By Freddy Berowski
This past week, a couple of today’s top sluggers surpassed marks set by two of the top stars of yesteryear.
On Thursday, 29-year-old Ryan Howard became the quickest player to reach the 200-home run plateau when he clubbed his 200th in only his 658th major league game. Howard eclipsed the mark set by Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner on Aug. 3, 1950, when Kiner took Cubs hurler Johnny Schmitz deep for his 200th round-tripper in career game number 706.
Kiner was two years younger than Howard when he established his mark. But while Howard’s big blasts have come for a very successful Phillies club, Kiner’s bombs came for a Pittsburgh club who struggled in the National League’s second division. After Kiner led the league in home runs for the seventh straight season in 1952, with the Pirates finishing last for the second time in three seasons, Pirates general manager Branch Rickey – another future Hall of Famer – rejected his request for a pay increase, stating: “We would have finished last without you”.
Rickey traded Kiner to the Cubs as part of a 10-player deal only 41 games into the 1953 season, and with that trade proved his statement true as the Pirates once again finished last. Kiner was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1975.
Meanwhile, Manny Ramirez moved into sole possession of 15th place on Major League Baseball’s all-time home run list on Monday, passing Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle with his 537th career long ball.
The Mick hit his 536th-and-final home run off of Boston’s Jim Lonborg on Sept. 20, 1968. Eight days later, the 36-year-old Mantle would have the final at bat of his career, a first-inning ground out to short, also against Lonborg.
Manny’s 537th was a second-inning, two-run shot off the Reds’ Micah Owings. In the last season and a half, the 37-year-old Ramirez has passed no less than eight other Hall of Famers on the home run list, including Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams. Up next for Manny: the No. 14 spot currently occupied by Philadelphia Phillies Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt, who hit 548 career homers.
Freddy Berowski is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.