I am a former sports editor and currently serve as a historian with the Society of American Baseball Research and manage a valet operation.
Who Were the Top Home Run Hitters of the 1950s?
The 1950s saw a huge spike in the number of players who hit at least 200 home runs; there were more than five times the amount of players who accomplished this feat in comparison to the 1940s. The home run became a resurgent piece of Major League Baseball offenses. The decade also hatched the careers of some of the most well-known players in the history of baseball—many of whom were prolific power hitters.
These rankings are not based upon opinions, and for a player to be considered, he must have hit at least 100 home runs during the 1950s. Players were then ranked by averaging their decade rank for both of these criterion:
- Total home runs in the decade
- Plate appearances per home run during the decade
Following the top 10 are a handful of shorter lists of leaders in more defined categories, as well as trivia about home runs hit during the 1950s. Information from Stathead on Baseball Reference was used to compile statistics, and records were obtained from Baseball Almanac.
Note: Ranks in parenthesis in individual player capsules represent their ranking among players who hit at least 100 home runs during the 1950s.
10. Ted Kluszewski
- Years Played: 1950–59
- Home Runs: 239 (8th)
- Plate Appearances/Home Run: 21.98 (14th)
- Single-Season High: 49 in 1954
Ted Kluszewski broke out as a big-time power threat in his fifth full season with the Reds in 1953. His 40 home runs that season opened a stretch of four straight seasons with at least 35 bombs, and he also made the All-Star team and hit better than .300 each year. During that stretch, he hit the third-most home runs (187) and had the fifth-highest average (.316) in all of baseball.
Injuries, however, disrupted the rest of Kluszewski's career, as he would never play in more than 107 games in a campaign before he retired after the 1961 season. With tremendous arm strength and large biceps, Kluszewski is remembered for going without sleeves on his uniform throughout his career. During the 1950s, "Big Klu" hit 85.7% of his career home runs.
9. Ralph Kiner
- Years Played: 1950–55
- Home Runs: 201 (16th)
- PA/HR: 18.3 (5th)
- Single-Season High: 47 in 1950
Ralph Kiner's best season came in 1949, but he continued his power barrage for the Pirates in the early '50s. Kiner led the National League in home runs from 1950 to '52, extending his streak of doing so to seven seasons. He was part of a 10-player trade with the Cubs in 1953 and played his final season in 1955 with the Indians. Injuries forced him into early retirement following that 1955 season. He was an All-Star each season from 1950 to '53.
Kiner never hit fewer than 20 home runs in any full season of his 10-year career, and averaged an impressive 37 homers per season. Of his career home runs, Kiner hit 54.5% of them during the 1950s.
8. Gus Zernial
- Years Played: 1950–59
- Home Runs: 232 (9th)
- PA/HR: 18.7 (8th)
- Single-Season High: 42 in 1953
Gus Zernial established himself as a power threat for the White Sox when he blasted 29 home runs during his first full season in 1950, and he led the American League the next season (33) when he was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics early in the season. In 1953, he made the only All-Star team of his career. He moved with the Athletics to Kansas City and his powerful bat remained steady through 1957. Zernial played two more seasons with the Tigers but wasn't a regular.
During the 1950s, "Ozark Ike" hit 97.9% of his career home runs. Only the five he hit in 1949 came outside of the decade.
7. Ted Williams
- Years Played: 1950–59
- Home Runs: 227 (11th)
- PA/HR: 17.9 (4th)
- Single-Season High: 38 in 1957
Ted Williams missed two seasons during the 1950s due to his second stint serving in the military, but he was still among the most powerful players of the decade. Williams hit at least 25 home runs seven times during the '50s (including two seasons with 30 or more), while also batting .336 during the 10-year stretch. He picked up 10 All-Star selections and finished in the top 10 of MVP balloting each year from 1954 to '58.
The "Splendid Splinter" came into the '50s as the reigning American League MVP, and he hit 43.6% of his career home runs during the decade.
6. Mickey Mantle
- Years Played: 1951–59
- Home Runs: 280 (4th)
- PA/HR: 19.3 (11th)
- Single-Season High: 52 in 1956
The greatest switch-hitter of all-time opened his career in the 1950s and really blossomed into a home run hitter in the last half of the decade. Mickey Mantle led the American League in home runs three times (1955, '56 and '58), and won back-to-back MVP awards in 1956 and '57. In 1956, he won the Triple Crown by leading the league with a .353 average, 52 home runs and 130 RBI. From 1955 to '59, his 196 home runs easily outpaced every other AL player.
Mantle was an All-Star every season from 1952 to '59 and had three other top five finishes in MVP balloting. "The Mick" hit 52.2% of his career home runs during the 1950s.
5. Gil Hodges
- Years Played: 1950–59
- Home Runs: 310 (2nd)
- PA/HR: 19.9 (13th)
- Single-Season High: 42 in 1954
Gil Hodges is most known for his defensive skills at first base, but not to be forgotten was his consistent threat of power from the lineup. Hodges hit at least 20 home runs in every season during the 1950s, and that included five straight seasons above 30 from 1950 to '54. That left him with the second-most homers in that span—though he never led the National League, even when he hit 42 home runs in 1954 and 40 in 1951.
