Just because a player can hit a lot of home runs, doesn't necessarily mean they are a great player. In recent years, baseball has undergone a complete overhaul regarding how players are evaluated. Gone are the times in which a player could simply be measured by batting average and home runs. Since the advent of Billy Beane's Moneyball philosophy, baseball clubs have learned that a player can look to be a star on paper, but after closer analysis, is actually more of a hindrance to their team.
With that in mind, we have set out to rank one of the most exclusive groups in all of baseball: the 50+ home run club. These are players who at least once in their career knocked 50 or more home runs out of the park in a given season.
It should be noted that we have not taken PED-accusations into account in these rankings. While many names on this list are suspected, or in some cases have been caught using performance-enhancing drugs, it doesn't change what they accomplished on the field. Sure, it might put an asterisks next to some statistics, but that asterisks doesn't actually change the stat, even if many think it should.
In total, 27 players have accomplished this feat, dating back almost a century to 1920 when the 50 home run threshold was first crossed. We have ranked them below using advanced baseball metrics such as "Wins Above Replacement" to determine who are the best, and worst, players to ever hit 50 or more home runs in a season.
27 Ryan Howard (2006)
37-year-old Ryan Howard is currently a free agent. Howard has played his entire career in Philadelphia. In November, the club declined to pick up an option on his contract.
Howard became the 23rd player to join baseball's 50 home run club in just his second full season in the big leagues, as the then-26-year-old Howard hammered 58 home runs. He would hit above 40 the next three seasons in a row. His power numbers have fallen off in recent years, but he has hit over 20 home runs in each of his last three seasons.
He is a three-time All-Star, onetime NL MVP, two-time MLB home run leader, and won a Silver Slugger award in 2006 as well. Most importantly, Howard was apart of the 2006 World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies.
Howard is not the kind of player that advanced statistics value, however. His career WAR of 14.9 has him ranked last amongst players in baseball's 50 home run club.
26 Cecil Fielder (1990)
Cecil Fielder spent his first four seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays. The first baseman played sparingly, and also not very well when he got the chance. Finally, the Jays gave up on him and he spent the 1989 season playing in Japan. The Tigers signed him for the 1990 season, where he promptly swatted 51 home runs, the first guy to accomplish the feat in 13 seasons.
Fielder is a three-time All-Star, two-time AL home run leader, and a three-time AL leader in RBIs. In 1996, Fielder was traded to the Yankees and was a successful rent-a-player for their postseason run. The Yankees would win the World Series that year.
Despite hitting a lot of home runs, Fielder is not someone that advanced statistics tends to value. His career WAR is 17.1, literally over a thousand baseball players have had better numbers than that. His WAR rating is second worst amongst players in baseball's 50 home run club.
25 Chris Davis (2013)
The last player to hit over 50 homers in a season is Chris Davis. He hit 53 in 2013 with Baltimore. Davis started his MLB career strong as a 22-year-old, hitting 17 homers in 80 games with Texas. The Rangers felt he was going to be a big star, but things started to fall off the rails in 2010. He would spend much of the year in the minors trying to figure out why he couldn't get his MLB batting average above .200.
The Rangers traded him to Baltimore in 2011, and things have been great for him ever since. He hit 33 homers that first season as an Oriole, and the following season became the 27th player to join baseball's 50 home run club, hitting 53 that year, as mentioned. Davis would almost accomplish the feat again in 2015, hitting 47 homers. Last year he hit 38, and two games into the 2017 season he's already hit one out (on pace for 81 this season!).
Davis is a one-time All-Star, AL RBI leader, and Silver Slugger, and two-time MLB home run champ. His career WAR of 17.9 has him tied for 996th all-time.
24 Prince Fielder (2007)
The first second-generation member of the 50 home run club is Prince Fielder who joined as a 23-year-old with the Brewers in 2007. After hitting 28 homers his rookie season, Fielder swatted exactly 50 the following year. He almost accomplished the feat again in 2009, when he hit 46. He would hit 32 and 38 home runs in 2009 and 2010 respectfully before signing with the Tigers in 2012.
Fielder's power numbers have fallen off in recent years. He hasn't hit above 30 in a season since 2012, though he missed parts of the 2014 and 2016 seasons.
He is a six-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger winner, one-time NL home run leader, and tied for the MLB RBI lead in 2007.
Prince does a little better than his father Cecil did in terms of WAR, as his 23.8 rating has him ranked 723rd all-time.
