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Who Were the Top Home Run Hitters of the 1980s?
Despite some well-known power hitters playing throughout the 1980s, the decade stands alone over the past 110 years when it comes to home runs—it's the only decade since the 1910s not to feature at least one player hitting 50 homers in a season. There were 103 players during the 1980s to hit at least 100 home runs, and the decade leader in home runs was Mike Schmidt (313), who paced the Majors in the category for the entire decade.
But he's far from the only power hitter worth remembering from the '80s, and this list will explore all the feared sluggers who defined the decade. 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 1980s. 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 1980s. 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 1980s.
10. Jack Clark
- Years Played: 1980–89
- Home Runs: 216 (10th)
- Plate Appearances/Home Run: 23.3 (22nd)
- Single-Season High: 35 in 1987
Jack Clark missed significant portions of three seasons throughout the 1980s, but still ranks as one of the decade's most prominent power hitters. Clark ultimately played for four different franchises throughout the decade, and found the most success in a three-year stint with the Cardinals. That's where he made two All-Star teams and won a pair of Silver Sluggers—including in 1987 when he surpassed 30 home runs for the only time in his career. "Jack the Ripper" hit 63.5% of his career home runs during the '80s and also had a home run in the 1985 NLCS, which helped push the Cardinals to the World Series.
9. Andre Dawson
- Years Played: 1980–89
- Home Runs: 250 (5th)
- PA/HR: 23.6 (27th)
- Single-Season High: 49 in 1987
Andre Dawson finished as the runner-up for National League MVP honors twice in the early 1980s, but he finally took home the award in 1987 when he belted a career-high 49 home runs—which were the most by any NL player in the decade. Dawson hit no fewer than 17 home runs each season during the '80s, splitting time between the Expos (1980–86) and the Cubs (1987–89). He was a six-time All-Star, and "The Hawk" also exceled defensively and as a baserunner. During the '80s, Dawson was in the prime of his career and hit 57.1% of his home runs throughout the decade.
8. Lance Parrish
- Years Played: 1980–89
- Home Runs: 225 (8th)
- PA/HR: 23.3 (23rd)
- Single-Season High: 33 in 1984
It didn't take long for Detroit's Lance Parrish to establish himself as the American League's premier offensive catcher in the 1980s. Parrish hit at least 22 home runs in six of the first seven years of the decade, making six All-Star appearances and winning five Silver Sluggers along the way. After the 1986 season, Parrish ended his 10-year tenure with the Tigers and went to the Phillies, but by 1988, his average dipped to .215 as his career entered its waning years. The "Big Wheel" smashed 69.4% of his career home runs throughout the '80s.
7. Darrell Evans
- Years Played: 1980–89
- Home Runs: 230 (6th)
- PA/HR: 23.3 (24th)
- Single-Season High: 40 in 1985
A slugger who hit alongside two power hitters already discussed was Darrell Evans, who joined Jack Clark in San Francisco in the early part of the decade and Lance Parrish in Detroit for the latter years. Evans hit 30 or more home runs in a season three times during the '80s, and each time was considered for MVP. But as a criminally underrated player, Evans made just one All-Star team during the decade (1983), even though he ultimately led the American League in home runs in 1985 and had another balanced season in '87. Throughout the '80s, Evans hit 55.6% of his career home runs.
6. Eddie Murray
- Years Played: 1980–89
- Home Runs: 274 (3rd)
- PA/HR: 23.5 (26th)
- Single-Season High: 33 in 1983
Eddie Murray hit at least 20 home runs in all but one of his first 14 seasons, and that included nearly the entirety of the 1980s. Murray tied for the American League lead with 22 homers in the strike-shortened 1981 season, which doubled as the first of five straight years that he finished in the Top 5 of the MVP race. He hit two home runs in the 1984 World Series to help the Orioles capture the title, and toward the end of the 1985 season, Baltimore signed Murray to a contract extension that made him the highest-paid player in baseball. In 1986, however, he only hit 17 home runs, but still made a sixth straight All-Star team. Murray was traded to the Dodgers after the 1988 season, and throughout the decade, "Steady Eddie" hit 54.4% of his career home runs.
5. Dave Kingman
- Years Played: 1980–86
- Home Runs: 190 (22nd)
- PA/HR: 18.2 (6th)
- Single-Season High: 37 in 1982
Dave Kingman may not have played throughout the entire decade, but he's certainly a player to remember when considering the best home run hitters of the 1980s. Kingman retired after the 1986 season, but hit home runs with impressive frequency over the final seven years of his career. The "Sky King" was one of the first all-or-nothing type players, which was epitomized best with the Mets in 1982, when Kingman led the National League with 37 home runs and 156 strikeouts—all while batting a measly .204. That remains the lowest batting average of any home run champion in baseball history. In the '80s, Kingman played only three full seasons, but hit at least 30 home runs every time, including 35 in 1986 as he closed his career with the Athletics. That total set a record for the most home runs by a player in his final season, though Kingman was surpassed by David Ortiz in 2016. Kingman hit 43% of his career home runs during the 1980s.
