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 1970s?
The 1970s was a decade full of legendary power—even though it was just one of the two decades in the past 110 years that did not feature a player with 300 total home runs. The '70s made up for it by establishing a new all-time career leader in home runs and producing numerous postseason blasts that are forever etched in the minds of fans who witnessed them. Four different players held the lead at the end of a season in the race for the decade home run title, with three players vying for the crown entering the 1979 season. And if you want star power, you've come to the right place, as 6 of the 10 players on the following list are enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
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 1970s. 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 1970s. 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 1970s.
10. George Foster
- Years Played: 1970–79
- Home Runs: 201 (15th)
- Plate Appearances/Home Run: 20.2 (6th)
- Single-Season High: 52 in 1977
George Foster was one of the big bats in Cincinnati's famed "Big Red Machine," and he ultimately was the only player to hit 50 home runs in a season during the 1970s. That came in his breakout campaign of 1977, when he won MVP honors after leading the Majors in homers (52) and RBI (149), despite fairly modest power production over the first seven seasons of his career. A year earlier, he was the MVP of the All-Star Game and finished as runner-up in regular-season MVP voting. Foster continued the best stretch of his career when he paced the National League in homers in 1978 with 40. "Yahztee" hit 57.8% of his career home runs during the '70s, and he helped the Reds to a pair of World Series championships.
9. Willie McCovey
- Years Played: 1970–79
- Home Runs: 207 (11th)
- PA/HR: 21.0 (10th)
- Single-Season High: 39 in 1970
Willie McCovey entered the 1970s as the reigning National League MVP, and while his career was winding down throughout the decade, McCovey was still one of the fiercest left-handed hitters in the game. McCovey made the All-Star team in 1970 and '71, and his only season with at least 30 homers came when he blasted 39 in 1970. He was the Comeback Player of the Year in 1977 after hitting 28 home runs at age 39, and McCovey hit the 500th home run of his career a year later. His 18 grand slams constitute a National League record, and his 521 career home runs place him in a three-way tie for 20th all-time. "Stretch" hit 39.7% of those home runs during the '70s.
8. Bobby Bonds
- Years Played: 1970–79
- Home Runs: 280 (4th)
- PA/HR: 23.4 (17th)
- Single-Season High: 39 in 1973
Bobby Bonds was the rare player who combined power at the plate with swiftness on the basepaths. Five times in his career—including four times during the 1970s—Bonds hit at least 30 home runs and stole at least 30 bases in the same season, but he also struck out more than 100 times in all but one year in the '70s (and that season still saw him strike out 90 times in 99 games in 1976). When all was said and done, he was remembered as one of the most powerful leadoff hitters ever (and he held the single-season and career records for leadoff homers when he retired). Bonds played for six franchises during the decade, splitting the stretch evenly between the American and National leagues. He had at least 25 home runs in all but two seasons in the 1970s, and he hit 84.3% of his career homers during the decade.
7. Lee May
- Years Played: 1970–79
- Home Runs: 270 (5th)
- PA/HR: 22.2 (13th)
- Single-Season High: 39 in 1971
Lee May was one of the more reliable and consistent players of the 1970s, rarely missing games and hitting at least 19 home runs every season of the decade. He was a key piece to the early "Big Red Machine" teams in Cincinnati, and he hit a pair of homers during the 1970 World Series, which was ultimately won by the Orioles. May followed that up by swatting a career-high 39 homers in 1971, but that was his final season with the Reds, who would win two more titles during the '70s. Throughout the decade, May received down-ballot MVP votes five times, and finished in the Top 10 twice. The "Big Bopper" hit 76.3% of his career home runs in the '70s.
6. Hank Aaron
- Years Played: 1970–76
- Home Runs: 201 (16th)
- PA/HR: 17.0 (2nd)
- Single-Season High: 47 in 1971
Hank Aaron's most famous home run came in 1974, when he hit the 715th homer of his career to break Babe Ruth's all-time career record, but his power was on display for far more than one game during the 1970s. Despite entering the 1970 season at age 36, Aaron was still among the most feared sluggers in baseball. His 47 homers in 1971 were a career high, and two years later, he cranked another 40 longballs—which was a record for a player at least 39 years old until 2004. Aaron ended the 1973 season one homer shy of tying Ruth's career mark, and he homered in the first and third games of 1974 to eclipse the record in one of baseball's most famous moments. Aaron's career ended after the 1976 season with 755 home runs, which stood as a record until 2007. "Hammerin' Hank" hit 26.6% of his home runs in the '70s, but at the time, those 201 homers were the most in baseball history hit by a player age 36 or older.
