Jan 16, 2013, 1:42 AM EDT
1987 was the first year I truly started paying attention to baseball statistics. I didn’t really get to watch any baseball; while I experienced the 1986 Braves season and that year’s playoffs on TV, I was without cable the following few years and NBC never came in very well through our antenna. However, I did start playing Little League, seriously collecting baseball cards and reading about Rotisserie League Baseball. Thus, baseball — and especially the numbers — became a big part of my life at age nine.
1987 was also the oddest baseball season in my lifetime. Maybe the oddest since World War II or even 1900, going by the numbers. That year’s stats would fit in nicely in 1935 or 2000, but they stick out like a sore thumb in the middle of what was a pitcher friendly era.
Most home runs in a season – 1980s
Andre Dawson – 49 – 1987
Mark McGwire – 49 – 1987
Mike Schmidt – 48 – 1980
George Bell – 47 - 1987
Kevin Mitchell – 47 – 1989
Dale Murphy – 44 – 1987
Highest OPS in a season – 1980s
George Brett – 1.118 – 1980
Jack Clark – 1.055 – 1987
Wade Boggs – 1.049 – 1987
Kevin Mitchell – 1.023 – 1989
George Brett – 1.022 – 1985
Mike Schmidt – 1.004 – 1980
Paul Molitor – 1.003 – 1987
Pedro Guerrero – .999 – 1985
Dale Murphy – .997 – 1987
Reggie Jackson – .995 – 1980
Eric Davis – .991 – 1987
Mark McGwire – .986 – 1987
Dwight Evans – .986 – 1987
Darryl Strawberry – .981 – 1987
That’s eight of the top 14 in the decade from 1987. If I went down further, it’d be 14 of the top 25, with Tony Gwynn, Bell, Guerrero, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell and Will Clark all joining the list.
In writing up some of Andre Dawson’s comments a couple of days ago, I made the point that Dawson might not be a Hall of Famer today if not for the unique conditions of 1987. A couple of people actually countered my assertion that there was anything different about that season. I think 14 of the top 25 OPSs of the decade makes a pretty good case that there was.
You’ll notice Dawson’s name isn’t anywhere in the above OPS list. Of course, 1987 was his MVP season, thanks to his NL-leading 49 homers and 137 RBI. However, his .287/.328/.568 line gave him just the league’s 10th best OPS. His 130 OPS+ that season was the seventh best mark of his career. Many would argue that he was a better player in his days with the Expos.
1987 saw 79 different players hit 20 homers, far and away a new major league record.
Players with 20+ homers:
1982 – 51
1983 – 41
1984 – 45
1985 – 59
1986 – 60
1987 – 79
1988 – 45
1989 – 38
1990 – 45
1991 – 51
1992 – 37
1993 – 62 (expansion)
The number likely would have increased steadily from there if not for the strike cutting into the 1994 and 1995 seasons. 1987′s record was broken in 1996 (83 players). That was the first of nine straight seasons with 80, topping out at 103 in 1999 and 102 in 2000. As you surely guessed, it’s slipped again of late, going from 92 to 87 to 77 to 68 to 79 the last five years.
Among the players to hit 20 homers in 1987 was future Hall of Famer Wade Boggs. One of the most intelligent hitters in the game’s history, Boggs probably could have hit 20 homers annually if he wanted to. 1987, though, was the only season he thought it made sense to do so. Outside of his 24 that year, his high water mark for homers was 11.
Back to Dawson for a second. Apart from 1987′s 49-homer campaign, his career high for homers was 32. But then he was far from the only Cub to set a career high for homers that year.
- First baseman Leon Durham had 27, five more than in any other season. It was his last useful season before substance-abuse problems ended his career.
- Third baseman Keith Moreland had 27, 11 more than his next best total. He hit 11 more total in his career.
- Left fielder Jerry Mumphrey hit 13 in 309 at-bats. He previously had six seasons of at least 400 at-bats, yet he had never topped nine homers. He finished his career with 73 homerless at-bats in 1988.
- Infielder Manny Trillo had eight homers in 214 at-bats as a 36-year-old utilityman, an average of one every 27 at-bats. He had 53 homers in his other 5,736 major league at-bats, an average of one every 108 at-bats. After 1987, he’d have 205 more major league at-bats and hit one homer.
- Outfielder Bob Dernier hit eight homers in 199 at-bats, twice as many as he had ever hit previously. He averaged a homer every 25 at-bats that year and one every 152 at-bats over the rest of his 10-year career.
Rafael Palmeiro, for what it’s worth, did not hit for his highest homer total as a 22-year-old rookie for the Cubs in 1987. However, after hitting 14 in 221 at-bats that year, he went on to hit a total of 16 in 1,139 at-bats over the next two years. He didn’t top 14 until 1991, though he did it a few times after that.
1987 also produced some weird statistics on the pitching side, most notably Nolan Ryan leading the NL in ERA while going 8-16 for Houston. Rick Sutcliffe led the NL with 18 wins, which was the lowest total ever to lead the league in a non-strike year until 2006 came along. That result helped produce a remarkably close Cy Young race, with closer Steve Bedrosian (57 points) edging out Sutcliffe (55) and Rick Reuschel (54).
