Monday, April 14, 2014

"HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE 1970'S" #2: 1973 BRAVES 40-HOME RUN THREESOME

Considering that the early to mid 1970's weren't exactly the power years like we've seen in the past 20, it's amazing to remember that the first team to have three players hit 40 or more homers in the same season were the 1973 Atlanta Braves.
That year, Hank Aaron, Darrell Evans and Davey Johnson all topped the mark, and each player had a unique facet to their accomplishment to go along with the record-breaking feat.
It would have been really cool if Topps celebrated this new record with a card, especially since Aaron was being celebrated left and right at the time.
Let's take a look at the card I designed to mark the occasion:


I wish I had a clearer picture for the card, but I still think I got lucky finding this one.
Playing in a home run park that was nick-named "the launching pad", the Braves launched 206 homers that year, even though it didn't help them in the standings, as they finished with a 76-85 record, just ahead of the San Diego Padres out of the cellar.
As I mentioned earlier, each of the three players who slammed 40 or more homers had some interesting angles to their story. Let's take a look:
Darrell Evans had his first full season in the big leagues in 1973 and did not disappoint, hitting 41 home runs to go along with 104 runs batted in, 114 runs, a league-leading 126 base on balls and a .281 average.
He wouldn't know it at the time, but 12 years later in 1985 he would become the first player in Major League history to hit 40 homers in both the N.L. and A.L., as he would lead the American League in homers with 40 that year for the Detroit Tigers.
He'd finish his 21 year career with 404 home runs, topping 30+ four times while playing for the Braves, Tigers and Giants.
For Aaron, 1973 would be the last of a remarkable eight 40+ home run seasons, and would be the year he finally broke Babe Ruth's career home run record of 714.
It would also be an amazing home run feat because he hit the 40 home runs in less that 400 official at-bats, stepping up to the plate 392 times.
Not until Mark McGwire & Barry Bonds came along would we see something like that again.
"Hammerin' Hank" would have three more years in the Majors before retiring, leaving us with a plethora of all-time leading career numbers to gawk over for years to come.
Now we move on to quite possibly the strangest 40+ homer season in the history of baseball (sorry Brady Anderson): Davey Johnson and HIS contribution to the homer-trio.
Take away his 1973 season, and Johnson's top-five homer seasons in his 13 year career look like this: 18, 15, 10, 10 and nine.
Seriously, so where on earth does the 43 come from in 1973?!
With the spectacle of the "steroid era" fresh in all of our minds, it's easy for us to write off anomalies like this. However this was 1973, and even though steroids and other performance enhancers were around then (just listen to former pitcher Tom House talk about it), no one has ever accused Davey Johnson of using stuff like this.
Johnson's season was incredible when compared to the rest of his career. While playing second base, he slammed the team-leading 43 homers, drove in 99 runs (the next highest total for his career was 72 in 1971 for the Orioles), scored 84 runs (next highest was 68 in 1970), and slugged .546 (his next highest slugging average was .443 in 1971!).
If THIS isn't the strangest case of power surge in a players career, then it's definitely in the top-3!
Some may point to Brady Anderson's 50 homer year in 1996, or even Wade Boggs' 1987 season, but for me Johnson's 1973 season is the most shocking. 
So there you have it. A highlight from the decade that I felt should have gotten some recognition by Topps in the 1974 set.
If you like this sort of stuff, keep an eye out for more. I've been going nuts designing numerous "highlight" cards throughout the 1970's, having a ball doing it too.

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