single-season leadoff home run performance. Part 2 focuses on career leadoff home run accomplishments.

Before providing the findings of my research, it is important to know how the data for leadoff home runs were obtained. The primary source for information was The Home Run Encyclopedia, which covers all of the major league homers hit up through the 1995 season. For the 1996-2004 seasons, the SABR Home Run Log was utilized, thanks to the cooperation of David Vincent. Two independent steps were utilized for collecting (and verifying) the leadoff home run information.

First, I checked each player included in the hitter register of The Home Run Encyclopedia and recorded the number of leadoff home runs he hit in each season (from 1876 through 1995).

Next, I went through the “Yearly Home Run Totals by Team and League—Home Run Totals (by Hitter)” section and recorded the number of leadoff home runs credited to each team for each season from 1876 through 1995. Then, utilizing the complete player rosters available in The Great Encyclopedia of 19th Century Major League Baseball and the Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball, I recorded the names of the leadoff home run hitters for each team for each season from 1876 through 1995.

These two (seemingly redundant) steps were carried out so as to have an independent verification of each search—to make certain that I didn’t make any transcription errors and to make sure that the player-team information in The Home Run Encyclopedia was internally consistent. In other words, if the encyclopedia stated that the Red Sox had four leadoff homers in 1967, there has to be some number of Boston players with the same total of leadoff homers in 1967. And vice versa.

As it turned out, there was only a handful of leadoff home run inconsistencies in The Home Run Encyclopedia (perhaps due to incorrect inputting at the publisher’s end). Fortunately, these inconsistencies were readily cleared up by resorting to the SABR Home Run Log.


Table 1 lists the players who hit the most leadoff home runs during each season of the 1876-2004 period. For those players who were repeat leaders, a number in parentheses after the player’s name gives the number of times he was the single-season leader in leadoff homers.


Table 1. Single-Season Leaders in Leadoff Homers

(Click images to enlarge)


Table 1 shows that two players tied for the most single-season leadoff home run titles—Jimmy Ryan and Rickey Henderson—each with seven:

  • Ryan was the major league leadoff home run king in 1888 (4), 1889 (6), 1891 (2), 1893 (2), 1898 (1), 1899 (2), and 1902 (2).
  • Henderson won the ML LOHR crown in 1981(3), 1985 (7), 1986 (9), 1989 (5), 1990 (5), 1992 (5), and 1993 (8).

Thus, Jimmy Ryan and Rickey Henderson (whose careers were essentially 100 years apart) may be considered “the very best among the best” single-season leadoff home run hitters.

Next behind Ryan and Henderson were four players who each captured four single-season leadoff home run blue ribbons. Jesse Burkett spread his four out over two centuries— 1895 (2), 1901 (3), 1903 (1), and 1905 (1). Harry Hooper copped his four over a 10-year period—1913 (3), 1917 (1), 1920 (2), and 1922 (1). Hank Bauer earned his four in consecutive seasons—1955 (5), 1956 (3), 1957 (3), and 1958 (4). And Eddie Yost won his four LOHR titles over an 11-year span—1950 (3), 1956 (3), 1959 (5), and 1960 (3).

There were six players who were each three-time winners of a single-season leadoff home run gold medal—Bob Bescher (1909, 1910, and 1912); George Burns (1917, 1919, and 1922); Ray Blades (1924, 1925, and 1926); Felipe Alou (1965, 1966, and 1967); Bobby Bonds (1969, 1973, and 1975); and Davey Lopes (1978, 1979, and 1980).

There were 32 players who picked up a pair of leadoff home-run crowns, including Hall of Famers Billy Hamilton, Earle Combs, and Lou Brock.

The chronology of the players who first achieved each single-season milestone leadoff homer is summarized in Table 2.

Jack Remsen of the 1876 Hartford club smacked the first leadoff home run in major league history, on July 6 of that season. Interestingly, it was also his first major league homer and the only leadoff home run in his big league career.

Charley Jones of the 1878 Boston club was the first player to collect two leadoff homers in a single season. A few years later, the single-season mark was increased to three by George Wood of the 1882 Detroits and then to four by Buck Ewing of the 1883 New Yorks.