23 Greg Vaughn (1998)
Greg Vaughn is one of several players in the mid-'90s who began career resurgences despite increasing age. Vaughn had only cracked the 30-home run mark once in his career, when at 27 he hit exactly 30 for Milwaukee. Then he hit 41 at age 30. The following season that number was down to 18 home runs in 120 games.
Evidently Vaughn found his swing again in the 1998, because at 32 years of age he became the 16th member of the 50 home run club when he belted exactly 50 for the Padres in 1998. He'd hit 45 again the next year before his power returned to normal levels at the close of the '90s.
Vaughn is a four-time All-Star and his career WAR of 30.7 has him tied for 502nd all time.
22 Brady Anderson (1996)
Brady Anderson played 14 seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, and they liked him so much they eventually made him Vice President of Baseball Operations.
In 2004 the Baltimore Orioles inducted Anderson into their Hall of Fame. Cal Ripken Jr. referred to him as the best athlete he has ever played with and greatest leadoff hitter in Orioles history.
Anderson wasn't really a power hitter. In fact his career home run per 162-game average is only 19. But in 1996, he somehow found a way to hit 50 home runs, the 13th player ever to do so and the first Oriole. The next year he hit 18. He never again showed the power he once did n 1996.
His career 34.8 WAR has him tied for 409th all time.
21 Jose Bautista (2010)
Toronto Blue Jay Jose Bautista might not be the most popular player in the league, but he can sure hit for power!
The 36-year-old was a late bloomer in MLB. He struggled just to get to the big leagues before catching on as a utility player with the Pirates from 2005-2008. Then in 2010, as a 29-year old, Bautista hit 54 home runs for Toronto to become the 26th person to join baseball's 50 home run club. Previously the most home runs Bautista had hit in a season had been 16. He would hit 43 again the next year.
In 2015, Bautista's 40 home runs helped the Blue Jays break the longest playoff drought in baseball. In the first postseason series for the club in over two decades, Bautista hit a dramatic grand slam in a sudden-death Game 5, and flipped his bat roughly 1000 feet straight up in the air in celebration. The Rangers were not pleased with this.
Bautista is a six-time All-Star, two-time MLB home run champ, two-time Hank Aaron award winner and three-time silver slugger recipient.
His career WAR of 34.8 has him tied for 409th all time, though he is one of two players in this club who are still active.
20 Roger Maris (1961)
Roger Maris only hit over 50 home runs once in his career, and it was during that famous season when he hit 61 in 1961.
Contrary to popular belief, 1961 was not Maris' only good season. Maris was a seven-time All-Star, two-time AL MVP, a Gold Glove winner, and most importantly a World Series champion three times over with the New York Yankees. His number was retired by the club in 1984.
Despite no longer being the single season MLB home run record, the 61 home runs Maris hit in 1961 remains an iconic baseball statistic. It will still be a big deal, albeit not as much of one, the next time a player does chase Maris' tally from 1961.
Maris' career WAR is 38.2, and that ties him for 357th all time with Terry Turner and Tim Wallach.
19 Hack Wilson (1930)
Hack Wilson played over 10 seasons in Major League Baseball, but none came close to the excitement he produced in 1930 as a member of the Chicago Cubs.
That season for Wilson, he hit 56 home runs, a National League record at the time. Wilson also drove in 191 RBIs, a record that still stands. The previous year he hit 39 after hovering around 20-30 home runs a year since 1926. The bigger story of Hack Wilson however, is the excessive drinking many felt shortened his career.
After the 1930 season Wilson reported to spring training 20 pounds overweight. He declined sharply, hitting only 13 home runs the next season. He was shipped off to Brooklyn where he looked to get back some of his stride by hitting 23 home runs his first season with the club. It would be his last good season however, and after the 1934 season he retired.
Wilson never won a World Series, and his lifetime WAR is 38.1, good for 343rd all time.
18 Albert Belle (1995)
Albert Belle was a consistent power threat for Cleveland in the early- to mid-'90s. He hit over 30 home runs in three of his first 4 seasons in the league. In 1994 he was involved in a bit of controversy, however, when he was suspended for using a corked bat.
The controversy didn't slow Belle's power down any, as he became the 12th person to join the 50 home run club in 1995. He would hit 48 the next season, and after only hitting 30 in his first season with the White Sox in '97, he bounced back and hit 49 the following season.
A degenerative hip condition forced Belle into an early retirement at age 34. He finished his career a five-time All-Star, one-time home run leader, and a three-time AL leader in RBIs.