5. Mike Schmidt
- Years Played: 1972–79
- Home Runs: 235 (8th)
- PA/HR: 19.2 (4th)
- Single-Season High: 45 in 1979
In his second full season, Mike Schmidt proved he belonged among baseball's best power hitters. Schmidt led the National League in home runs from 1974–76, and those were the first three in a stretch where he hit at least 30 homers in 13 of 14 seasons. He was rewarded in 1977 by receiving the richest contract in baseball ($561,000 per year), and he made his third of 12 All-Star appearances that season. The '70s, however, were just the beginning for Schmidt, who led all of baseball with 313 home runs during the 1980s. As for the 1970s, "Schmitty" hit 42.9% of his career homers throughout the decade.
4. Johnny Bench
- Years Played: 1970–79
- Home Runs: 290 (3rd)
- PA/HR: 20.7 (8th)
- Single-Season High: 45 in 1970
The greatest power threat from Cincinnati's vaunted "Big Red Machine" teams was catcher Johnny Bench. He started the decade about as well as a player could, winning National League MVP honors after leading the league with 45 home runs and 148 RBI. And he again paced the league in 1972, when he hit 40 home runs on the way to winning a second MVP trophy. Bench remains the only catcher ever to lead the league in home runs or RBI. In 1975 and '76, Bench helped the Reds secure back-to-back World Series championships, and he was the MVP of the 1976 Fall Classic after batting .533 and hitting two home runs in a 4–0 sweep of the Yankees. Throughout the '70s, the "Little General" smashed 74.6% of his career home runs.
3. Reggie Jackson
- Years Played: 1970–79
- Home Runs: 292 (2nd)
- PA/HR: 20.3 (7th)
- Single-Season High: 36 in 1975
They may have called him "Mr. October" for his postseason heroics, but Reggie Jackson was no slouch in the regular season either. Jackson contributed to five World Series champions throughout the 1970s (three in Oakland and two with the Yankees), and he averaged 28 home runs in those five seasons. In World Series games, Jackson totaled nine home runs during the decade, and that included a record three in the decisive sixth game of the 1977 Fall Classic. That memorable showing helped him win the second World Series MVP trophy of his career (also in '73). Jackson was also the American League MVP in 1973, when he led the league in home runs for the first time (he did so again in '75). For the entirety of the decade, Jackson hit 51.9% of his career home runs.
2. Dave Kingman
- Years Played: 1971–79
- Home Runs: 252 (6th)
- PA/HR: 15.8 (1st)
- Single-Season High: 48 in 1979
Dave Kingman may not have played as many games as some of the other sluggers on this list, but he hit home runs with a frequency like few could. Kingman only played more than 140 games in a season once during the 1970s—that came in '79 when he led the National League with a career-high 48 home runs—but by hitting a home run once every 15.8 plate appearances, he was still rounding the bases quite often. Despite that prolific power, Kingman was well-traveled during the decade, suiting up for six teams (including four in 1977 alone), but he did make a pair of All-Star teams along the way. In total, "Kong" hit 57% of his career home runs during the '70s.
1. Willie Stargell
- Years Played: 1970–79
- Home Runs: 296 (1st)
- PA/HR: 17.2 (3rd)
- Single-Season High: 48 in 1971
Willie Stargell was another player who missed a lot of games during the 1970s, but he made up for it by hitting home runs at a rapid pace. In just 1,255 games and 5,083 plate appearances, Stargell finished as the decade home run leader, narrowly beating out Reggie Jackson (1,440 games and 5,913 plate appearances) and Johnny Bench (1,435 games and 6,006 plate appearances) by out-slugging them both in 1979. Stargell twice paced the National League in homers (1971 and '73), and finished as runner-up in the MVP vote in both of those seasons. But it was the way he closed out the decade that is remembered most. Stargell was named the 1979 MVP after leading the Pirates to their second World Series championship of the decade (also '71). In addition, Stargell picked up MVP honors in the NLCS and World Series. Throughout that postseason, he batted .415 and hit five home runs. In total during the '70s, "Pops" hit 62.3% of his career home runs.
1970s Home Run Records and Trivia
What follows are some targeted leaderboards, records and trivia about home runs hit during the 1970s.
Progressive 1970s Decade Home Run Leaderboard
The race for the decade home run championship came down to the final season, with three players vying for the title. Going into the 1979 season, Johnny Bench led with 268 homers, while Willie Stargell (264) and Reggie Jackson (263) weren't far behind. All three players would change positions by decade's end, with Stargell overtaking the lead (296), Jackson moving to second (292) and Bench dropping to third (290). That represented the fourth lead change during the decade.
- 1970: Johnny Bench (45)
- 1971: Hank Aaron (85)
- 1972: Aaron (119)
- 1973: Aaron (159)
- 1974: Willie Stargell (181)
- 1975: Stargell (203)
- 1976: Stargell (223)
- 1977: Bench (245)
- 1978: Bench (268)
- 1979: Stargell (296)
Top 5 Single-Season Home Run Marks During the 1970s
One player eclipsed 50 home runs during the 1970s, and five different players made up the top five single-season totals.