Jimmy Ryan of the Chicago club raised the bar for single-season leadoff homers to 6 in 1889. And it remained there for over 80 years (although three players managed to equal the mark—Eddie Joost (in 1948), Bert Campaneris (in 1970), and Tommy Harper (in 1970).


Table 2. Chronology of Players Who First Achieved Each Single-Season Milestone Leadoff Home Run (LOHR)






Players who subsequently equaled the milestone before the next was reached


Jack Remsen




J. Gerhardt (1876); G. Wright (1876); L. Pike (1877)


Charley Jones




H. Stovey (1880)


George Wood






Buck Ewing




A. Dalrymple (1884); J. Ryan (1888)


Jimmy Ryan




E. Joost (1948); B. Campaneris (1970); T. Harper (1970)


Bobby Bonds






Brady Anderson






Alfonso Soriano






In 1973, Bobby Bonds of the San Francisco Giants nearly doubled Ryan’s single-season leadoff home run record when he clouted 11. That mark lasted for over 20 years until Brady Anderson of the 1996 Baltimore Orioles became the first player to collect a dozen leadoff homers in a single season.

And in 2003, Alfonso Soriano of the New York Yankees upped the record to 13. Now, let’s take a look at career leadoff home run performance.


Table 3 presents the players who amassed 10 or more leadoff homers during the 1876-2004 period—72 players achieved the 10 LOHR plateau. Also provided for each of these players are the years of his first and last leadoff homers, the most leadoff homers he hit in a single season (S-S), and the (first) year that he achieved his single-season best for leadoff homers.


Table 3: Most Career LOHR, 1876-2003

(Click image to enlarge)


Rickey Henderson heads the list of players with the most career leadoff homers—“Mr. Make It Happen” amassed a phenomenal total of 81 game-starting homers in his career (1979-2003). Henderson hit 73 of his leadoff homers while playing in the junior circuit—the most in AL history. In second place is Brady Anderson (1992-2001) with career 44 career game-opening homers. And in third position is Craig Biggio (1988-2004), with 41 lifetime leadoff homers—all in the senior loop, and the most in NL history.

Rounding out the top-ten/eleven are Bobby Bonds (35), Ray Durham (34), Devon White (34), Paul Molitor (33), Chuck Knoblauch (31), Tony Phillips (29), Kenny Lofton (28), and Davey Lopes (28). Biggio, Durham, and Lofton are still active. It is significant to point out that 19th-century leadoff home run star Jimmy Ryan currently occupies the 17th position in the all-time list—more than 100 years after his final leadoff home run. He had held the major league lifetime leadoff homers record for nearly 70 years—from 1891 through 1958.

Three other 19th-century players are also included in Table 3—Tom Brown (13), Hardy Richardson (11) and George Wood (11).


Table 4. The First Major Leaguer to Achieve Each Career Milestone Leadoff Homer





Jack Remsen



Charley Jones



George Wood

1882; 1889


Jimmy Ryan

1891; 1902


Eddie Yost

1959; 1960


Bobby Bonds

1973; 1980


Rickey Henderson

1989; 2003


Table 4 lists those players who were first to achieve each career milestone leadoff homer. It is noted that these milestones include leadoff home runs hit in both the National and/or American Leagues (as well as the American Association, the Union Association, the Players League, and the Federal League). A total of seven players are listed—Jack Remsen, Charley Jones, George Wood, Jimmy Ryan, Eddie Yost, Bobby Bonds, and Rickey Henderson.

The first player to reach double digits in leadoff homers was George Wood, who collected his 10th LOHR in 1889. Jimmy Ryan was the first player to hit 20 career leadoff homers—he reached that plateau in 1900. Three-quarters of a century later, in 1975, Bobby Bonds became the first player to hit 30 career leadoff homers. Since 1989, it’s been all Rickey Henderson. Mr. “Make It Happen” has been the first player to reach each of the next several decile milestones in leadoff homers—40 (in 1989); 50 (in 1991); 60 (in 1993); 70 (in 1996); and 80 (in 2002).



Special thanks to David Vincent and all the other SABR members who contributed to the SABR Home Run Log—they truly are research enablers.