Maryland: Home of Homer Hitters

This article was written by Don Nelson

This article was published in the The National Pastime: Monumental Baseball (Washington, DC, 2009)


Maryland has produced five of the top 53 major league–leading career home-run hitters through the 2008 season:

  • Babe Ruth (b. Baltimore), 714 career HRs, no. 3 all-time
  • Jimmie Foxx (b. Sudlersville), 534 HRs, no. 16
  • Cal Ripken Jr. (b. Havre de Grace), 431 HRs, no. 38
  • Al Kaline (b. Baltimore), 399 HRs, no. 44 (tie)
  • Harold Baines (b. Easton), 384 HRs, no. 53

Marylanders dominated HR hitters for the decades of 1910, ’20, ’30, and ’40. Ruth is the leading home-run hitter of any of the decades from 1900 to 2008 (1920–29 = 467 HRs); Foxx is second for any decade (1930–39 = 415 HRs). Frank Baker (born and died in Trappe) is no. 2 for the Deadball period of 1910–19 (76 HR and no. 1 AL; Gavvy Cravath, with 1 6 HRs, led the majors for the decade of the ’10s). Bill Nicholson (born and died in Chestertown) is no. 3 in MLB and no. 2 NL = 21 HRs for the ‘40s. (Ted Williams is no. 1 in MLB for the ’40s = 234 HRs; Johnny Mize led the NL with 217.) (See table 1.)

All of the above are in the Hall of Fame except Baines and Nicholson.

 

Table 1. Maryland’s Best MLB HR Hitters, by Decade, 1910s–1940s

Table 1. Maryland’s Best MLB HR Hitters, by Decade, 1910s–1940s (GARY SARNOFF)

(Click image to enlarge)

 

Other notable career sluggers born in Maryland:

  • Brady Anderson (b. Silver Spring), 210 HRs (hit 50 in 1996, “the year of the homer”), no. 258 tie
  • Mark Teixeira (b. Severna Park), 203 HRs, no. 275 tie*
  • Charlie Keller (b. Middletown), 189 HRs, no. 309 tie
  • Brian Jordan (b. Baltimore), 184 HRs, no. 323 tie
  • Bob Robertson (b. Frostburg), 151 HRs (hit three HRs and drove in five runs for the Pirates in Game Two of the NL playoffs in 1971).

* As of the close of the 2008 season

That means Maryland is the birthplace to 10 of the top 325 all-time homer hitters (Nicholson with 235 is tied for no. 222).

A little about each of the Old Line State’s native sluggers: What more can be said that hasn’t already been written about Babe Ruth? His legend, more than 1 0 years after his birth and more than 60 years following his death, continues to grow. I daresay Ruth’s name and image appear in the media today more than any other person’s, save the president of the United States. He is the most famous baseball player of all time. He was born and raised in Maryland’s largest city, went to “school” there, broke in with the International League’s Baltimore Orioles, and has a museum at his birthplace, 216 Emory Street, Baltimore, a few blocks from Orioles Park at Camden Yards. His single-season record of 60 homers in 1927 stood for 34 years, and his career HR record of 714 lasted for 39.

Jimmie “the Beast” Foxx was born and raised on a farm outside the tiny town of Sudlersville on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. There is a statue of Jimmie in the center of Sudlersville (population 390); the town honored him in 2007 on the one hundredth anniversary of his birth.

Foxx won baseball’s Triple Crown in 1933. He batted .356 with 48 homers and 163 RBIs. He nearly had three TCs: in 1932, he led the AL with 58 HRs (his career high) and 169 RBIs. He narrowly missed the batting title, as his .364 (a career high) was second to Dale Alexander’s .367. The third assault on the TC came in 1938, when he drove home a career-best 175 runs and batted .349 for league leads, but his 50 circuit clouts were second to Hank Greenberg’s 58. He was named Most Valuable Player in those three years—1932, ’33, and ’38.

Cal Ripken Jr., a living legend, is, of course, best known for his consecutive-games playing streak, 2,632 games. He played his entire major-league career—21 years— with the Orioles. The record streak may never be broken. He is now owner of the Class A Aberdeen (Maryland) IronBirds, an affiliate of the Orioles in the New York–Pennsylvania League. The IronBirds play in beautiful 6,000-seat Ripken Stadium. It’s a hard ticket to an IronBirds game; every home game has been sold out since 2002.