Hodges was a seven-time All-Star throughout the decade. He slammed 83.8% of his 370 career homers during the 1950s.
4. Willie Mays
- Years Played: 1951–59
- Home Runs: 250 (7th)
- PA/HR: 18.5 (7th)
- Single-Season High: 51 in 1955
Generally regarded as one of the most well-rounded players in baseball history, Willie Mays was on top of his power game during the 1950s. Mays opened his career as the National League Rookie of the Year in 1951, and in '54, he was voted as league MVP and led the New York Giants to a World Series victory over the Cleveland Indians. Then in '55, he hit 51 home runs for the highest single-season total for an NL player during the '50s.
Mays missed the 1953 season due to military service, but he returned to action with a home run on Opening Day in '54. He made his first of 23 All-Star teams that year and led the NL with a .345 average. Mays finished in the top five of MVP balloting four times during the 1950s, and during the decade, the "Say Hey Kid" hit 37.9% of his 660 career home runs.
3. Ernie Banks
- Years Played: 1953–59
- Home Runs: 228 (10th)
- PA/HR: 17.3 (3rd)
- Single-Season High: 47 in 1958
It was in his second full season when Ernie Banks established himself as a power threat. After finishing as runner-up in Rookie of the Year balloting in 1954, Banks smashed 44 home runs in '55. That started a brilliant stretch of power for Banks, who hit more home runs in the latter half of the decade than any other player in baseball (207 from 1955 to '59). He hit at least 40 homers in four of those five seasons and led the National League with a career-high 47 in 1958. That helped him claim his first of back-to-back MVP awards that year (he was the first National Player ever to win two in a row).
Banks began his career in the Negro Leagues before becoming the first Black player in Cubs history, and by 1955, he had become an All-Star starter and hit a then-record five grand slams during the season. Throughout the '50s, Banks was selected for six All-Star teams, and "Mr. Cub" slugged 44.5% of his 512 career homers during the decade.
2. Duke Snider
- Years Played: 1950–59
- Home Runs: 329 (1st)
- PA/HR: 18.4 (6th)
- Single-Season High: 43 in 1956
Duke Snider hit more home runs than any other player during the 1950s, and he was able to do so on the strength of a fabulous five-year stretch from 1953 to '57. Snider smashed at least 40 homers each of those seasons (207 all together) and hit a collective .320, which helped him to three top-five finishes in MVP balloting and an All-Star game selection each year. Also during that time, Snider helped lead the Brooklyn Dodgers to three World Series appearances against the Yankees. And even though the Dodgers only won one championship, Snider did his part. He belted six home runs and hit .315 over the three series appearances, but the Dodgers only prevailed in 1955. Brooklyn also lost the 1952 World Series to the Yankees, despite Snider's four home runs. But he helped the Los Angeles Dodgers win a championship in 1959 over the White Sox, when Snider hit his 11th and final World Series home run.
Snider only led the National League in home runs one time, when he hit a career-high 43 in 1956. Nevertheless, "The Duke of Flatbrush" hit 80.1% of his 407 career home runs during the '50s.
1. Eddie Mathews
- Years Played: 1952–59
- Home Runs: 299 (3rd)
- PA/HR: 17.2 (2nd)
- Single-Season High: 47 in 1953
The most prolific home run hitter of the 1950s was Eddie Mathews, who hit home runs in droves and at a high frequency. Mathews was the only qualified player to rank in the top five for both total home runs throughout the decade, as well as home runs per plate appearance during the decade. After slugging 25 homers as a rookie in 1952, he led the National League with 47 in '53 to begin a streak of nine straight years with at least 30 homers (including 40 or more from 1953 to '55 and another league-high mark of 46 in '59). Both times he led the league, he was the runner-up in MVP balloting, and he also appeared in seven All-Star games throughout the '50s.
Mathews' prolific power landed him on the cover of the inaugural issue of Sports Illustrated in 1954. Perhaps his biggest home run of the '50s came in the 10th inning of Game 4 of the 1957 World Series. The Yankees had taken the lead in the top of the inning, but after the Braves got a run back, Mathews hit a walk-off, two-run homer to left. That victory helped Milwaukee win the Fall Classic in seven games. Of his 512 career home runs, "The Brookfield Bomber" hit 58.3% of them during the 50s.
1950s Home Run Records and Trivia
What follows are some targeted leaderboards, records and trivia about home runs hit during the 1950s.
Progressive 1950s Decade Home Run Leaderboard
Only two players were atop the decade home run leaderboard in the 1950s—Ralph Kiner for the first five seasons, and Duke Snider for the final five.
- 1950: Ralph Kiner (47)
- 1951: Kiner (89)
- 1952: Kiner (126)
- 1953: Kiner (161)
- 1954: Kiner (183)
- 1955: Duke Snider (205)
- 1956: Snider (248)
- 1957: Snider (288)
- 1958: Snider (303)
- 1959: Snider (326)
Top 5 Single-Season Home Run Marks During the 1950s
There were several memorable single-season home run efforts during the 1950s, with six players hitting at least 47 homers in a season.
