Although they haven’t been named the Cleveland Guardians very long, this franchise dates back to 1901. But when it comes to the Guardians home run leaders for a single season, the very top of the list is dominated by just three names.
The top six spots on the Guardians’ single-season leaderboard are dominated by Albert Belle, Jim Thome, and Manny Ramírez, who each appear twice. It’s also interesting that each of these six occasions happened between 1995 and 2002.
Let’s dig into some of the details for each of these performances, and be sure to also check out the Cleveland Guardians‘ all-time home run leaderboard once you’re done.
Guardians Home Run Leaders: Top 5
Jim Thome: 52 Home Runs in 2002
Jim Thome was a force to be reckoned with throughout his tenure in Cleveland. There’s a reason why he’s the franchise’s all-time home run leader, ya know. But still, when it came to his single-season performances for the Guardians, he saved his best work for his final years with the club. Thome enjoyed nine straight seasons of 20-plus home runs between 1994 and 2003. Over the first seven years of that span, though, he had just one year of 40-plus dingers (40 on the button in 1997). He saved his two most powerful performances for his final two years in Cleveland, one of which helped him secure the organization’s single-season home run record.
They’re both currently within the top five of the Guardians’ single-season home run leaderboard. We’ll talk about his 49-homer barrage in 2001 soon, so let’s focus on his farewell tour of 2002, which included plenty of moonshots.
Thome never won an MVP award, but 2001-03 was a period where he finished within the top 10 of voting each year. He finished seventh in 2002 thanks to those 52 dingers, 118 RBI, and a league-leading 1.122 OPS. He hit the same number of homers — 26 — in the first half and second half, although his slugging percentage rose from .604 to .773. After a decent start to the year, where Thome posted a .876 OPS (despite a .212 batting average) with seven homers and 20 RBI, his monthly OPS never dropped below 1.000 the rest of the way. In August and September, his OPS stayed above 1.200 (!) as he slugged 21 homers down the stretch.
Not that he needed to, but Thome’s 2001-02 run just solidified his spot as one of the franchise’s best power hitters in recent memory.
Albert Belle: 50 Home Runs in 1995
Albert Belle not only held Cleveland’s single-season home run record for a short period of time, but he’s also the current single-season leader for the Chicago White Sox. So, until Thome overtook him in this category, he held season-long franchise records for two clubs at the same time. Pretty baller, if you ask me.
Belle’s 1995 campaign was just a monster year in every way you slice it. He finished second in AL MVP voting to Mo Vaughn, but he lost by a mere eight points. The slugger slashed .317/.401/.690 and led the league in slugging percentage, home runs, RBI (126), doubles (52), runs scored (121), and total bases (377). The last two months are what sealed the deal for Belle’s season, though.
Through the end of July (374 plate appearances), he slashed a solid .295/.374/.562 with 19 home runs, 29 doubles, 64 RBI, and 61 runs scored, which led to a 138 wRC+. But from August 1st through the end of the regular season (257 plate appearances), he slashed .350/.439/.885 (!) with 31 homers, 23 doubles, 62 RBI, and 60 runs scored, all good for a 224 wRC+.
So, he either more than doubled or just about doubled his season-long production in about half the time. And, if you haven’t heard this corked bat story involving Belle during the 1994 season, you definitely need to check it out.
Jim Thome: 49 Home Runs in 2001
At this point, Thome’s 49 home runs were easily a new career-high mark, and he finished just shy of Belle’s franchise record for a single season. That is, until the following year, as we saw above. His monthly production wasn’t nearly as obscene as it was in 2002, but the majority of his power production came during a three-month span between June and August.
In 347 plate appearances during this time, Thome slashed .325/.435/.709 with a 193 wRC+, as well as 32 homers and 78 RBI. He didn’t hit fewer than 10 dingers in any of those three months. It was also noticeable to see how much he tore up right-handed pitching. The left-handed slugger struggled to a .232/.333/.373 line with four homers and 22 RBI in 165 plate appearances when facing southpaws. But against righties? Those numbers skyrocketed to .313/.445/.716, 45, and 102, respectively. Phew.
Albert Belle: 48 Home Runs in 1996
As if hitting 50 homers the year prior wasn’t good enough, Belle followed it up with an equally powerful campaign in 1996. He enjoyed three with at least 48 dingers in one year, but 1995-96 was the only time he put those performances in consecutive seasons. Belle’s 98 homers during this time account for about 25% of his career dingers.
He was just dominant through the entire year this time around instead of catching fire following the All-Star break. The outfielder’s 27 homers, 74 RBI, and 1.002 OPS in the first half are eerily similar to what he did in the second half (21 homers, 74 RBI, and 1.068 OPS). While he missed out on beating his career-high mark of 50 dingers by slugging just four in September, he did other things that were great. Belle still slashed .354/.409/.586 over the final month of the season, which included 11 doubles. He didn’t hit more than six doubles in any other month that season.
Manny Ramírez: 45 Home Runs in 1998
Manny Ramírez ended up posting five different seasons of 40-plus homers during his career, but the 45 he hit in 1998 ended up being his best showing for a single year. He did tie that personal-best number in 2005 with the Boston Red Sox, but he was never able to get past it.
This also began ManRam’s most powerful two-year stretch as a big leaguer. He hit another 44 in 1999, and the 89 total bombs he slugged during this time just barely beat out the 88 he put together for Boston in 2004 and 2005.
Ramírez also collected 145 RBI in the process, and they came in bunches. After driving in 35 total runs by the end of May, he didn’t finish a single month with fewer than 25 RBI. He also saved his best homer production for last, as 21 of his 45 homers came in August and September alone. The outfielder slugged at least 10 in each month, and it’s also a testament to how influential homers are to a player’s stat line. Ramírez posted a .349 batting average in August, a number that dropped to .252 in September. But, thanks to all those dingers, his OPS only dropped from 1.138 to 1.062.
It’s also worth noting that his performance in Cleveland and eventually, with the Boston Red Sox, helped him hit the most postseason home runs in MLB history.
Guardians Home Run Leaders: The Rest
Here’s what the rest of Cleveland’s top 20 looks like:
- Manny Ramirez, 1999: 44 home runs
- Al Rosen, 1953: 43
- Travis Hafner, 2006: 42
- Rocky Colavito, 1959: 42
- Hal Trosky, 1936: 42
- Rocky Colavito, 1958: 41
- Jim Thome, 1997: 40
- Jose Ramirez, 2018: 39
- Francisco Lindor, 2018: 38
- Jim Thome, 1996: 38
- Albert Belle, 1993: 38
- Manny Ramirez, 2000: 38
- Edwin Encarnacion, 2018: 38
- Al Rosen, 1950: 37
- Jim Thome, 2000: 37
Interested in seeing which Guardians sluggers fall outside the top-20? You can check out the full list here on FanGraphs.