Harvest Seasons: Most Runs Batted In with Fewest Home Runs Since 1920

This article was written by James D. Smith III

This article was published in the 1983 Baseball Research Journal


Most modern-day fans see a close connection between large numbers of home runs and equally impressive runs-batted-in figures in a given season. There are certainly sound reasons for this perception, based both in the ancient rules (a four-base hit scores all runners ahead of the batter) and six decades’ evidence parading Ruth, Gehrig, and their kind.

In the past 25 years, however, something entirely new has come upon the major league scene: the player who hits 40 home runs while batting in fewer than 100 runs. Duke Snider (40/92) was the first to do so, in 1957. The following season, Mickey Mantle (42/97) followed suit, repeating in 1960 (40/94). Rico Petrocelli (40/97) became the only shortstop to do it, in 1969. That same season, Hank Aaron (44/97) turned the trick, and in 1973 (40/96) joined his second base teammate Dave Johnson (43/99) on the list. Harmon Killebrew’s 1963 season (45/96) deserves special mention, with the Twins’ outfielder blasting the most home runs while falling short of the 100 RBI mark.

This phenomenon, however, represents only part of a larger trend. With the advent of the “lively ball,” in 1922 both Babe Ruth (35/99) and Tilly Walker of the A’s (37/99) hit at least 35 home runs without driving home   100 runs. A quarter-century passed before another major leaguer matched this “shortfall” performance, as Hank Sauer compiled 35/97 marks in 1948. Since that time, however, this feat has been accomplished a total of 34 times, the last being by Dave Kingman (37/99) and Mike Schmidt (35/87) in 1982. Fourteen times a player with 35 home runs has failed to drive in 90 runs, with Wally Post and the rookie Frank Robinson batting in but 83 in 1956.

Whatever the exact figures, there are many fine seasons represented in the efforts described above. These players, however, stand in sharp contrast to another, seldom-recognized, group of major leaguers. This select company is composed of those who have driven in the most runs during a season while hitting the fewest home runs.

We are aware that Hugh Jennings is credited with knocking in 121 runs in that big batting year of 1896 without hitting a home run; and that Lave Cross’ 108 RBIs in 1902 were produced without a four-bagger. However, we are limiting our brief study to the modern period of 1920 to the present, not because the RBI became fully official in 1920, but because the home run component came into relatively equal prominence with the RBI at that point. The lively ball made for more Ruthian home run hitters, sweeping the bases ahead of all others.

After 1920 it became rather exceptional to see batters like Larry Gardner, Joe Sewell, and Pie Traynor knock in 100 runs with only 2-3 home runs. Sewell almost made the list in 1925 when he hit only one homer and knocked in 98 runs. In most cases the clubs these run producers played for had healthy team averages around .300, there were no full-blown home run hitters in the lineup, and the individual hit for a good average himself.

There were a few exceptions. In 1931, for example, Pie Traynor of the Pirates knocked in 103 runs while hitting only two round-trippers and batting only .298. The club was sixth in batting (.266) and fifth in scoring runs. Six other Pirates hit more home runs than Traynor, but no one else knocked in more than 70 runs, which was Paul Waner’s figure. There is no doubt that Traynor came through with men on base.

In 1934 Bill Rogell batted only .296 for the Tigers, and his 3 home runs could not compare with Hank Greenberg’s 26, but he still batted in 100 runs. However, the Tigers batted .300 that season and scored a very high number of runs – 958 to 842 for the runner-up Yankees. Rogell batted sixth behind Gehringer (third), Greenberg (fourth) and Goslin, all of whom knocked in 100 or more runs.

In 1943, Billy Herman hit two homers and knocked in 100 runs for the Dodgers. However, he batted a solid .330 and the Bums, in spite of little help from their fading home run hitter, Dolf Camilli, led the league in runs.

Gradually it became more and more difficult to collect 100 RBIs with fewer than 10 homers. Pinky Higgins and Frank McCormick both finished with 5/106 in 1938; and Cecil Travis and Bob Elliott were both 7/101 in 1941 and 1943 respectively. Herman’s exceptional record in 1943 stood out in comparison.

In 1950, Detroit third baseman George Kell (8/101) became the last player to post an RBI total in three figures with a single figure HR mark. The shift was already in motion. When Kell played his last season in 1957 Duke Snider became a “first” in the other direction with 40 homers and 92 RBI. In 1983 it looked like Ted Simmons might be a throw-back to earlier decades when he was knocking in runs without the long ball. However, by the end of the season his round-trippers had gone up to 13 and his RBIs stood at 108.

Here are the two extremes: Those players with 40 home runs and fewer than 100 RBIs, and those players who knocked in 100 runs with three or fewer four-baggers. Although the period is restricted to 1920 to the present, the two groups still fall into separate eras.

 

Note: All stats through 1983 season.

Year

Player and Club

HR

RBI

1963

Harmon Killebrew, Twins

45

96

1969

Henry Aaron, Braves

44

97

1973

Dave Johnson, Braves

43

99

1958

Mickey Mantle, Yankees

42

97

1957

Duke Snider, Dodgers

40

92

1960

Mickey Mantle, Yankees

40

94

1969

Rico Petrocelli, Red Sox

40

97

1973

Henry Aaron, Braves

40

96

       

1931

Pie Traynor, Pirates

2

103

1943

Billy Herman, Dodgers

2

100

1928

Pie Traynor, Pirates

3

124

1920

Larry Gardner, Indians

3

118

1921

Larry Gardner, Indians

3

115

1923

Joe Sewell, Indians

3

109

1924

Earl Sheely, White Sox

3

103

1921

Ross Youngs, Giants

3

102

1934

Bill Rogell, Tigers

3

100

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