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Baseball's Best Home Run Hitters of the 1960s

I am a former sports editor and historical baseball aficionado, now making a career in the hospitality industry.

The home run chase of 1961 saw Roger Maris break the single-season home run record, and was among the major highlights of the 1960s.

The home run chase of 1961 saw Roger Maris break the single-season home run record, and was among the major highlights of the 1960s.

Who Were the Top Home Run Hitters of the 1960s?

The home run was prominent throughout the 1960s, especially in New York. That's where the Yankees put forth an assault on the record books in 1961, ushering in a powerful decade that featured some of the greatest home run hitters in baseball history. Not only did New York's Roger Maris break the single-season home run record that year, he and his teammates combined to set a single-season record for homers by a team. Neither of those records stand today, but they were critical in setting up a decade that saw three Hall of Famers lead the decade home run race.

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 1960s. 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 records and trivia about home runs hit during the 1960s. 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 1960s.

Orlando Cepeda was one of many power-hitting Giants during the 1960s.

Orlando Cepeda was one of many power-hitting Giants during the 1960s.

10. Orlando Cepeda

  • Years Played: 1960–69
  • Home Runs: 254 (10th)
  • Plate Appearances/Home Run: 22.4 (20th)
  • Single-Season High: 46 in 1961

Orlando Cepeda was solid throughout the 1960s, but two seasons stick out when considering his decade performance. The first came in 1961, when he led the National League with 46 home runs and finished as runner-up in the MVP voting for the Giants. By 1967, he had been traded to the Cardinals, but he delivered for his new team. Cepeda hit a career-high .325 that season, adding in 25 home runs and a league-leading 111 RBI to take home MVP honors and help St. Louis win the World Series (though he hit just .109 in the seven-game win over the Red Sox). "The Bull" smashed at least 20 home runs in all but one of his full seasons during the 1960s, and hit 67% of his career homers throughout the decade.

Though Roger Maris is most known for hitting 61 home runs in 1961, he was a consistent threat throughout most of the decade.

Though Roger Maris is most known for hitting 61 home runs in 1961, he was a consistent threat throughout most of the decade.

9. Roger Maris

  • Years Played: 1960–68
  • Home Runs: 217 (15th)
  • PA/HR: 19.8 (11th)
  • Single-Season High: 61 in 1961

Roger Maris became the single-season home run king in 1961 when he belted 61 homers to take over the record from Babe Ruth. He held the mark until 1998, and that one season often overshadows the rest of Maris' career. Maris established himself as a power threat in 1960, when he won the first of two straight MVP honors after hitting .283 with 39 homers and a league-leading 112 RBI. He was even better in '61, leading the league in home runs (61), runs (132) and RBI (141). Injuries would hinder him throughout the remainder of his career, though he did appear in the World Series seven times (winning three). He launched six career home runs in the Fall Classic. Maris hit 78.9% of his career home runs during the 1960s.

Norm Cash became a power-hitting star after coming to the Tigers in a trade with the Indians.

Norm Cash became a power-hitting star after coming to the Tigers in a trade with the Indians.

8. Norm Cash

  • Years Played: 1960–69
  • Home Runs: 278 (7th)
  • PA/HR: 20.5 (13th)
  • Single-Season High: 41 in 1961

Norm Cash enjoyed a breakout season in 1961, and then remained one of the best players in baseball throughout the rest of the decade. Cash led the American League with a .361 average that season, and added a career-high 41 home runs to finish fourth in MVP voting. Oddly, he'd never again hit .300 in a season, but he remained a solid power threat in the middle of the Tigers lineup with at least 20 home runs every season through 1969. Cash is believed to have hit the longest home run in Tigers Stadium history, when he blasted a ball over the center field scoreboard in 1962. During the '60s, "Stomrin' Norman" hit 73.7% of his career home runs.

Frank Robinson was a power hitter in both leagues during the 1960s.

Frank Robinson was a power hitter in both leagues during the 1960s.