His career WAR is 39.9, ranking him 324th all time.
17 George Foster (1977)
The 10th guy to join MLB's 50 home run club was George Foster. He did so in 1977, the first player to hit over 50 home runs in a season since 1961. Foster would hit 40 the next season before dipping down to average about 20-30 a year.
Foster was a five-time All-Star, NL MVP in 1977, two-time home run leader, two-time NL RBI leader, and won the World Series with the Cincinnati Reds twice in a row from 1975-76. As a key part of the "Big Red Machine" in the 1970s, he is honoured in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.
After his playing career ended Foster became an instructor in youth baseball and motivational speaker. Foster also runs a non-profit organization which helps inner city neighbourhood and military families.
Foster's career WAR is 43.9, which puts him in a tie with Adrian Gonzales for 264th all time.
16 Ralph Kiner (1947, 1949)
Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner hit over 50 home runs twice in his career. The first time he did so was just his second year in the league, when he hit 51 in 1947. He did so again 2 years later by hitting 54 in 1949.
Kiner was a six-time All-Star, seven-time home run champ, one-time RBI leader, and somehow found the time to get married four times as well. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1975.
He was the National League home run champ his first seven seasons in the league, starting with his rookie year in 1946. Unfortunately Kiner's good play wasn't enough for his Pittsburgh Pirates to find success. He was dealt to the Cubs in 1953, but would only play a few more seasons before a back injury forced him into early retirement.
His career WAR is 49.3, which ranks him 200th all-time.
15 Luis Gonzalez (2001)
In 2001, at 33 years of age, Luis Gonzalez randomly hit 57 home runs. The next highest tally he ever had in any of his 18 other MLB seasons was 31. He never even cracked 20 home runs in a season before he turned 30.
His year in 2001 with the Diamondbacks helped the team make the postseason. In Game 7 of the World Series, Gonzales singled off Mariano Rivera, bringing in a run and winning the World Series for Arizona. Just for fun he also won the Home Run Derby that year as well. 2001 was a good season for him in other words.
While he only hit for power that one year, he was a five-time All-Star throughout his career. In 2010, his number 20 was retired by the Diamondbacks.
His career WAR of 51.5 has him ranked 175th all-time.
14 David Ortiz (2006)
Big Papi spent 20 seasons in the big leagues, 14 of which he spent with the Boston Red Sox. Ortiz only hit above 50 home runs in one season (2006) when he hit 54. Ortiz had just come three homers shy of the mark the previous season. Following 2006, however, Ortiz failed to hit more than 40 homers a season again in his career. His best year since 2006 in terms of home runs was 2016, his final year, when at 40 years old he belted 38 home runs and led the league in RBIs.
Ortiz is a ten-time All-Star, seven-time Silver Slugger, three-time AL RBI leader, and two-time AL Hank Aaron award winner. Most importantly, David Ortiz won the World Series with the Red Sox in 2004, 2007 and 2013. He was the the World Series MVP in 2013.
His career WAR of 55.4 ranks Ortiz 145th all-time.
13 Hank Greenberg (1938)
In 1938, Hank Greenberg hit 58 home runs for the Detroit Tigers. He was also a five-time All-Star, two-time World Series champ with Detroit in 1935 and 1945, two-time AL MVP, four-time home run champ, and led the league in RBIs on four occasions as well.
He might have had an even better career had he not lost three seasons due to serving in World War II. Greenberg had his #5 retired by the Detroit Tigers as well. There is an excellent documentary on his life entitled The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, which details much of the anti-Semitism he faced throughout his career.
Greenberg retired in 1947. His career WAR of 57.5, good enough for 133rd all-time. He was the first Jewish player elected to the Hall of Fame when he got 85% of the vote in 1956.
12 Sammy Sosa (1998-2001)
Sammy Sosa hit over 50 home runs in four straight questionable seasons from 1998 to 2001. Like many big home run hitters of the 1990s, he really found his swing in his early 30s.
Despite the skepticism which exists regarding Sosa's power numbers, he has never conclusively failed a drug test. He also testified before U.S. Congress that he has never taken performance-enhancing drugs, although experience tells us this doesn't always mean a person is telling the truth.
Sosa is a seven-time All-Star, was the NL MVP in 1998, led the NL in homers twice and did the same with RBIs. Sosa was a consistent power threat for the Cubs throughout his 15 seasons with the club, even before baseball's power numbers started to explode.
His career WAR of 58.4 has him ranked 129th all time.
