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40 x 3 in 1973

September 22, 2019

Hugh Atkins

Heading into their final six games of the season, the Atlanta Braves have a decent chance to finish the season with three players hitting over 40 home runs. Ronald Acuña already has 41 homers, Freddie Freeman has 38, and Josh Donaldson has 37. Only three times in major league history has a team had three players top 40 home runs in the same season; in 1973 the Braves were the first to do it, and the Colorado Rockies did it in 1996 and 1997.

In 1973 Henry Aaron hit 40 homers, and Darrell Evans hit 41; Dave Johnson was the unlikely member of the trio with 43 round-trippers. In 1996 Ellis Burks and Vinny Castilla each hit 40 home runs, and Andres Galarraga hit 47. The next season, Castilla and Galarraga each hit 40, and Larry Walker joined the parade with 49.

© T.C.G.

As the Braves headed into their final six games of the 1973 season, Johnson already had his home run total for the year, while Aaron and Evans were sitting on 39 each. Evans reached 40 in game 160, and Aaron joined the club in game 161, leaving him at 713 for his career; Evans also hit his final homer of the season in that game.

Johnson joined the Braves in 1973 after spending his first eight seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, where he played on four World Series teams, winning in 1966 and 1970. Johnson was an All Star in 1968, 1969, and 1970 and won Gold Gloves at second base in 1969, 1970, and 1971. After hitting a career-high 18 home runs in 1971, Johnson slumped to five in 1972 while hitting just .221. During the offseason, the Orioles traded him to the Braves for catcher Earl Williams, the 1971 National League Rookie of the Year, and infielder Taylor Duncan.

In addition to Johnson, Baltimore sent pitchers Pat Dobson and Roric Harrison and catcher Johnny Oates to the Braves. The Braves needed pitching, and Dobson had won 20 games for the Orioles in 1971, while Harrison posted a 2.30 earned run average in 39 games in 1972. Oates would replace Williams behind the plate, and the Braves likely figured Johnson would bounce back some at the plate, while at least playing good defense at second base.

© Strat-O-Matic Game Co.

Until joining the Braves, Johnson had hit just 66 homers. Unfortunately, Johnson came back to earth in 1974 and hit just 15 home runs. After one game in 1975, Johnson left the Braves and went to play in Japan. Johnson also committed 30 errors in 1973, so the Braves didn’t get the good defense they expected.

As for the rest of the players the Braves got from Baltimore, Dobson was 3-7 with a 4.99 ERA in 12 games before the Braves basically gave him to the New York Yankees. Harrison was decent, 11-6 with a 4.16 ERA in 1973, but dropped to 6-11 and a 4.71 ERA in 1974; his time in Atlanta was over before the 1975 All-Star Game. In two seasons with Atlanta, Oates hit .227 with seven home runs and 50 RBIs; after appearing in eight games in 1975, the Atlanta sent him to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Those 43 home runs by Johnson were the only bright spot of the trade for the Braves, because even though they had three players with 40 or more homers in 1973, they finished in fifth place.

If Freeman and Donaldson join Acuña with 40 home runs, they won’t have to worry about such a poor finish because the Braves wrapped up the division title with seven games left on the schedule.

(Statistics are from Baseball Reference and Baseball Almanac; game details are from Retrosheet. You can find more on40 X 3 in 1973by accessing the link.)

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