When Joe Bauman Hit 72 Home Runs

This article was written by Bart Ripp

This article was published in the 1980 Baseball Research Journal


Some places where only baseball is played are called fields, like Wrigley. Others are parks, as in Fenway. In Roswell, New Mexico, it’s a hybrid: Park Field.

Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth never played at Park Field. Roger Mans and Mickey Mantle never were cheered there. George Foster and Jim Rice have never hit home runs at Park Field. Joe Bauman did.

Where the box seats sat and the clubhouses stood at Park Field, there are now just slabs of concrete, with rabbit-brush and blazing-star sprouting through the cracks. The left field scoreboard is no more. There used to be a wooden fence around the outfield, but it’s gone, too, replaced by chicken wire.

Joe Bauman was a 6-foot-5, 235-pound lefthanded hitter, with an uppercut swing that propelled baseballs over the right field wall, just 329 feet from home plate at Park Field. Twenty-six summers ago, Joe Bauman accomplished something that had never been done in professional baseball, something that has never been equaled.

Joe Bauman hit 72 home runs in one season.

Zooming into the record books for the Roswell Rockets in the old Class C Longhorn League in 1954, Bauman, then 32, not only hit a home run once every 6.9 at-bats, he led the league with a .400 batting average, 225 runs batted in, 456 total bases and 1 50 walks and played first base in all 138 of his club’s games. Bauman’s .916 slugging percentage was 69 points better than Ruth’s best.

Bauman was 58 years old on April 17. He is now the “Sultan of Schlitz” in Roswell, managing a beer distributorship for Albuquerque’s Pete Matteucci. Joe took time recently to rock in his office chair, left hand behind his head, smoke L&M cigarettes and remember a nine-year pro career in which he hit 337 home runs.

Bauman grew up in Oklahoma City, signed his first professional contract with Little Rock in 1941, served in the Navy as a landlocked ballplayer at Norman, Okla., then played three more years professionally. Except for one game with Milwaukee in Triple A, he never played at a higher classification than Class A ball. The property of the Boston Braves in 1948, Bauman quit the Hartford club after that season to run a Texaco gas station in Elk City, Okla. For the next three years, he changed oil and hit homers for the Elk City Elks semipro team.

“Boston had called me that winter of `52 and wanted me to go play for the Atlanta Crackers in double-A,” Bauman said. “But this doctor, I can’t recall his name now, he wanted me to play for Artesia in the Longhorn League.”

“Hell, I didn’t know they had baseball out there. Anyhow, this doctor wanted to buy my contract from Boston, and he did. I don’t know what he got, maybe a dollar bill or a jock strap. But he came back and we made the deal on the driveway of my service station. So, I came out to Artesia and played two years for the Drillers.”

Bauman drilled 50 homers in 1952, a league record 53 in 1953. He then bought his own release from Artesia and moved up Route 285 to Roswell.

“I was ready to move on,” Bauman said. “I always did like Roswell. Liked this part of the country after I got acquainted.”

Joe liked western skies, he liked seeing rabbits race tumbleweeds across the plains and most of all, he liked the 10-foot high whitewashed wooden fence 329 feet from the batter’s box at Park Field. He bought a gas station and renamed it Joe Bauman’s Texaco Service.

When the Rockets were home, Bauman pumped gas during the day, then pumped home runs out of Park Field at night.

By September 1, 1954, Bauman had hit 64 home runs in 131 games. The pro record was 69, set by Joe Hauser for Minneapolis in 1933 and tied by Bob Crues for Amarillo in 1948.

On the night of September 1, there were 524 at Park Field to see Roswell beat Sweetwater, 15-9. Joe hit four home runs. He also doubled, and his box score line for the evening read:

7 – 5 – 5 – 10

In the Roswell Daily Record, Buck Lanier’s column “Riding Herd on Sports,” stated that “The eyes of the United States are on Roswell at present. It isn’t too often that the activities of a Class C league are pegged on the national Associated Press trunk wires as prime material . . . If Joe does break it, pictures of him will be on the sports pages of every paper in the U.S.” Below Buck’s column was a Worley Auto Sales ad – you could buy a new Ford Mainliner, two-door, six-cylinder, for $1,645.

“I had to have something like that,” Bauman says, sitting in the deserted grandstand at Park Field. “I wasn’t really trying for home runs, but after I hit those four, I really got conscious of the durned record. It went from an impossibility to a possibility in one night.”

