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All-Time Home Run List Shifted in 1966

September 27, 2020

Hugh Atkins

Willie Mays and his 660 career home runs recently were in the news. When I started following baseball in 1966 only four players had more home runs than Mays. Of course, Babe Ruth was the undisputed Home Run King with 714. Jimmie Foxx was a distant second with 534, Ted Williams had 521, and Mel Ott was the National League career leader with 511. Rounding out the list of the top-ten home run hitters were Lou Gehrig with 493, Ed Mathews with 477, Stan Musial with 475, Mickey Mantle with 473, and Duke Snider with 407.

The first alteration to the Top 10 list occurred on May 4 when Mays hit his seventh home run of the season, the 512th of his career, moving him past Ott into fourth place. A week later on May 11, Henry Aaron hit his tenth home run of the season, the 408th of his career, moving him past Snider into 10th place. Before Aaron could pass Snider, he first had to pass Ernie Banks, which he did on April 29 with his seventh homer of the season and 405th of his career.

© THE TOPPS COMPANY, INC

On May 25 Mantle hit two home runs, numbers 476 and 477, moving him past Musial into eighth place on the all-time list. On June 27, Mays hit his 17th home run of the season, and that moved him past Williams into third place with 522.

Things got a little interesting the following night. Mantle crushed two home runs, numbers eight and nine on the season, giving him 482 for his career, and tying him with Mathews for seventh place. The next day, Mathews hit his sixth home run of the season, pulling back ahead of Mantle, and dropping Mantle back into eighth place. But that night, Mantle again slugged two home runs, tying and then passing Mathews for good.

Mantle moved another notch up the all-time list on July 24 when he hit his 21st home run of the season, the 494th of his career, moving him past Gehrig into sixth place. Mantle hit two more homers that season to finish four shy of 500.

On August 17 Mays hit his 30th home run of the season, giving him 535 for his career, and moving him past Foxx for second place. Mays hit seven more homers that season leaving him 172 behind Ruth and the top spot on the list.

© THE TOPPS COMPANY, INC

On September 11 Mathews hit his 16th, and final, home run of the season, tying him with Gehrig for seventh place on the all-time list. In an odd twist, even though Mathews was just seven homers short of 500, the Atlanta Braves traded him to the Houston Astros after the season for a dead-armed pitcher and a journeyman outfielder with a .212 career batting average.

Getting back to Banks, on June 22 he hit his fourth home run of the season and moved past Snider for 11th place. With Aaron surging up the list and the big gap to reach Musial, it took Banks until Opening Day of the 1969 season to crack the top 10. With the final home run of his career on August 24, 1971, Banks passed Ott and tied Mathews for seventh place with 512. He didn’t stay there very long, however, because on September 21, Harmon Killebrew hit his 513th home run.

Finally, here is where each player on the Top 10 list at the end of the 1965 season ranked when they finished their careers: Ruth-1 (1935); Foxx-2 (1945); Williams-3 (1960); Ott-3 (1947); Mays-3 (1973); Gehrig-2 (1939); Mathews-6 (1968); Musial-5 (1963); Mantle-3 (1968); Snider-10 (1964).

Home Run Leaders – 1965   Home Run Leaders – 1966    
Babe Ruth 714 Babe Ruth   714
Jimmie Foxx 534 Willie Mays   542
Ted Williams 521 Jimmie Foxx   534
Mel Ott 511 Ted Williams   521
Willie Mays 505 Mel Ott   511
Lou Gehrig 493 Mickey Mantle   496
Ed Mathews 477 Lou Gehrig   493
Stan Musial 475 Ed Mathews   493
Mickey Mantle 473 Stan Musial   475
Duke Snider 407 Henry Aaron   442
The Shifting All-Time Home Run List 1965 – 1966

The 28,000 fans rose and whistled and stomped and clapped and cheered and wouldn’t quit until Mays poked his head out of the dugout not once but two times. For this was number 512, and no National Leaguer ever hit that many home runs before.

–Harry Jupiter, San Francisco Examiner, May 5, 1966

(Home Run totals at the end of the various seasons are from Baseball Reference. Dates of historic home runs are from Retrosheet.)

 

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Lamar Bradley permalink
    September 29, 2020 9:33 am

    Great read! Back in those days I would eagerly await the publication of the annual Street & Smith baseball guide to see how active players were progressing against the career leaders. I remember looking at Ruth’s 714 HR, Walter Johnson’s 3508 strikeouts, Lou Gehrig’s 2138 consecutive games, and Cobb’s career hits and stolen base records and thinking that no one would ever break those records, and all have since been eclipsed.

    Like

    • September 30, 2020 11:57 am

      Thanks for checking out my post. I vaguely remember talk among the Braves broadcasters when Mathews and Mantle were jockeying for seventh place on the list. Yeah, there were lots of records I always thought were safe. It’s odd, DiMaggio’s 56-game streak was one I thought might someday fall, and it has outlasted the ones you mentioned and many others.

      Like

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