4. Dale Murphy
- Years Played: 1980–89
- Home Runs: 308 (2nd)
- PA/HR: 21.2 (18th)
- Single-Season High: 44 in 1987
Dale Murphy is often cited as a player who should be in the Hall of Fame but isn't, and his performance during the 1980s gives credence to that argument. Murphy picked up back-to-back MVP trophies in 1982 and '83, and he led the National League in home runs the next two seasons. All told, he didn't miss any of the 648 games in that four-year stretch and hit 145 home runs, which were the most in baseball. Murphy was a seven-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger during the 1980s, and "The Murph" fell just six home runs shy of being the decade home run champion. Those 308 home runs he hit during the '80s accounted for 77% of his career total.
3. Tony Armas Sr.
- Years Played: 1980–89
- Home Runs: 225 (7th)
- PA/HR: 20.2 (11th)
- Single-Season High: 43 in 1984
In general baseball circles, Tony Armas Sr. isn't really thought of as an all-time great home run hitter, but during the 1980s, he was among the most ferocious sluggers in baseball. His first full season came in 1980, and he made himself known by blasting 35 home runs. The following year, Armas was picked for his first All-Star team and tied for the American League lead with 22 home runs in a strike-shortened season. He outdid himself in 1983 and '84, when he hit more homers than any other player in baseball (36 in '83 and an AL-high 43 in '84), but injuries would prevent him from ever playing another full season. Through 1985, however, his 187 home runs were the most of the decade by an American League player and third-most in all of baseball. Armas hit 89.6% of his career home runs during the '80s.
2. Darryl Strawberry
- Years Played: 1983–89
- Home Runs: 215 (11th)
- PA/HR: 18.3 (7th)
- Single-Season High: 39 in 1987 and '88
Darryl Strawberry was the first draft pick taken in 1980, so it's fitting that he became one of the leading power hitters of the decade. Strawberry reached the Majors three years later and won Rookie of the Year honors in what was the first of seven straight seasons with at least 26 home runs. He matched that total again in 1984, when he was named an All-Star for the first time, a streak that would last into the 1990s. In 1986, Strawberry helped the Mets win the World Series, and then had the best seasons of his career in 1987 and '88. In both of those years, Strawberry hit 39 home runs (leading the National League and finishing runner-up in a controversial MVP race in '88). During the decade, "Straw" hit 64.2% of his career home runs.
1. Mike Schmidt
- Years Played: 1980–89
- Home Runs: 313 (1st)
- PA/HR: 17.8 (5th)
- Single-Season High: 48 in 1980
Entering the 1980 season, Mike Schmidt was already one of the best players in baseball and among the sport's most feared sluggers. Throughout the rest of the decade, it became quite apparent his success in the '70s was only the tip of the iceberg. Schmidt won back-to-back MVP awards in 1980 and '81 and eventually led the National League in home runs five times during the '80s, easily pushing him to the top of this list. His league-leading 48 homers in 1980 were his career high, and he continued his strong play into the postseason, where his two home runs in the World Series helped the Phillies claim the title and earned him series MVP honors. Schmidt had at least 30 home runs in each of the first eight years of the decade and also led the NL in 1981, '83, '84 and '86. He added the third MVP trophy of his career in 1986 and also earned six Silver Sluggers and eight All-Star selections during the '80s. When he retired after the 1989 season, Schmidt closed the decade as the leader in home runs, and of his career longballs, 57.1% came during the '80s.
1980s Home Run Records and Trivia
What follows are some targeted leaderboards, records and trivia about home runs hit during the 1980s.
Progressive 1980s Decade Home Run Leaderboard
Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt led the 1980s decade in home runs from start to finish. For the final five seasons, Dale Murphy was second, but he couldn't quite catch Schmidt—finishing just five home runs short by the end of the 1989 season.
- 1980: Schmidt (48)
- 1981: Schmidt (79)
- 1982: Schmidt (114)
- 1983: Schmidt (154)
- 1984: Schmidt (190)
- 1985: Schmidt (223)
- 1986: Schmidt (260)
- 1987: Schmidt (295)
- 1988: Schmidt (307)
- 1989: Schmidt (313)
Top 5 Single-Season Home Run Marks During the 1980s
Even though no player hit 50 home runs in a season, five different players accounted for the top five single-season totals in the 1980s.
- Andre Dawson, 49 (1987)
- Mark McGwire, 49 (1987)
- Mike Schmidt, 48 (1980)
- Kevin Mitchell, 47 (1989)
- George Bell, 47 (1989)
Top 5 Home Run Totals During the 1980s
While almost all of these players were featured above, below is a list of the top five home run totals during the 1980s.
- Mike Schmidt (313)
- Dale Murphy (308)
- Eddie Murray (274)
- Dwight Evans (256)
- Andre Dawson (250)
Top 5 Plate Appearances Per Home Run Marks During the 1980s
Below are the five players who hit home runs the most frequently during the 1980s.
