Here were Hank Aaron’s annual home run totals from 1966 to 1974: 44, 39, 29, 44, 38, 47, 34, 40, 20.
That’s a total of 124 over nine seasons for Johnson, and 335 for Aaron over the same span.
And yet, if you follow carefully, you’ll notice that in 1973, Johnson smashed more homers than Aaron, 43 to 40. And it turns out they were teammates that season, on the Braves.
Sure, the second baseman wound up with nearly more 200 more plate appearances during that, his best offensive season, when he also set career highs in runs scored, hits, walks and RBI. But still, that’s fairly crazy.
It was brought to my attention by the above graphic, which ran on Fox Sports South during last week’s Braves-Nats series. And it sent me into the archives, where I found this story from the New York Times, which ran in late September of 1973. The dateline was L.A.
“A crowd of 40,000 (including 31,012 paying at Dodger Stadium tonight), disappointed at Hank Aaron’s decision not to play or even pinch hit, had to settle for seeing another sort of home-run history being made by Davey Johnson, who hit his 43rd homer of the season as the Atlanta Braves lost to Los Angeles, 4-1,” the story began.
“Johnson’s blow, giving Phil Niekro a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning, broke a 51-year old record for homers by a second baseman, set in 1922 by Rogers Hornsby.”
“Eager to see Aaron try to add to his total of 711 homers, Los Angels fans turned out in surprising numbers, bringing Dodger season attendance past 1,980,000....
“Johnson, who hit only 66 home runs in seven full seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, blossomed as a home-run hitter only this season after being traded to the Braves.”
“He is only the 47th player in major league history to reach the 40-homer level, and of the other 46, only two — Hornsby and Ernie Banks, who was a shortstop — were middle infielders, positions where defensive skills are primary.”
Maybe I should have known all this. But I didn’t.