7. Frank Robinson

  • Years Played: 1960–69
  • Home Runs: 316 (4th)
  • PA/HR: 19.6 (9th)
  • Single-Season High: 49 in 1966

Frank Robinson abused pitchers in the American and National Leagues during the 1960s, and remains the only player ever to win an MVP honor in both leagues, taking home the award for the Reds (1961) and Orioles ('66). Robinson swatted 30 or more home runs in seven of the 10 seasons during the 1960s, including a career-high and American League-leading 49 in 1966. That same season, he also hit two home runs in a sweep of the Dodgers for Baltimore's first championship and won World Series MVP honors. Additionally, Robinson led the AL in average (.316) and RBI (122) in '66 to become the seventh American Leaguer to win a Triple Crown. "The Judge" hit 53.9% of his career home runs throughout the 1960s.

After claiming Rookie of the Year honors in 1960, Frank Howard blossomed into one of baseball's best power hitters in the latter years of the decade.

After claiming Rookie of the Year honors in 1960, Frank Howard blossomed into one of baseball's best power hitters in the latter years of the decade.

6. Frank Howard

  • Years Played: 1960–69
  • Home Runs: 288 (6th)
  • PA/HR: 18.5 (6th)
  • Single-Season High: 48 in 1969

Frank Howard opened the 1960s as National League Rookie of the Year with the Dodgers and finished it as one of the decade's leading sluggers with the Senators. From a power perspective, Howard was at his best in the waning years of the decade, hitting 11 more home runs than any other player between 1968 and '69, and 16 more than any player when considering 1968–70. He made his first of three straight All-Star teams in 1968, when he led the American League with 44 homers. Howard powered one home run in 10 at-bats during the 1963 World Series, helping the Dodgers sweep the Yankees in his only postseason appearance. Throughout the '60s, "Hondo" hit 75.4% of his career home runs.

Mickey Mantle (right) joined Roger Maris in 1961 in chasing Babe Ruth's single-season home run record.

Mickey Mantle (right) joined Roger Maris in 1961 in chasing Babe Ruth's single-season home run record.

5. Mickey Mantle

  • Years Played: 1960–68
  • Home Runs: 256 (9th)
  • PA/HR: 17.6 (3rd)
  • Single-Season High: 54 in 1961

Mickey Mantle was at the height of his career as the 1950s gave way to the '60s, and he continued on as a productive player until his retirement following the 1968 season. Mantle led the American League in home runs for the fourth time in his career in 1960, and then mashed a career-high 54 homers in '61. He was outshined by teammate Roger Maris, who won MVP honors in both of those seasons, but Mantle was named the AL's top player for the third time of his career in 1962, when he had 30 home runs and a .321 average. Mantle hit three home runs in the World Series in each 1960 and '64, but the Yankees lost both times. Meanwhile, he failed to homer in 1961 or '62, but New York won a championship in both those seasons. Throughout the decade, "The Mick" hit 47.8% of his career home runs.

Willie Mays was among the anchors of the Giants lineup throughout the 1960s.

Willie Mays was among the anchors of the Giants lineup throughout the 1960s.

4. Willie Mays

  • Years Played: 1960–69
  • Home Runs: 350 (3rd)
  • PA/HR: 17.8 (4th)
  • Single-Season High: 52 in 1965

Another player who really hit his stride as the 1950s turned into the '60s was Willie Mays. Mays is among the greatest players in baseball history, and had a fantastic five-year stretch from 1961–65. Throughout those years, Mays paced the Majors with 226 home runs and led the National League in three seasons (including a career-high 52 during his MVP campaign in '65). Mays was an All-Star every season of the decade, and from 1960–66, he finished in the top six of NL MVP balloting. He surpassed 600 career home runs during the 1969 season, and of his 660 career homers, he hit 53% of them throughout the '60s.

Hank Aaron was consistently among baseball's top power hitters throughout the 1960s.

Hank Aaron was consistently among baseball's top power hitters throughout the 1960s.

3. Hank Aaron

  • Years Played: 1960–69
  • Home Runs: 375 (2nd)
  • PA/HR: 17.8 (5th)
  • Single-Season High: 45 in 1962

It's no surprise that the player who sits No. 2 on the all-time home run list was a big power hitter throughout the prime of his career in the 1960s. Hank Aaron had five seasons with at least 40 home runs during the decade, and led the league three times (though that did not include his decade-high mark of 45 home runs in 1962). Aaron received MVP votes every season during the '60s but never finished better than third ('63 and '69), and he was also an All-Star in every season. In 1969, Aaron hit three home runs in the NLCS, but the Braves couldn't get past the Mets. "Hammerin' Hank" hit his 500th career home run during the 1968 season, and of his 755 career home runs (which stood as MLB's all-time record for 33 years), 49.7% came during the 1960s.

