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72 in ’54

October 3, 2022

Hugh Atkins

With Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees in pursuit of 62 home runs, I am reminded of Joe Bauman, who hit 72 homers for the Roswell Rockets in the Class-C Longhorn League back in 1954. I spoke with Mr. Bauman back in October 2001 and wrote an article about his incredible season for our local newspaper. At the time of our conversation, Mr. Bauman was living in Roswell, N.M., and we discussed his somewhat meandering baseball career.

Mr. Bauman was born and raised in Oklahoma City and signed his first professional contract with Little Rock in 1941 at the age of 19. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1942-1945 during World War II and played three more years for Little Rock before calling it quits after the 1948 season.

“LIttle Rock sold my contract to the old Boston Braves,” Mr. Bauman said. “Boston and I couldn’t agree on a salary. They didn’t want to pay anything, and I didn’t want to play for nothing.”

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For the next three years, Mr. Bauman played semi-pro baseball in Elk City, Okla. He bought a service station in that city and played baseball three or four days a week. When the oil in Elk City dried up, Mr. Bauman sold his service station. The Braves contacted him with an offer to play for the Class-AA Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association in 1952. But Mr. Bauman already had a prior commitment. “There was a doctor who came to the station there before I sold it,” Mr. Bauman said. “He asked me if I’d be interested in playing in Artesia. I didn’t even know where Artesia was.”

The doctor went to the minor league meetings and bought Mr. Bauman’s contract from the Braves, and Mr. Bauman moved to Artesia, N.M., where he played for two seasons. In 1952, Mr. Bauman hit .375 with 50 home runs and 157 runs batted in, and he clubbed another 53 homers the following season. Mr. Bauman then bought out his contract with Artesia, moved to Roswell, bought another service station, and signed a contract to play for the Rockets.

In addition to his 72 home runs in 1954, Mr. Bauman also hit .400, drove in 224 runs, had 456 total bases, and 150 walks; his slugging percentage was an incredible .916. Prior to Mr. Bauman, Joe Hauser (1933) and Bob Crues (1948) held the previous record for home runs in a professional season with 69. Mr. Bauman started the final day of the 1954 season tied with Hauser and Crues, but he hit three roundtrippers in a doubleheader at Artesia to set a new record.

Mr. Bauman and I spoke before there was any public speculation regarding the effects of performance-enhancing drugs on the soaring home run totals of the day. He had his own theory about what was causing the anomalies. “I think they’ve jacked that ball up,” he said. “It seems to go farther.”

The 6′-4″ slugger then added, “They talk about these guys being bigger and stronger, but I tell you, guys in my days were big and strong, too. Some of these guys that are small are hitting home runs; it just don’t make any difference.”

Since 2004, the top home run hitter in Minor League Baseball wins the Joe Bauman Home Run Award. The winner gets a trophy and $200 for each home run. That would have been worth $14,400 for Mr. Bauman in 1954.

After retiring from baseball, Mr. Bauman continued to operate his service station in Roswell. He passed away in 2005.

(All quotes from Mr. Joe Bauman are from our telephone conversation on October 16, 2001.)

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