- George Foster, 52 (1977)
- Willie Stargell, 48 (1971)
- Dave Kingman, 48 (1979)
- Hank Aaron, 47 (1971)
- Jim Rice, 46 (1978)
Top 5 Home Run Totals During the 1970s
While all of these players were featured above, below is a list of the top five home run totals during the 1970s.
- Willie Stargell (296)
- Reggie Jackson (292)
- Johnny Bench (290)
- Bobby Bonds (280)
- Lee May (270)
Top 5 Plate Appearances Per Home Run Marks During the 1970s
Below are the five players who hit home runs the most frequently during the 1970s.
- Dave Kingman from 1971–79 (15.8)
- Hank Aaron from 1970–76 (17.0)
- Willie Stargell from 1970–79 (17.2)
- Mike Schmidt from 1972–79 (19.2)
- Jim Rice from 1974–79 (20.1)
Notable Home Run Records of the 1970s
A couple of notable home run records were established during the 1970s. The top records include:
- Career Home Run Record: Hank Aaron (755 from 1954–76)*
- Single-Season Leadoff Home Runs: Bobby Bonds (11 in 1973)*
*Record has since been broken
Home Run Trivia From the 1970s
Below are some fun facts and trivia about home runs hit during the 1970s.
- Four players during the 1970s tied the Major League record for total home runs in two straight games (5). Nate Colbert (Aug. 1, 1972 doubleheader); Mike Schmidt (April 17–18, 1976); Carl Yastrezemski (May 19–20, 1976); and Dave Kingman (July 27–28, 1979) each accomplished the feat. In history, 32 players are tied for the record.
- With his five home runs in that 1972 doubleheader, Nate Colbert became the second player in baseball history to do so, joining Stan Musial (1954).
- On April 16, 1976, Philadelphia's Mike Schmidt blasted four home runs during a 10-inning slugfest against the Cubs. The Phillies won the game, 18–16.
- Philadelphia pitcher Ken Brett found a surprising power surge in June 1973, when he set the all-time record among pitchers for consecutive games with a home run. Brett homered in four straight games (June 9, 13, 18 and 23). In his career, Brett had just 10 home runs in 14 seasons.
- In 1977, San Francisco's Willie McCovey became the first player in Major League history to hit two home runs in an inning twice in his career (April 12, 1973, and June 27, 1977). Others to hit two home runs in an inning during the 1970s were John Boccabella (July 6, 1973); Lee May (April 29, 1974); Cliff Johnson (June 30, 1977); and Andre Dawson (July 30, 1978), who accomplished the feat again in 1985.
- On May 17, 1971, Atlanta's Ralph Garr became the fourth player in history to hit a pair of home runs during extra innings, hitting longballs in each the 10th and 12th innings of a 4–3 win over the Mets.
- On July 31, 1972, Chicago's Dick Allen hit two inside-the-park home runs in the same game, becoming the first American League player to do so in 40 years.
- On Sept. 2, 1975, San Francisco's Johnnie LeMaster had a memorable Major League debut, slashing an inside-the-park in his first career at-bat—becoming just the second player in baseball history to do so.
- For as talented as Ferguson Jenkins was during his career, he had a penchant for surrendering home runs. He led the league in home runs allowed a record seven times in his career, including five times in the 1970s ('71, '72, '73, '75 and '79).
- On July 4, 1977, the Red Sox became the first team in baseball history to hit seven solo home runs in a single game during a 9–6 win over the Blue Jays.
- The 1977 Dodgers became the first team in baseball history to have four players each hit at least 30 home runs in the same season. Steve Garvey (33), Reggie Smith (32), Dusty Baker (30) and Ron Cey (30) combined for the effort, and their record stood until the 2019 Twins saw five players reach the mark.
- The 1973 Braves became the first team in baseball history to have three players hit at least 40 home runs in the same season. Davey Johnson (43), Darrell Evans (41) and Hank Aaron (40) combined for the effort, which was later matched by the 1996 and '97 Rockies.
- Cincinnati's Joe Morgan led off the 1977 All-Star game with a home run, one of just five players in baseball history to do so.
- In the 1977 World Series, Reggie Jackson became the first player since Babe Ruth to hit three home runs in a single World Series game, helping build the legend of his nickname, "Mr. October," after his Game 6 escapade. His five total homers in that World Series also are a record.
- The 1975 World Series also had an exciting Game 6, with Boston's Carlton Fisk famously waving a 12th-inning, walk-off home run fair.
- And speaking of the Red Sox and Yankees, who could forget Bucky Dent's three-run home run in the 1978 regular-season tie-breaker game between the teams?
- There have been 19 grand slams in the history of the World Series, and the only pitcher to hit one is Baltimore's Dave McNally, who cleared the bases in Game 3 of the 1970 World Series.
© 2020 Andrew Harner