Cal is from a Maryland baseball family. Brother Bill played in the majors for the Orioles, 1987–92 and ’96, and for three other AL teams (Texas, Cleveland, and Detroit), spanning 1 seasons (he hit 20 HRs in 912 games). Father Cal Sr. was a player, scout, coach, and manager for 36 years with the Baltimore Orioles organization. He managed the big club in 1987 and part of ’88. He is also credited with managing one game in 1985. He died in 1999 at age 63.

Al Kaline never played in the minors. His 22 years with the Tigers tie him with Mel Ott of the Giants and Stan Musial of the Cardinals for the second-longest career with one team. (Brooks Robinson and Carl Yastrzemski lead, with 23 years.) He won the AL batting title in 1955, .340. He is still in the Tigers organization.

Harold Baines likewise played 22 years in the majors, but with five teams, belonging to two teams more than once (Baltimore and White Sox three times each). He is presently coach for the White Sox and still makes his off-season home in St. Michaels, a picturesque fishing village and tourist destination on the Eastern Shore.

Only one of these three sluggers—Ripken, Kaline, and Baines—ever hit as many as 30 home runs in a season; Ripken cracked 34 in 1991. (See table 2.)

 

Table 2. Maryland’s Best MLB HR Hitters, by Decade, 1950s–2001

Table 2. Maryland’s Best MLB HR Hitters, by Decade, 1950s–2001 (GARY SARNOFF)

 

Frank “Home Run” Baker’s name says it all. Playing third base in the Deadball Era (before1920), when a home run was a novelty, he led the AL in HRs four times and RBIs twice (see table 1). He got his nickname by hitting a dinger in two successive World Series games in 191 , one a game-winner, the second a game-tier for the victorious Philadelphia Athletics. He discovered Jimmie Foxx and recommended him to Connie Mack.

It may come as a surprise that Bill “Swish” Nicholson was a leading home-run hitter of the 1940s, when there were other sluggers around (besides Williams and Mize), such as Ralph Kiner, Hank Greenberg, Rudy York, Ott, Joe DiMaggio, Keller, and Stan Musial. But Big Nick was the only one of these big hitters to play all 10 seasons of the ’40s. Swish clouted more roundtrippers—96—than anyone else during the four World War II campaigns, 1942–45. He edged out Ott, who had 95 big ones, and York from the AL, who hit 91 in the war years. Bill’s small hometown (population 7,500 in 2000) is only about 18 miles from Foxx’s home. Nicholson and Double-X were on the same team, the 1944 Cubs, and Nicholson has a statue, too.

Brady Anderson, he of the long sideburns, had his big year while batting leadoff for the Orioles. This was a spike in his career; his next-best season for homers was 24, less than half as many as his big-output season. (Other batters also “spiked” in their playing days.) He played for the Birds for 14 years, 1988–2001, with partial seasons with the Red Sox in 1988 and the Indians in 2002.

Mark Teixeira is carrying the torch for Maryland homerun hitters today, as the only native of the state hitting ’em out regularly. He debuted in 2003 with Texas and hit 43 HRs for the Rangers in 2005. He was traded from the Braves to the Angels in 2008, and the 29-year-old signed an eight-year deal with the Yankees before the 2009 season.

Charlie “King Kong” Keller (he never liked the nickname) was born in Middletown (present population 2,670), a village in north central Maryland near Frederick. His best year for the long ball was 1941, when he cracked 33 for the powerful world champion Yankees. He knocked three out as a rookie for the victorious Yankees in the ’39 Series. He was the brother of Hal Keller, another major leaguer. Following his playing days, he founded Yankeeland farm outside Middletown and was a successful horse breeder. Born in 1916, he died in 1990, at age 72.

Brian Jordan performed in the big leagues with four teams (Atlanta twice) in 15 seasons, from 1992 through 2006. His high-water mark for round-trippers, 25, came in two different years, 1998 and 2001.

Bob Robertson had his 15 minutes of fame in the Pirates’ 1971 postseason. He walloped six homers in 1 contests, hit .317, and batted in 1 runs for the world champions. His best HR year was 1970, when he swatted 27 for the Bucs. He played first base for 1 years with Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Toronto from 1967 through 79, missing 1968 and 1977.

At least one of the 12 players discussed here has been on a major-league roster every one of the past 100 years, from Baker in 1908 through Teixeira in 2008.

What is it about Maryland homer hitters? Is it the water? Maryland has plenty of that!

 

Sources

Baseball-reference.com.

Bucek, Jeanine, ed. The Baseball Encyclopedia, 10th ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1996).

Neft, David S., R. M. Cohen, and M. O. Neft. The Sports Encyclopedia of Baseball, 27th ed. (New York: St. Martin Griffin), 2007.

Wikipedia.org.

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