- Mickey Mantle, 52 (1956)
- Willie Mays, 51 (1955)
- Ted Kluszewski, 49 (1954)
- Ernie Banks, 47 (1958)
- Kluszewski, 47 (1955)
- Eddie Mathews, 47 (1953)
- Ralph Kiner, 47 (1950)
Top 5 Home Run Totals During the 1950s
While most of these players were featured above, below is a list of the top five home run totals during the 1950s.
- Duke Snider (326)
- Gil Hodges (310)
- Eddie Mathews (299)
- Mickey Mantle (280)
- Stan Musial (266)
Top 5 Plate Appearances Per Home Run Marks During the 1950s
Below are the five players who hit home runs the most frequently during the 1950s (minimum 100 home runs).
- Rocky Colavito from 1955–59 (16.9)
- Eddie Mathews from 1952–59 (17.2)
- Ernie Banks from 1953–59 (17.3)
- Ted Williams from 1950–59 (17.9)
- Ralph Kiner from 1950–55 (18.3)
Home Run Trivia From the 1950s
Below are some fun facts and trivia about home runs hit during the 1950s.
- On May 15, 1950, the Chicago Cubs and New York Giants each hit a grand slam in the sixth inning, becoming the first set of opponents to each hit a grand slam in the same inning since 1890.
- On June 23, 1950, Detroit's Dizzy Trout became the first pitcher in baseball history to hit two grand slams during his career.
- On Aug. 16, 1950, Hank Thompson of the New York Giants hit two inside-the-park home runs in the same game. He's the last National League player to accomplish the feat.
- On Sept. 15, 1950, Hall of Famer Johnny Mize hit three home runs in a game for the sixth time in his career, becoming the first player in baseball history to do so.
- On Sept. 18, 1950, the Chicago Cubs' Ron Northey became the first player in baseball history to hit three pinch-hit grand slams during his career.
- On Sept. 14, 1951, St. Louis' Bob Nieman became the first player since 1889 to hit two home runs in his first career game.
- On Oct. 3, 1951, Bobby Thompson hit one of the greatest home runs in baseball history. "The Shot Heard Around the World" was a walk-off home run that sent the New York Giants to the World Series by defeating the Brooklyn Dodgers in a three-game playoff to determine the National League champion.
- On Aug. 30, 1953, the Milwaukee Braves hit a National League record 12 home runs during a doubleheader against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
- On May 2, 1954, St. Louis' Stan Musial hit a record five home runs during a doubleheader.
- On July 13, 1954, Cleveland's Al Rosen became the third player in baseball history to hit two home runs in an All-Star game.
- From May 19–28, 1956, Pittsburgh's Dale Long hit a home run in eight straight games, which remains a National League record.
- On May 30, 1956, the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Braves combined to hit a a Major League record 15 home runs during a doubleheader.
- On July 6, 1956, Cleveland's Jim Bushby became the seventh player in baseball history to hit grand slams in consecutive games.
- From Sept. 17–21, 1957, Ted Willilams was in a unique home run scenario. He played in four games, and hit three home runs and walked in his other four plate appearances during that stretch.
- During the 1950s, Gil Hodges, Rocky Colavito and Joe Adcock each hit four home runs during a nine-inning game, which is tied for the Major League record.
- During the 1950s, Joe Adcock, Don Mueller and Stan Musial each homered five times over the course of back-to-back games, and remain tied for the Major League record.
- In 1953, Brooklyn's Roy Campanella became the first catcher in baseball history to hit at least 40 home runs in a season.
- In 1955, Ernie Banks hit five grand slams, which tied the since-broken Major League record but remains tied for the National League record.
- In 1956, Cincinnati's Frank Robinson tied the rookie home run record with 38, which has since been broken several times.
- In 1958, Chicago's Ernie Banks established the National League record for home runs by a shortstop with 47.
- Two Dodgers pitchers set the National League record for home runs in a season by a pitcher. Don Newcombe (1955) and Don Drysdale ('58) each hit seven.
- Two players tied the Major League record with two home runs in an inning: Detroit's Al Kaline on April 17, 1955, and Washington's Jim Lemon on Sept. 5, 1959.
- Mickey Mantle hit a home run from both sides of the plate in the same game seven times during the 1950s.
- In each 1951 and '54, there were six home runs hit in the All-Star game. That held up as a record until 10 were hit in 2018's contest.
- For the first time in All-Star game history, there were no home runs hit in back-to-back games in 1957 and '58. That wouldn't be repeated again until 2009 and '10.
- The New York Yankees hit four grand slams during World Series games in the 1950s, and in '56, Yogi Berra and Bill Skowron became the first teammates to each hit a grand slam in the same World Series.
- In the 1957 World Series, Yankees rookie Tony Kubek became the second rookie in baseball history to hit two homers in a World Series game.
- In Game 1 of the 1959 World Series, Ted Kluszewski hit two home runs for the White Sox, becoming the first player in history to homer twice in his first postseason game.
© 2021 Andrew Harner