11 Mark McGwire (1996-1999)
In 1987, at the age of 23 and in his first full season of Major League Baseball, Mark McGwire hit 49 home runs. He would fail to crack 40 home runs again the next four seasons however, before hitting 42 in 1992.
Foot injuries would plague McGwire his next two seasons in the league, and he played sparingly. But in 1995, a healthy Mark McGwire experienced a drastic career resurgence. He would hit 39 home runs in 107 games that year. The following year he would become the 14th person to join the 50 home run club when he hit 52 home runs in 1996.
At 33 years old, McGwire would crack 58 the following season split between Oakland and St. Louis. Finally, Mark McGwire not only passed Roger Maris' iconic record of 61 homers, as he managed to get 70 by the end of the 1998 season. The next season he would crack 65 homers until his numbers fell back down to earth his final two seasons.
McGwire's numbers may always have an asterisk next to them, but they are some pretty good numbers. His career WAR of 62 is good for 109th all time, just below "Shoeless" Joe Jackson.
10 Andruw Jones (2005)
Andruw Jones was the 22nd player to join the 50 home run club. He is only a one-time member however, cracking 51 in 2005 with Atlanta. He would hit 41 the following season, but wouldn't break 40 again in his career. Jones debuted as a 19-year-old with the club. He played 11 seasons with them before signing with the Dodgers as a free agent for the 2008 season.
After leaving the Braves, Jones floundered. He showed up to spring training in 2008 out of shape and would never again crack more than 19 homers in a season. He played for four teams in five seasons before signing with a Japanese club in 2013. He retired officially in 2016 and now works in the Braves front office.
Jones is a five-time All-Star, ten-time gold glove winner, and one-time MLB HR leader.
His career WAR of 62.8 has him tied with Home Run Baker and Ken Boyer for 104th all-time.
9 Johnny Mize (1947)
Hall of Famer Johnny Mize almost didn't have a big league career. While playing in the minors for the St. Louis Cardinals, Mize had constant injury problems and finally gave up and retired. The Cardinals finally convinced Mize to seek out more treatment for his injuries, and eventually he ended up having surgery for bone spurs. Things picked up for him considerably after that.
Three times in his career Mize hit over 40 home runs in a season, but only once did he hit over 50. He hit 51 in the 1947 season.
In 1949 Mize signed with the New York Yankees. It was a good move for him as the club would win the World Series the next five seasons. After the 5th straight World Series title, Mize opted to hang up the cleats at age 40.
Mize was a ten-time All-Star, one-time batting champion, four-time home run champ, and three-time RBI league leader. His career WAR is 71, good enough for 60th all-time.
8 Jim Thome (2002)
Jim Thome joined baseball's 50 home run club in his 11th and final season in Cleveland. He had come just one homer shy of the feat the previous season. In 2002, however, hitting over 50 home runs had ceased to be cause for much excitement, due to the feats of the aforementioned Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, as well as the feats of someone else coming later on in this list.
Thome is a five-time All-Star, and one-time NL home run champ. He is currently a special assistant to the General Manager of the Chicago White Sox. The club however, has aspirations of using him as a hitting coach in the future.
With 612 homers, Thome ranks seventh on the all-time list. Longevity was the key to Thome's success, as he was still able to crack over 30 home runs a season into his late 30s.
His career WAR of 72.9 has him ranked 53rd all-time.
7 Ken Griffey Jr. (1997 & 1998)
Ken Griffey Jr. hit a lot of home runs for the Seattle Mariners throughout the 1990s. Unfortunately, some other players active during this period would draw significant attention away from Griffey's accomplishments.
Griffey Jr. hit 45 home runs in 1993 as a 23-year-old, and would hit 40 the following year. In 1996 he almost cracked 50 when he hit 49. Finally in 1997, Griffey would hit 56 for the Mariners. He would finish with the exact same tally the following season. The following year he would hit 48, but his power started to wane slightly once he was in his 30s.
He is a 13-time All-Star, one-time AL MVP, a ten-time gold glove winner, and his #24 has been retired by the Seattle Mariners.
Griffey Jr's 83.6 career WAR is good for 35th all time.
6 Jimmie Foxx (1932 & 1938)
Jimmie Foxx is a two-time World Series champion with the Philadelphia Athletics. He is also a nine-time All-Star, three-time MVP, two-time batting champion, four-time home run champ, and led the league in RBIs on three occasions. He also hit over 50 home runs in two seasons.