- Mark McGwire from 1986–89 (16.4)
- Ron Kittle from 1982–89 (16.6)
- Eric Davis from 1984–89 (17.4)
- Ken Phelps from 1980–89 (17.6)
- Mike Schmidt from 1980–89 (17.8)
Notable Home Run Records of the 1980s
A handful of notable home run records were established during the 1980s. Some of the top records include:
- Single-Season Rookie Record: Mark McGwire (49 in 1987)*
- Single-Season Grand Slams: Don Mattingly (6 in 1987)^
- Consecutive Games With a Home Run: Mattingly (8 from July 8–18, 1987)^
- Most Times as National League Home Run Leader: Mike Schmidt (8, including '80, '81, '83, '84 and '86)
- Most Home Runs After Age 40: Darrell Evans (60 from 1987–89)*
- Most Home Runs by a Team in a Game: Toronto Blue Jays (10 on Sept. 14, 1987)
- Most Home Runs Allowed by a Pitcher in a Season: Bert Blyleven (50 in 1986)
*Record has since been broken ... ^Record has since been tied
Home Run Trivia From the 1980s
Below are some fun facts and trivia about home runs hit during the 1980s.
- On May 8–9, 1987, Eddie Murray became the first player in baseball history to hit a home run from each side of the plate in two straight games. Ken Caminiti (1997) and Jeff DaVanon (2003) have since joined him.
- On April 4, 1988, Toronto's George Bell became the first player in baseball history to hit three home runs on Opening Day. He's now one of four players ever to do so.
- On April 13, 1987, San Diego's Marvell Wynne, Tony Gwynn and John Kruk homered in the first three at-bats of a game against the Giants—becoming the first trio of players in baseball history ever to open a game like that.
- In 1983, California's Fred Lynn hit the first (and still only) grand slam in an All-Star Game.
- Toronto's Fred McGriff (1989) and Oakland's Mark McGwire (1987) each led the American League in home runs during the 1980s. They would become the second and third players in baseball history to lead both leagues in home runs during their career, with McGriff leading the National League in 1992 with San Diego and McGwire doing so in 1998 and '99 with St. Louis.
- On July 6, 1986, Atlanta's Bob Horner tied the Major League record with four home runs in a game. He was the 11th player to ever accomplish the feat and is one of just two players to hit four home runs in a game which his team lost. Montreal beat the Braves 11–8 that day.
- On Sept. 25, 1985, Andre Dawson became the second player in baseball history to hit two home runs in the same inning twice in his career. Others to hit two home runs in the same inning during the 1980s were Ray Knight (May 13, 1980), Von Hayes (June 11, 1985), and Dale Murphy (July 27, 1989).
- On May 28, 1987, Baltimore's Mike Young became the third player in baseball history to hit two home runs during extra innings. He had homers in the 10th and 12th innings of an 8–7 victory over the Angels.
- Three players during the 1980s tied the Major League record for total home runs in two straight games (5). Gary Carter (Sept. 3–4, 1985), Mark McGwire (June 27–28, 1987), and Joe Carter (July 18–19, 1989) each accomplished the feat. In history, 32 players are tied for the record.
- In the 1987 World Series, Minnesota's Kent Krbek and Dan Gladden became the third set of teammates to each hit a grand slam during the Fall Classic.
- Kirk Gibson hit one of the most famous World Series home runs in history, when he limped to plate as a pinch-hitter and took Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley deep for a walk-off win in Game 1.
- During the 1987 regular season, five Major League teams hit at least 200 home runs. That demolished the old record of two teams, which was set in 1962 (Tigers and Giants) and tied in 1985 (Tigers and Orioles). The Tigers led the way in '87 with 225 homers, while following were the Blue Jays (215), Orioles (211), Cubs (209) and Giants (205). The current record was set in 2019, when 24 teams hit at least 200 home runs—ironically, the Tigers didn't meet the threshold that season.
- In 1982, Detroit's Lance Parrish hit 31 home runs to become the first American League catcher to ever hit 30 homers in a season. He was then surpassed by Carlton Fisk in 1985, when Fisk blasted 32 home runs. They now rank third and fourth among AL catchers. Note: Parrish had 33 home runs in the 1984 season, but played several games as the designated hitter.
- Minnesota's Greg Gagne is the last player to hit two inside-the-park home runs in the same game, having done so on Oct. 4, 1986, in a 7–3 win over the White Sox.
- In 1981, Gary Carter became the fifth player in baseball history to hit two home runs in an All-Star Game, and in 1989, Bo Jackson became the fifth player in history to lead off an All-Star Game with a home run.
- In 1985, Dave Parker won the first modern Home Run Derby, which was held at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
- Best Home Run Hitters of the 1970s
- Best Home Run Hitters of the 1960s
- Best Home Run HItters of the 1950s (coming soon)
© 2020 Andrew Harner