The next night, Bauman went from No. 4 in Rocket Manager Pat Stasey’s lineup to the leadoff spot, to get more times at bat. Bauman had two doubles, a single and a sacrifice fly. But Stasey, also Roswell’s third baseman, inserted himself into the seemingly magic cleanup slot and belted three home runs.

The evening of September 3 was Bauman’s last home game, with four more left on the road. “The pressure really mounted then,” said Bauman, watching the wind blow old newspapers against the mesh fence at Park Field. “There were four or five photographers shooting every time I went up to the plate. There were guys there from Life and Sports Illustrated, plus the local boys. They’d be snapping while I was hitting. It’s bound to affect you and it did me.”

Lanier’s game story the next day led with: “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy,” ending “altogether, it was a great night.” In between, Buck managed to mention Bauman’s three-run homer that sailed over the right field wall in the eighth inning and, incidentally, beat Midland, 7-4. It was Bauman’s 69th home run, tying the pro record. On the Roswell Daily Record sports page was a State TV ad for a “Precision Special Scintillator . . . it detects uranium deposits 100 times easier!” It cost $299.50.

The Rockets bused to Big Spring, Texas, and Bauman didn’t hit a home run in either of the next two games.

“They pitched around me in Big Spring,” Bauman says. “The fans in their own damn ballpark even got riled. So, we go down to Artesia and their manager, Jim Adair, told me before the game that he’s heard what happened in Big Spring. “We’re not gonna walk you,’ he told me.”

It was Sunday, September 5, a doubleheader between Roswell and the Artesia NuMexers on the final day of the regular season. In the first inning of the first game, Bauman hit No. 70 to set the record. The home run was smiting off Jose Galardo, who thus joined the gopher genre that includes Tom Zachary, Tracy Stallard and Al Downing.

Bauman hit two more home runs in the second game, one off John Goodell and No. 72 off Frank Galardo, uncle of Jose. There was no score mentioned in the Daily Record of that first game, but Roswell numbed the NuMexers, 17-0 in the nightcap.

“It was the ultimate thrill as far as I was concerned,” Bauman says of home run No. 70. “Artesia had a big ballpark – 350 or 60 feet down the right field line and the wind blew in against you.”

Joe’s quote in the next afternoon’s Daily Record was: “No. 70 was getting the piano stool off my back. No. 69 was the piano.” At the bottom of that page, the Big T Service Station, perhaps sensing the free publicity its competitor Bauman was reaping, took out an ad for gasoline costing 25.5 cents a gallon. The acts clever copy proclaimed:  “No tricky pills added, no horse-feathers, just plain, high grade gasoline.

On the following Sunday, September 12, the Daily Record wrote of Carlsbad’s Potashers eliminating Roswell from the league playoffs. Joe took out a three-column ad on the sports page and thanked local merchants and fans for their support. A photo showed Joe signing autographs for three boys wearing baseball caps. One boy studied the ball Joe had just signed, another looked up in awe at the slugger, while the third gazed at the right field wall, maybe imagining all those home runs sailing over it.

There was, and still is, a rodeo grounds beyond the right field wall. Joe’s home runs occasionally would splat into the ring; one might say he was swinging for bullseyes.

“It was easy to hit balls out here, in a sense,” Bauman says, glancing at the right field wall. “The ball carries so good here. Plus, we got a free ham for every home run. We had the best-fed ballclub in the country. . .”

Bauman didn’t even get a salary raise the next season. He slumped to a mere 46 home runs and 132 RBI in 1955. Slowed by injuries in 1956, he called it a career in mid-season after hitting 17 round trippers in 52 games.

Hillerich & Bradsby, the people who make Louisville Sluggers, took the bat Bauman bombed No. 70 with and used it in a traveling bat show. He received a black bat, with gold engraving, in return.

“I just look at that year as what it was. Nothing earthshattering,” Bauman says. “I didn’t get any real money out of it. Just a wonderful feeling. I sit around some nights, have a beer and get to thinking about the funny little things that happened. The home runs. The people. It seems like a long time ago. It reminds me how slow the world runs.”

Bauman puffed on his cigarette, ran his big left hand through his hair and looked out at the right field mesh fence where the wind had blown tumbleweeds and the old newspapers.

 

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