1932 was the first year Foxx accomplished the feat. He hit 58 home runs that year and drove in 169 RBIs that season. In 1938, Foxx would hit 50 homers again, this time while a member of the Boston Red Sox. Once the 1940s hit, Foxx started to decline as he entered his mid-30s.
Foxx would finish his career with a 96.4 WAR average, good for 22nd all-time. It is believed that Tom Hanks' character in A League of Their Own is loosely based on Foxx.
5 Mickey Mantle (1956)
Mickey Mantle became the 8th member of the 50 home run club, when he hit 52 for the Yankees in 1956. It was the only time he accomplished the feat in his career, with the closest he came being 42 in 1958.
While Mantle is only a one-time member of the 50 home run club, he is not wanting for other accomplishments. Mickey was selected to the All-Star Game 20 times, is a three-time AL MVP, four-time AL home run leader, and most importantly was a World Series champion on seven occasions.
Mantle could hit for average as well, he was the AL batting champion in 1956. He could also field, winning a Gold Glove at centre field in 1962.
Mickey Mantle's career WAR is 109.7, which has him ranked 15th all time.
4 Alex Rodriguez (2001, 2002, & 2007)
You might not like A-Rod, but you have to admit he was good. In fact, Alex Rodriguez is one of the best players of all-time.
As a 20-year-old A-Rod hit 36 home runs his first full season in the league. After a down sophomore year, Alex rattled six straight seasons hitting 40+ home runs. He hit 52 and 57 in 2001 and 2002 respectively. He had a down year as a 28-year-old, although a down year for A-Rod at the time was only hitting 36 homers. He would break the 50 homer threshold a third and final time in 2007 when he hit 54 as a 31-year-old.
A-Rod is a 14-time All-Star, three-time AL MVP, a two-time Gold Glove winner, a ten-time Silver Slugger, a five-time AL home run leader, a two-time MLB RBI leader, and was the MLB batting champion in 1996. Most importantly, he finally won a World Series with the Yankees in 2009.
His career WAR of 117.7 has him ranked 12th all time, sandwiched between Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams.
3 Willie Mays (1955 & 1965)
Twice in his career Willie Mays broke the 50 home run threshold. He was 24 the first time he did so, when he hit 51 in 1955. He almost hit 50 in 1962 when he hit 49. Then at 34 years old, 10 years after he first did it, Mays hit 52 home runs in 1965.
Mays was a two-time NL MVP, 12-time Gold Glove winner, four-time stolen base leader, 1951 Rookie of the Year, and won a World Series in 1954 with the New York Giants. He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, earning 94% of the vote.
His ability to steal bases, impeccable fielding, as well as his power and hitting have led many experts to call Mays the greatest all-round baseball player in history.
His career WAR is 156.2 which ranks him #3 all time.
2 Barry Bonds (2001)
What can you say about Barry Bonds? If you take the PED accusations out of the equation he is easily one of the greatest baseball players of all time. His legacy will be greatly impacted in the public eye due to the BALCO scandal however.
A somewhat astonishing fact is that Barry Bonds is only a one-time member of the 50 home run club. He only led the league in home runs twice throughout his career as well. Bonds' success came from his longevity more than anything else.
Bonds was 36 when he hit 73 home runs in 2001. He'd hit 49 the year before. After his historic 2001 year he'd hit 46 homers in 2002 and 45 in each of the next two seasons. In his final year in the league, he hit 28 home runs as a 42-year-old.
He was an All-Star on 14 occasions, was an eight-time Gold Glove winner, two-time NL batting champion, two-time NL leader in home runs and won 12 Silver Sluggers. Bonds never won a World Series.
Barry Bonds' 162.4 career WAR is the 2nd best in history.
1 Babe Ruth (1920, 1921, 1927, 1928)
The first player ever to hit over 50 homers in a season was Babe Ruth. In his early career as a pitcher with the Boston Red Sox, Ruth wouldn't hit more than a handful of homers a year, until his final two season with the club.
In 1918, Ruth would hit 11 home runs, but then explode the next season for 29. Once traded to the Yankees for the 1920 season, Ruth just started hitting as many as he could out of the park. He hit over 50 home runs his first two years with the Yankees, hitting 54 in 1920, and 59 in 1921.
In 1927 Ruth would hammer home a then-record of 60 home runs. The following year he would hit over 50 for the final time in his career, hitting 54.
Babe Ruth's career WAR is 163.1, which according to Baseball Reference, makes him the greatest to ever play the game.