The MVP balloting, of course, gets a very bad rap these days, with WAR saying that neither Dawson nor AL winner George Bell were among the 10 best players in their respective leagues. WAR says Gwynn, who hit .370/.447/.511 to Dawson’s .287/.328/.568, was the NL’s top player, with Eric Davis next in line. WAR ranks Cy Young winner Roger Clemens first in the AL, with Boggs and Trammell not far behind. Trammell finished a close second to Bell in the balloting, claiming 12 first-place votes to Bell’s 16.
So, that’s a bit about 1987. MLB has never gone on record about what exactly changed inside the baseball to produce the unique season, but whatever alterations were made were quickly reversed afterwards.
I should also probably mention here that the Twins beat the Cardinals in the World Series, with Frank Viola capping a terrific season by winning Games 1 and 7 (he lost Game 4) and taking home MVP honors.
Of course, having had a bedtime, I don’t really remember much of that happening. However, I’m pretty sure I’ll always remember 49 (Dawson and McGwire) and 47 (Bell).
Apr 16, 2014, 12:03 AM EDT
From Tim Britton of the Providence Journal comes word that Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli was removed from Tuesday night’s series-opener against the White Sox with a dislocation of his left ring finger. X-rays were negative, meaning he does not have a fracture.
Apr 15, 2014, 11:28 PM EDT
Josh Johnson’s arm injury woes continue. According to Corey Brock of MLB.com, the right-handed starter is still being bothered by discomfort in his forearm and will be examined next week by Dr. James Andrews.
Apr 15, 2014, 10:44 PM EDT
Clayton Kershaw continued his recovery from a teres major muscle strain on Tuesday, throwing a bullpen session with improved fastball velocity.
Apr 15, 2014, 9:59 PM EDT
Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes was pulled from the club’s season-opener with tightness in his left hamstring. He is expected to return to action this Friday.
Apr 15, 2014, 9:05 PM EDT
On the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings and with the Red Sox in town for a three-game series, the White Sox wore these “Boston Strong” shirts during pregame warmups Tuesday …
Apr 15, 2014, 8:23 PM EDT
Mariners top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker was scheduled to make one final rehab start on Tuesday at Triple-A Tacoma before joining the major league starting rotation. But that plan can now be torched.
Apr 15, 2014, 7:41 PM EDT
Curtis Granderson is not in the Mets’ starting lineup against the host Diamondbacks because of minor rib cage, forearm, and knee injuries that he sustained in a collision with the outfield wall on Monday, but he will be sporting these custom cleats on the bench …
Apr 15, 2014, 6:58 PM EDT
According to beat writer James Wagner of the Washington Post, Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos got the stitches removed from his surgically-repaired left hand on Tuesday afternoon and has now been cleared to begin basic rehab activities.
Apr 15, 2014, 6:10 PM EDT
Tests taken Monday on the sore left wrist of Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia ruled out any major structural damage. He is not in the starting lineup for Tuesday night’s series-opener against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, but ESPN’s Gordon Edes says Pedroia is aiming to return on Wednesday.
Apr 15, 2014, 5:03 PM EDT
I can’t vouch for the study, but I do know this much: politics gets this stuff in the news, but money is what will ultimately change things.
Apr 15, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT
Earlier this month journeyman outfielder Darnell McDonald announced his retirement via Instagram and he’s already landed a good post-playing gig in the Cubs’ front office as a baseball operations assistant.
Apr 15, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
If it’s on the Internet, it must be true.
Apr 15, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Border wars in baseball. Why not?
Apr 15, 2014, 3:21 PM EDT
Michael Bourn is back from the disabled list after being sidelined since the middle of spring training with a hamstring injury and to make room for his return the Indians optioned Nyjer Morgan back to Triple-A.
Apr 15, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
There are fewer U.S.-born blacks playing baseball today than there were 20-30 years ago. But how many fewer, and what can be done about it?
Apr 15, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
To some people, Yasiel Puig will always be a problem rather than a person.
Apr 15, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT
Francisco Cervelli injured his hamstring Sunday night and the Yankees have placed the backup catcher on the 60-day disabled list rather than the usual 15-day disabled list.
Hank Aaron is getting vile racist hate mail in retaliation for pointing out that racism still exists
Apr 15, 2014, 1:19 PM EDT
Thank God he didn’t suggest people still had the capacity for violence, or else the manner in which these idiots took offense might’ve been even worse.
Apr 15, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
MLB sends an odd message given how open they’ve been about instant replay being a work-in-progress.
Apr 15, 2014, 12:48 PM EDT
Every year lots of people act like spring training numbers mean something and every year they don’t. I guess there’s really no way of avoiding it, since everyone is so excited to have any kind of baseball to watch again after a long winter that they latch onto some random 20-game sample against varying degrees of competition.
- Jose Reyes is on track to be activated Friday 3
- Dustin Pedroia given cortisone injection for sore left wrist, aiming to return Wednesday 1
- Hank Aaron is getting vile racist hate mail in retaliation for pointing out that racism still exists 209
- John Farrell to get fined for being critical of instant replay 47
- And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights 91
- Hank Aaron is getting vile racist hate mail in retaliation for pointing out that racism still exists (211)
- The Red Sox are still steamed that a PED guy played against them in the playoffs last year (129)
- We don’t need to celebrate Barry Bonds, but we should avoid whitewashing baseball history (122)
- Doug Glanville’s story about being racially profiled at his own home (121)
- Must-Click Link: Yasiel Puig’s harrowing journey to the United States (95)