#10 AL Home Run Leaders
As someone who wasn’t alive in the ’60s, I — like most others in my generation — grew up only really knowing about the real superstars of this era (mostly just the Hall of Famers). So leader cards are a fun way to look back and see some of the players who were stars at the time, but didn’t leave a lasting impression with later generations.
Harmon Killebrew, of course, is someone any baseball fan knows, though I’ve always thought he’s the kind of guy who’s never gotten enough respect, despite being in the HOF. It took him four years to get voted in, despite hitting 573 homers and posting a 143 career OPS+. I think people held his .256 career batting average against him, and you still hear some “traditional” baseball voices disparaging players like him these days (ie. Adam Dunn and Jim Thome) because of the low average and high strikeout totals. Thome, for what it’s worth, has been somewhat better in my opinion than Killebrew during his career, even adjusting for the offensive explosion in the late ’90s.
Anyway, back to Killebrew. He led the AL in 1963 with 45 homers. He hit more than 40 eight times, but never topped 50. He would hit a career-high 49 HR in 1964 and 1969.
The Twins had four players in the top nine in this category, including Bob Allison, who finished third with 35. That was a career high for Allison, who actually led the AL in OPS at .911 that season. Allison hit three homers in a game in May, and he and Killebrew hit grand slams in the same inning in July. Jimmie Hall hit 33 homers to finish fourth, and catcher Earl Battey tied for ninth with 26.
Dick Stuart of the Red Sox finished second with 42 HR in 1963 — a career high. He also led the league in RBI with 118. Stuart didn’t come close to leading the league in OPS, though, since his OBP was a dismal .312. Stuart is well-known for being one of the worst defensive players ever, which largely led to him being out of the majors by 1966 despite being able to hit home runs. He would’ve been great for the DH era, but alas was born a little too early.
Looking at the list of leaders on the back of this card, you’ll notice one glaring omission: Mickey Mantle is nowhere to be found. That’s because Mantle only played 65 games in 1963 due to injury. He still hit 15 homers, but that was his lowest season total other than his rookie year of 1951, when he was 19 years old.