Willie McCovey opened his career as a fierce power hitter and remained among the game's best until he retired in 1980.

Willie McCovey opened his career as a fierce power hitter and remained among the game's best until he retired in 1980.

2. Willie McCovey

  • Years Played: 1960–69
  • Home Runs: 300 (5th)
  • PA/HR: 16.7 (2nd)
  • Single-Season High: 45 in 1969

After winning Rookie of the Year honors in 1959, it took a few seasons for Willie McCovey to become a full-time regular. But once he did, McCovey became one of the most feared left-handed sluggers in baseball. Between 1963 and '69, he hit at least 30 home runs in all but one season and led the National League in home runs three times. That included his 1969 MVP season, when he led the league with a career-high 45 home runs and 126 RBI but fell 28 points shy of the Triple Crown, despite a .320 average. He added All-Star game MVP honors that year after belting two home runs in the Midsummer Classic. "Stretch" hit 57.6% of his career home runs during the 1960s.

Harmon Killebrew was far and away the top power hitter of the 1960s.

Harmon Killebrew was far and away the top power hitter of the 1960s.

1. Harmon Killebrew

  • Years Played: 1960–69
  • Home Runs: 393 (1st)
  • PA/HR: 15.4 (1st)
  • Single-Season High: 49 (1964 and '69)

Harmon Killebrew is without question the top home run hitter of the 1960s. Killebrew was not only the decade home run champion, he also recorded the best ratio of home runs to plate appearances among players with at least 100 homers in the decade. The right-handed slugger led the American League in home runs five times during the '60s, as part of his six seasons with at least 40 homers. He finished within the top five of MVP voting five times, including a win in 1969, when he led the league in home runs (49), RBI (140), walks (145) and on-base percentage (.427). In 1965, he hit a home run during the All-Star game, which was held in his home ballpark—Metropolitan Stadium in Minneapolis. That same year, he hit a home run in his only World Series appearance, but the Twins lost to the Dodgers in seven games. "Killer" hit 68.6% of his career home runs during the 1960s.

1960s Home Run Records and Trivia

What follows are some targeted leaderboards, records and trivia about home runs hit during the 1960s.

Progressive 1960s Decade Home Run Leaderboard

There were four lead changes in the chase for the decade home run crown, but it was Harmon Killebrew who came out on top after leading for half of the decade.

  • 1960: Ernie Banks (41)
  • 1961: Roger Maris (100)
  • 1962: Maris (133)
  • 1963: Harmon Killebrew (170)
  • 1964: Killebrew (219)
  • 1965: Willie Mays (245)
  • 1966: Mays (292)
  • 1967: Killebrew (327)
  • 1968: Killebrew (344)
  • 1969: Killebrew (393)

Top 5 Single-Season Home Run Marks During the 1960s

There were several memorable single-season home run efforts during the 1960s, with two players recording two seasons with at least 49 homers..

  • Roger Maris, 61 (1961)
  • Mickey Mantle, 54 (1961)
  • Willie Mays, 52 (1965)
  • Harmon Killebrew, 49 (1964 and '69)
  • Mays, 49 (1962)
  • Frank Robinson, 49 (1966)

Top 5 Home Run Totals During the 1960s

While all of these players were featured above, below is a list of the top five home run totals during the 1960s.

  • Harmon Killebrew (393)
  • Hank Aaron (375)
  • Willie Mays (350)
  • Frank Robinson (316)
  • Willie McCovey (300)

Top 5 Plate Appearances Per Home Run Marks During the 1960s

Below are the five players who hit home runs the most frequently during the 1960s (minimum 100 home runs).

  • Harmon Killebrew from 1960–69 (15.4)
  • Willie McCovey from 1960–69 (16.7)
  • Mickey Mantle from 1960–68 (17.6)
  • Willie Mays from 1960–69 (17.75)
  • Hank Aaron from 1960–69 (17.76)

Notable Home Run Records of the 1960s

A couple of notable home run records were established during the 1960s. The top records include:

  • Single-Season Home Run Record: Roger Maris (61 in 1961)*
  • Single-Season Home Runs by One Team: New York Yankees (240 in 1961)*

*Record has since been broken

Home Run Trivia From the 1960s

Below are some fun facts and trivia about home runs hit during the 1960s.

