Sunday, September 25, 2016

Forty is the New Thirty: End of an Era

Back in the day, I ran this series here and at Bus Leagues called "Forty is the New Thirty." I forget how I first thought of it, but the premise was simple: call attention to the teams that experienced the longest droughts without a 40-homerun hitter.

I have two lists that I try to keep updated: the last player to hit 40 for each team and streaks of more than 10 seasons without a 40-homerun hitter. Usually I wait until the end of the season to update, so I don't get confused and miss information somewhere, but something happened a couple weeks ago that made me decide to write about it the next time I pulled out the laptop (and that happened to be tonight):

Brian Dozier of the Minnesota Twins hit his 40th homerun.

Now, this is noteworthy for two reasons: one, he is only the fourth second baseman to hit 40 homeruns in a season (off the top of my head: Rogers Hornsby, Davey Johnson, Ryne Sandberg...boom - assuming wherever I read that was accurate about the number? NAILED IT). That's a cool fact, but not the one I'm most excited about. I'm way more pumped about number two: he is the first Twin to hit 40 homeruns in a season since Harmon Killebrew in 1970.

The Twins had gone 45 seasons (1971-2015) without a 40-homerun hitter before Dozier took Detroit's Daniel Norris deep on September 12, the fourth longest streak of all-time. That's a fair bit of history to cast aside with one swing of the bat, but Dozier managed to do what Hrbek, Puckett, Mauer, Morneau, and others could not.

The longest active streak still belongs to the Kansas City Royals, who have never had a player hit 40 homeruns in a season in the team's 48-season history. The closest was Steve Balboni's 36 in 1985. The Pride of Brockton, Mass, had seven 30-homer seasons in his professional career, fittingly ending with 36 at the age of 36 in 1993. (He and Rob Deer were basically precursors to Russell Branyan - guys who were put on earth to hit homeruns, no matter what level of baseball they were playing). The Royals have a ways to go to catch the Chicago White Sox, who hold the all-time record with 73 consecutive 40-homerless seasons from 1920-92 (I'm not positive, but guessing I used 1920 as my start point), but are within striking distance of second-place St. Louis, who experienced a power outage for 57 seasons from 1941-97.

(My third favorite thing about the Royals' lack of power historically? The Kansas City Athletics never had a player hit 40 homeruns either, which means no one has ever done it for a Kansas City-based MLB team despite a franchise existing there since 1955 (except for a gap year in 1968). Also, for the record, my two favorite things about the Royals' situation is Steve Balboni's mustache and the fact that I used this to springboard into a small paid research opportunity for ESPN The Magazine several years ago.)

The second-longest active streak (and fifth-longest of all-time) now belongs to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have not had a 40-homerun hitter since Willie Stargell in 1973, a span of 43 seasons. The only other team without a 40-homerun hitter this millennium is Miami; the last (and only) Marlin to hit surpass 40 was Gary Sheffield in 1996. I keep waiting for Giancarlo Stanton to change that, and he keeps letting me down.