|Welcome to the club: Jacoby Ellsbury’s select company||09.08.11 at 12:54 am ET|
It does not quite carry the same stature as the next milestone that Jacoby Ellsbury could target this year, but the dynamic outfielder nevertheless joined a select group of players on Wednesday night when he ripped a home run to deep right field in Toronto.
Ellsbury now has 25 homers and 36 steals this year. He is the charter Red Sox member of the 25/25 club, as well as the 71st player ever to reach those power and speed milestones in the same season.
The 30/30 club — which has 35 members — remains a possibility. At his current pace, Ellsbury would end the year with 29 homers and 41 steals.
But for now, in light of what the 27-year-old has already accomplished in a season that has him on the short list for the American League MVP Award, here is a look at some of the great 25/25 (and, for the most part, forgotten) seasons in baseball history (for the full list of 25/25 seasons, click here):
–1986 and 1990: Rickey Henderson
OK, so maybe Rickey isn’t forgotten, if for no other reason than Rickey will never forget Rickey.
Henderson was the embodiment of the power-hitting, base-stealing leadoff hitter, and so it is interesting to note that he never entered into the 30/30 club. He did, however, twice exceed 25 homers and 25 steals, and both were noteworthy in their own way.
In 1986, as a 27-year-old playing for the Yankees, Henderson blasted 28 homers and stole 87 bases. No one has ever had that many steals in a year in which he went deep at least 25 times.
Then, in 1990, though limited to 136 games, Henderson had 28 homers and stole 65 bases. Had he remained healthy for a full slate of games, he almost surely would have gone 30/30.
–1986 and 1987: Eric Davis
A compelling case can be made that no one in baseball history — as in no one — ever had the power and speed combination over a two-year period that Davis did as a 24- and 25-year-old.
His numbers in those two years were ridiculous. In 1986, he enjoyed a breakout season in which he hit .277 with a .378 OBP, .523 slugging mark, .901 OPS, 27 homers and 80 steals. He put up those numbers despite the fact that nagging injuries cost him a few games here, a few there, and ultimately limited Davis to 132 games. Project his numbers that year to 162 games and you get 33 homers and 98 steals.
Then, in 1987, a healthy Davis had a real shot at accomplishing something unprecedented. He missed roughly 20 games in September and October, and was ultimately limited to just 125 games. And yet despite sitting out of almost a quarter of the season, Davis hit .293 with a .399 OBP, .593 slugging mark, .991 OPS, 37 homers and 50 steals.
Project his year out to 162 games and he would have had 48 homers and 65 steals. Davis played with an electricity that made him a Gold Glove outfielder and a potential 50/50 player at that time. In those two years, there simply was no other player who was as complete in the game.
–1987: Kal Daniels
Daniels was limited to 108 games by a trip to the DL, and he was really a platoon guy with dramatic splits — but what a 108 games, and what a platoon guy.
In his age 23 season, he hit .334 with a .429 OBP, .617 slugging mark, 1.046 OPS (third in the majors in OPS, behind only Jack Clark and Wade Boggs), 26 homers and 26 steals. Against right-handed pitching, Daniels put up goofy numbers: .370/.464/.702/1.066.
No one has ever reached the 25/25 plateau while playing fewer games in a season. Unfortunately, Daniels’ remarkable rise was quickly suppressed by a series of knee surgeries that robbed him of first his speed and that ultimately ended his career at age 28.
Even so, he and Davis combined to create a ridiculously dynamic, athletic tandem in the Reds lineup in ’87.
Yet despite those two dynamos, the Reds finished just 84-78, six games behind the Giants in the NL West. Perhaps if Daniels and Davis had remained healthy under manager Pete Rose, the accomplishments of those two players would be better remembered.
(Worth mentioning from that ’87 Reds team: On the bench, it featured a first baseman and corner outfielder who turned in one of the worst seasons in the majors. That year, 28-year-old Terry Francona had 219 plate appearances, hitting .227 with a .266 OBP, .295 slugging mark, .561 OPS and a 46 OPS+. Francona’s OPS+ was the worst in the NL among non-catching position players with at least 200 plate appearances, a far cry from his pre-injury days when he seemed primed to compete for batting titles.
Also noteworthy about Francona’s presence on that team: Ellsbury is the sixth 25/25 player he’s seen with this kind of proximity, joining Andre Dawson (1983 Expos), Davis and Daniels (’87 Reds), Joe Carter (1988 Indians) and Bobby Abreu (2000 Phillies).)
–1997: Larry Walker
Walker erased any questions about whether someone making his home in Coors Field could win the MVP when he blasted 49 homers and swiped a surprising 33 bags. He also hit .366 with a .452 OBP, .720 slugging mark and 1.172 OPS. Among those who are members of the 25/25 (or 30/30) club, no one has ever had more homers.
–1922: Ken Williams
In a 14-year span from 1918-1931, Babe Ruth led the American League in homers 12 times. One of the exceptions came in 1922, when he was overshadowed in one of the great forgotten seasons in big league history.
Ken Williams was a late bloomer who did not make his big league debut until he turned 25 and who did not find a permanent residence in the majors until he was 30, after he’d spent a year in the military in World War I. But as a 32-year-old in 1922, Williams became a pioneer — the first player in modern major league history to reach the 25/25 or 30/30 plateaus.
He led the American League with 39 homers while swiping 37 bags. Williams also hit .332 with a .413 OBP, .627 slugging mark and 1.040 OPS as well as 155 homers.
There were some qualifications on his performance. Of his 39 homers, 32 came in the Browns’ home stadium of Sportsman’s Park, a wildly favorable environment for pull power hitters. Though he did steal 37 times, he was caught stealing 20 times. And, oh, by the way, the following year, he was caught engaging in bat-doctoring shenanigans — though it is worth noting that Major League Baseball rules at the time did not prohibit such measures (a foreshadowing of those who would become the first members of the 40/40 club at a time that preceded MLB’s express prohibitions on performance-enhancing drugs?).
Regardless, until 1956, just one player in big league history was a member of the 25/25 club: Williams.
And he wasn’t a flash in the pan, either. Williams played until 1929, finishing his career as a productive role player with the Red Sox in his age 38 and 39 seasons. In his career, he hit .319/.393/.530/.924 with 196 homers and 154 steals. His 137 OPS+ is tied for 59th all time among players with at least 5,000 career plate appearances.
In short, had he been given an opportunity earlier and been on the field as an established regular for his prime years, Williams profiled as an almost-certain Hall of Famer. Indeed, despite the fact that he did not get his big league chance until a time when most players are on the down slope of their careers, he still put up offensive numbers that are superior to many players who are in Cooperstown.
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