  • On July 3, 1966, Braves pitcher Tony Cloninger hit two grand slams during a 17–3 rout of the Giants. He is the only pitcher ever to hit a pair of grand slams in the same game, and is one of just seven pitchers ever to record two career grand slams.
  • Detroit's Jeff Northrup hit three grand slams in the month of June in 1968. He became the second player in baseball history ever to hit three grand slams in one month.
  • On June 25, 1968, Giants rookie Bobby Bonds became the second player in history to hit a grand slam in his Major League debut.
  • In 1964, Boston's Tony Conigliaro established the record for home runs by a teenager, when he slugged 24 at age 19, and he later became the second-youngest player in history to reach 100 career home runs.
  • Chicago's Billy Williams tied the record for the most home runs hit in consecutive games, when he slugged a total of five on Sept. 8 and 10, 1968. He is one of 32 players to accomplish the feat.
  • In 1968, Frank Howard hit a record 10 home runs during the week of May 12–18.
  • Mickey Mantle's 54 home runs in 1961 are the most ever in a season by a switch-hitter.
  • New York's Joe Pepitone (May 23, 1962) and California's Rick Reichardt (April 30, 1966) are the only players to hit two home runs in the same inning during the 1960s.
  • Cleveland's Willie Kirkland became the second player in history to hit two home runs during extra innings on June 14, 1963, when he blasted homers in the 11th and 19th innings of a 3–2 win over the Senators. Cincinnati's Art Shamsky became the third player to do so on Aug. 12, 1966, when he hit home runs in the 10th and 11th innings of a 14–11 loss to the Pirates.
  • Twice during the 1960s, a team hit five home runs in an inning. On Aug. 21, 1961, San Francisco's Orlando Cepeda, Felipe Alou, Jim Davenport, Willie Mays and John Orsino all homered during the ninth inning against Cincinnati, and on June 9, 1966, Minnesota's Rich Rollins, Zoilo Versalles, Tony Olivia, Don Mincher and Harmon Killebrew each hit home runs in the seventh inning against the Royals.
  • The first three teams to ever hit four straight home runs in an inning each did so in the 1960s. Milwaukee accomplished it first on June 8, 1961, when Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Joe Adcock and Frank Thomas each connected in the seventh inning against the Reds. Next up was Cleveland on July 31, 1963, when Woodie Held, Pedro Ramos, Tito Francona and Larry Brown strung together home runs in the sixth inning against the Angels. One year later, on May 2, 1964, Minnesota's Tony Oliva, Bob Allison, Jimmie Hall and Harmon Killebrew hit four straight homers in the 11th inning against the Royals.
  • In 1969, Willie McCovey became the fourth player in history to hit two home runs in a single All-Star game, and in 1965, Willie Mays became the third player in history to lead off the All-Star game with a homer.
  • While filmed in 1959, "Home Run Derby" was a television show broadcast in 1960 that featured one-on-one home run hitting contests at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. Mickey Mantle won the first episode and hit more home runs than anyone else (44), while Hank Aaron had the best record of 6–1. A total of 19 players appeared on the show.
  • One of the most famous home runs in baseball history was struck by Bill Mazeroski, who drilled a walk-off homer in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.
  • There were five grand slams hit during a World Series game in the 1960s, more than in any other decade. Recording them were: Bobby Richardson (1960), Chuck Hiller (1962), Ken Boyer (1964), Joe Pepitone (1964) and Jim Northrup (1968).
  • Pitchers hit six home runs during a World Series game in the 1960s, also more than in any other decade. Recording them were: Mudcat Grant (1965), Bob Gibson (1967 and '68), Jose Santiago (1967), Mickey Lolich (1968) and Dave McNally (1969)

© 2020 Andrew Harner

Comments

Andrew Harner (author) from Ohio on December 02, 2020:

I was happy that Frank made it through. He's such an underrated player.

CJ Kelly from the PNW on December 02, 2020:

I bet no one would have guessed Frank Howard would be on the list. But he had some amazing years, especially '68. Great list. Thanks.