Joe Bauman: The Minor League Home Run King

Joe Bauman launches another ball into the stratosphere back in 1954.

Joe Bauman launches another ball into the stratosphere back in 1954.

In 1954, a six foot, four inch, 235 pound all-lefty first baseman for the Roswell Rockets of the Class C Longhorn League named Joe Bauman hit 72 home runs in only 498 official times at bat in 138 games. He also batted .400 that season, with 35 doubles, 3 triples, 188 runs scored and 224 runs batted in. When it was said it done, the 32 year old veteran of his first seven of nine minor league seasons had placed himself in the rare company of legendary baseball figures by becoming the first man in history to hit and break the “70 HR” mark by a solid two colossal shots into the stratosphere.

Bauman’s homers were not “barely-made-its” over short right field porches. They were those towering majestic far-distance blows in the 500 argumentative feet range – the kind of home runs we usually associate with all our fabled ideas about the home run rides of the great Babe Ruth, but, here’s the even bigger seal upon the awesomeness of Mr. Bauman in 1954. He never even  got a call to show up on a trial basis at the 1955 spring training camp of any major league club as a result of his 1954 icing on the cake of an otherwise also outstanding minor league career. Maybe it was his age – or the fact that Bauman accomplished his phenomenal 1954 numbers at a lower minor league level, but the long term result seems to have helped highlight his accomplishments that year.

Joe Bauman

Joe Bauman

He simply returned to Roswell in 1955 to hit only 46 homers with a .337 batting average. Then, at age 34, he retired after the 1956 season with Roswell after hitting only .287 with 17 homers in 52 games.

For his nine seasons in the minor leagues (1941, 1946-48, 1952-56), Joe Bauman closed with an interesting pair of numbers – 337 home runs and a .337 batting average.

Could Joe Bauman have made it big at a higher level of play? We will never know – and even his quick fall of over the next two seasons of production fails to answer that question in reality.

We do know that 1954 was one one of those years in which Bauman’s vision of the ball was operating at an enhanced state. Bob Rives, who did a great job writing Bauman’s biography for the SABR Bio Project, quoted Joe as saying, ” ‘That summer the ball looked this big,’ he says, circling an area the size of a ripe cantaloupe with his hands.”

Maybe Joe Bauman could have retained his grapefruit-scale baseball vision in 1955, had he moved up to a higher level challenge? And maybe if we better understood the cause of that amplified ball-size vision state which only a few rare  players like Stan Musial and Ted Williams seem to own for whole careers, we’d also catch lightning in a bottle as hitting instructors everywhere.

Check out the Joe Bauman bio by Bob Rives. Another little known fact about the legendary Minor League Home Run King is that he wasn’t a natural BL/TL first baseman. His father converted him to an all lefthanded player at an advanced age – for whatever unstated reason – and Joe took to the change like the proverbial duck taking to water.

http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/45655983

Also, please note. The source that put me on course to write about Joe Bauman this morning was now my always handy reference book, “Baseball: It’s More Than Just a Game”, by fine researcher and baseball writer Greg Lucas. Greg Lucas includes note of Joe Bauman on Page 156 as one of the great players of minor league history. If you do not yet own a copy of Greg’s book, you are missing out on miles and miles of baseball history education and entertainment. The book was first only available in paper back, but it is now for sale in a hard back cover with dust jacket in larger type for easier bedside or personal home cave reading. It is also available through Barnes and Noble, other national retailers and Amazon.com for easy credit card ordering.

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3 Responses to “Joe Bauman: The Minor League Home Run King”

  1. gregclucas Says:

    I do greatly appreciate the “plug” for my book. Thanks again.

  2. Mark W. Says:

    Tony Salin wrote an excellent chapter on Bauman in his book, “Forgotten Heroes”, in which Bauman is quoted liberally by Salin, who interviewed him for the chapter. Bauman was a self-described maverick who didn’t appreciate baseball club contract politics and didn’t like being beholden to the overlords of baseball. So he tended to play where he wanted to play, generally close to home, where he could also trend to his gas station business. He had a mionor league contract offer from, I think, the Red Sox, but he spurned it. He later expressed some regrets over his stubborness.

    He bowed out of baseball after an injury impaired his productivity. His numbers in 1954 may have been posted in the low minors, but, except for his BA, they were astronomically better than the runners-up.

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