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).
Sep 17, 2014, 12:34 AM EDT
CSNBaltimore.com has some exclusive video of Orioles manager Buck Showalter getting showered with beer and champagne after his club clinched the American League East title on Tuesday night …
Sep 17, 2014, 12:07 AM EDT
Bryce Harper came prepared for the Nationals’ division title celebration with a custom helmet sent to him from the Washington, D.C. Fire Department. These photos come courtesy of CSNWashington.com …
Sep 16, 2014, 11:41 PM EDT
Watch as Astros second baseman Jose Altuve sets the franchise record for most hits in a season with a single through the middle of the infield on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park in Houston …
Sep 16, 2014, 10:53 PM EDT
Watch the Orioles make the final out of Tuesday night’s AL East title clincher …
Sep 16, 2014, 10:10 PM EDT
A first in 17 years.
Sep 16, 2014, 10:05 PM EDT
Congratulations to the Washington Nationals, who’ve clinched their second NL East crown in three years.
Sep 16, 2014, 9:49 PM EDT
Derek Jeter’s retirement tour continued on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field with another set of cool gifts. Along with a $16,000 check for his Turn 2 Foundation and a framed Don Zimmer jersey presented by the widow of the former Yankees bench coach, Jeter also got this custom 16-foot pinstriped kayak …
Sep 16, 2014, 9:04 PM EDT
Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez has been scratched from Tuesday’s game against the Rockies due to an elbow strain. It’s not clear when he suffered the injury or how serious it might be.
Sep 16, 2014, 8:40 PM EDT
Lagares has dramatically out-performed expectations offensively this season, hitting .283 with four homers and a .706 OPS in 115 games, and his defense in center field has always been Gold Glove caliber.
Sep 16, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT
Castillo played a total of 10 games in the minors, participating in the playoffs at three different levels while hitting a combined .297 with four doubles and two steals.
Sep 16, 2014, 8:02 PM EDT
Tony Gwynn Jr. is batting leadoff for the Phillies on Tuesday night in San Diego. It’ll be his first appearance in his hometown since the death of his Hall of Fame father.
Sep 16, 2014, 7:37 PM EDT
Angels right-hander Matt Shoemaker departed his sensational start Monday night against the Mariners after experiencing discomfort on the left side of his rib cage in the top of the eighth inning. He underwent an MRI on Tuesday and the diagnosis is in …
Sep 16, 2014, 7:10 PM EDT
Nate Schierholtz, who replaced Harper mid-game Monday, will be on stand-by again with the Nationals able to clinch the NL East division title tonight.
Sep 16, 2014, 6:53 PM EDT
Rockies trainer Keith Dugger told Nick Groke of the Denver Post on Tuesday evening that third baseman Nolan Arenado has been diagnosed with pneumonia and is at home resting while Colorado continues a three-game series against the Dodgers.
Sep 16, 2014, 6:28 PM EDT
Choo’s ankle apparently bothered him for most of the season, which helps explain why he hit just .242 with 13 homers and a .714 OPS in the first year of a seven-year, $130 million contract.
Sep 16, 2014, 6:11 PM EDT
Josh Hamilton is in the Angels’ starting lineup on Tuesday night against the Mariners for the first time in 10 games, batting sixth and serving as the club’s designated hitter. Hamilton had been sidelined since September 4 with a left shoulder injury.
Sep 16, 2014, 5:47 PM EDT
Teixeira initially played well after returning from an April disabled list stint, but he’s been a mess since the All-Star break while hitting .179 with 43 strikeouts in 42 games.
Sep 16, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
In a real game. Not a simulation.
Sep 16, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT
Springer followed up his slow start by homering 20 times in a 59-game span, but the 24-year-old outfielder last played on July 19.
Sep 16, 2014, 5:07 PM EDT
And though he calls MLB a “social institution,” he’s content to punt to the courts when it suits his interests.
- Jose Altuve breaks Craig Biggio’s franchise record, tallying his 211th hit of the season 4
- Orioles beat Blue Jays to clinch AL East title 21
- Tanner Roark dominates as Nationals clinch NL East 18
- Masahiro Tanaka to pitch on Sunday 9
- Astros shut down George Springer for the season 0
- The Blue Jays will make a qualifying offer to Melky Cabrera 24
- And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights 34
- MLB suspends Jonathan Papelbon seven games for incident during Sunday’s game 42
- Chris Davis suspended 25 games for amphetamine use (92)
- A few thoughts about the discrimination lawsuit against the Mets (91)
- Giancarlo Stanton diagnosed with multiple facial fractures and dental damage (91)
- Bud Selig can’t remember the last domestic violence incident in Major League Baseball (88)
- A couple of initial thoughts on the Chris Davis suspension (83)