When looking at Cubs home run leaders for a single season, Sammy Sosa owns five of the top performances (the first, second, third, fifth, and sixth). We’ve already discussed his efforts when looking at the most home runs in a season in MLB history and each team’s single-season home run record, but not all together. Especially since each of these performances came consecutively between 1998 and 2002.
Once we’re done talking about Sosa, we talk about the others he displaced from the top of Chicago’s leaderboard.
Cubs Home Run Leaders: Top 10
Sosa is the only player in baseball history with three seasons of 60-plus homers, and this five-year stretch he had has to be one of the most dominant ever. He is the Chicago Cubs‘ all-time home run leader, and a little more than half of them came during this time. For a quick recap, here are the performances that made it onto the Cubs’ single-season leaderboard:
- 66 home runs in 1998
- 63 home runs in 1999
- 50 home runs in 2000
- 64 home runs in 2001
- 49 home runs in 2002
Just for some context, here is what Sosa averaged in offensive production during this period: .306/.397/.649 with 58 home runs, 141 RBI, and 124 runs scored. He averaged that! Just an insane peak, and yes, I know about the PED stuff, but still, this is hard to do. What I love the most is Sosa didn’t lead the league in homers during any of his 60-homer campaigns thanks to Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds. However, he did lead the league in this category in 2000 and 2002. Baseball, man.
Let’s look at his 2000 season for a moment. In addition to adding his name to the list of MLB’s home run derby winners, he also won a Silver Slugger while slashing .320/.406/.634 with those 50 dingers and 138 RBI. Sosa was already on his way to another solid year heading into the All-Star break, as the slugger had compiled 23 homers to that point. He hit another gear in the second half, though, hitting 27 dingers in 83 fewer plate appearances. That led to a second-half slugging percentage of .711.
As if all this wasn’t enough already, he’s also beaten out some big names to hit the most home runs all-time as a right fielder.
Hack Wilson: 56 Home Runs in 1930
The only hitter in Cubs history to slug at least 50 homers in a season who isn’t named Sammy Sosa? That’d be Hack Wilson, and if you want to talk about a monster season, his 1930 campaign is certainly it. In 709 plate appearances, Wilson slashed .356/.454/.723 with those 56 home runs, 191 (!) RBI, 35 doubles, and 146 runs scored. It was the fifth straight season he had slugged at least 20 homers, and the second-to-last time he did it overall. He only stayed in the league until 1934 and hit just 51 homers over his final 1,645 plate appearances.
Wilson fit an incredible season into just one half of play following the All-Star Game. In his final 356 plate appearances of the year, he slashed .363/.455/.742 with 32 home runs and 109 RBI. Each of his last three months of the regular season included double-digit homers and at least 30 RBI, but nothing really compares to what he did in August. In just 144 plate appearances, Wilson posted a 1.284 OPS (which included a .788 slugging percentage) with 13 home runs and….53 (!!) RBI.
Andre Dawson: 49 Home Runs in 1987
Andre Dawson accumulated three different seasons of 30-plus homers, but on two of those occasions, he topped out at 32. In the other one? Well, he made it count by hitting 49 and driving in 137 runs. Both of those numbers led the league as he’d go on to win his first and only NL MVP award. Just in case that wasn’t enough, the Hall of Famer added an All-Star Game appearance, a Gold Glove, and a Silver Slugger for funzies.
It’s interesting to look at the build-up to and the aftermath of this performance. In 1985 and 1986, he combined to hit 43 homers. In 1988 and 1989, he slugged 45 dingers.
Dawson’s power numbers at home (27 homers, 71 RBI) weren’t terribly different from what he did on the road (21 homers, 66 RBI), but he was a much different hitter overall at Wrigley Field. In front of the home fans, he hit .332/.372/.668, and those numbers dropped to .246/.288/.480 on the road. The only time he hit more than eight homers in a single month was in August, and he nearly doubled that number by slugging 15 and driving in 28 with a 1.098 OPS.
Dave Kingman: 48 Home Runs in 1979
If there’s one hitter who you could pluck from a different era and drop down in the current iteration of Major League Baseball without noticing a difference, it’d probably be Dave Kingman. For the most part, he was your prototypical low-average, high-strikeout, high-power kind of dude, but not necessarily in 1979. His 48 home runs led the league, and he paired that with 115 RBI, along with a .288/.343/.613 line.
Kingman was actually quite consistent throughout the year. He posted a monthly OPS above 1.000 three times and never finished with one below .830. The slugger compiled double-digit homers in one month (12 in May) and never collected fewer than six in a month all year. Do you know what is a head-scratcher, though? Kingman actually performed better in Cubs losses than victories.
When Chicago was victorious, he had a .914 OPS with 22 homers and 67 RBI. But when they lost, his OPS actually went up to .997 with 26 homers and 48 RBI.
Ernie Banks: 47 Home Runs in 1958
Before Sosa took over, Ernie Banks was the guy who dominated the top of the Cubs’ single-season home run leaderboard (as you can see below). They didn’t call him Mr. Cub for nothing, ya know. The 1958 season was Banks’ first of two straight MVP campaigns, and even as a 27-year-old, he was already used to hitting 40-plus dingers in a season. This year marked the third time he surpassed that mark, and the second season in a row he did so. This was a streak that would last another two years, as well.
Banks especially enjoyed the home cooking of Wrigley Field, as 30 of his 47 dingers came at the friendly confines. So did 75 of his 129 total RBI while slashing .340/.393/.700. His line dropped to a much more human .287/.339/.533 on the road. The shortstop only hit more than five homers in a month on three occasions, but when he did, he made them count. He slugged eight in May and then enjoyed consecutive double-digit performances in July (11) and August (13) to help power this career year.
Derrek Lee: 46 Home Runs in 2005
Derrek Lee was one of my favorite players to watch while growing up. He not only could hit, but that man could pick the ball over at first base. For the purposes of today, though, we’re going to keep talking about just how good he was with the bat. The 2005 season was his second with the Cubs, and it was easily his best work. Lee took home a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger while finishing third in NL MVP voting. Those 46 dingers were a career-high, and his 107 RBI was the first time he passed the century mark. His .335/.418/.662 line netted him the batting title, while he also led the league in doubles (50) and hits (199).
Although his production fell off after the All-Star Game, it’s hard to not have your jaw drop to the floor after peeking at his first-half production. In 367 plate appearances, Lee slashed .378/.452/.733 with 27 homers, 27 doubles, and 72 RBI. He didn’t enjoy a month with double-digit homers, but he either hit seven or nine and nothing else. Really — Lee hit seven homers in each of April, June, August, and September, and he hit nine in each of May and July.
Cubs Home Run Leaders: The Rest
Banks (45 in 1959, 44 in 1955, 43 in 1957, and 41 in 1960), Billy Williams (42 in 1970), and Hank Sauer (41 in 1954) make up the top 15. I’m sure some were thinking Kyle Schwarber would find his way onto this list at some point, and while he got close, he made his mark in other ways. To find the rest of the leaderboard, head on over to FanGraphs.