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Baseball's Best Rookie Home Run Hitters of the 1980s

I am a former sports editor and currently serve as a historian with the Society of American Baseball Research and manage a valet operation.

Mark McGwire and Matt Nokes produced powerful seasons in 1987, but only McGwire went on to become a superstar.

Mark McGwire and Matt Nokes produced powerful seasons in 1987, but only McGwire went on to become a superstar.

Who Were the Top Rookie Home Run Hitters of the 1980s?

One of the most exciting players in any given baseball season is a power-hitting rookie. It's often expected that first-year players will require a learning curve before becoming a standout player, but every so often, a youngster with a powerful bat hits for power right away. The 1980s was no exception, and there was an especially significant surge of rookie sluggers in 1986 and '87 with seven rookies from those two seasons represented in the top 10 below.

These rankings of the 10 best rookie home run hitters of the 1980s are not based upon opinions, and for a player to be considered, he must have hit at least 10 home runs during his rookie season. Qualifying players were then ranked by averaging his rank for both of these criterion:

  • Total home runs in his rookie season
  • Plate appearances per home run during his rookie season

Information from Stathead on Baseball Reference was used to compile statistics. To compile records and trivia facts, sources included Baseball-Almanac, Stathead, and individual club media guides.

Note: Ranks in parenthesis in individual player capsules represent their ranking among rookies who hit at least 10 home runs during a season in the 1980s. ... For the purposes of this article, a rookie is a player who came into a season with fewer than 130 at bats or 45 days of service time prior to September 1.

10. Glenn Davis

  • Rookie Year: 1985
  • Home Runs: 20 (20th)
  • PA/HR: 19.5 (13th)
  • Games: 100

Glenn Davis was called back up to the Majors by the Astros for a game against the Dodgers on June 14, 1985. After hitting two homers in 18 games in a brief stint at the end of the 1984 season, there was some optimism Davis would become a power threat—especially after he blasted 76 home runs in 507 minor-league games between 1981 and '85. Davis started the season slowly in terms of homers, but then smacked 11 in the 37 games between August 30 and the end of the season. That helped him finish with Houston's rookie record for single-season home runs (Joe Morgan held the old record with 14 home runs in 1965) and claim fifth in National League Rookie of the Year voting. Lance Berkman, however, hit 21 home runs in 2000 to break Davis' record.

9. Bo Jackson

  • Rookie Year: 1987
  • Home Runs: 22 (15th)
  • PA/HR: 19.7 (14th)
  • Games: 116

Despite just 53 games in the minor leagues, Bo Jackson made an immediate impact with the Royals. After a successful 25-game stint at the end of 1986, Jackson came out ready to play for the 1987 season and hammered 22 homers as a rookie. He had three two-homer games throughout the season, the first coming in the seventh game of the season as part of a 4-for-4 effort that included seven RBI. By season's end, his home run total easily broke Bob Oliver's franchise rookie record total of 13 homers (1969). Jackson's record, however, was surpassed in 1994 by Rookie of the Year Bob Hamelin, who hit 24 home runs.

8. Fred McGriff

  • Rookie Year: 1987
  • Home Runs: 20 (T-19th)
  • PA/HR: 17.8 (7th)
  • Games: 107

Fred McGriff played three games in 1986 but made the regular roster for the 1987 Blue Jays. He hit his first career home run on April 17 in a win over the Red Sox, and his first multi-homer game came against the White Sox on August 4, when he hit a pair of solo blasts. By season's end, McGriff had 20 home runs to credit, starting a streak of 11 straight seasons with at least that many homers (in total, he hit 20 home runs in all but one of his first 16 seasons). McGriff's total broke Toronto's rookie record, which had been set by teammate Jesse Barfield when he hit 18 home runs in 1982. In 2002, Eric Hinske hit 24 homers as a rookie to break McGriff's mark.

Pete Incaviglia still holds the rookie record for home runs with the Texas Rangers.

Pete Incaviglia still holds the rookie record for home runs with the Texas Rangers.

7. Pete Incaviglia

  • Rookie Year: 1986
  • Home Runs: 30 (5th)
  • PA/HR: 20.2 (17th)
  • Games: 153

While Pete Incaviglia played in the Major Leagues for more than a decade, his finest season as a pro came as a rookie in 1986. Incaviglia hit a career-high 30 home runs to establish a still-standing rookie record for the Rangers (he bested Dave Hostetler's 22-homer effort from 1982), starting a string of five straight seasons with at least 20 homers. Incaviglia hit a home run in his fourth career game, which was also his fourth game as a professional as he never appeared in the minor leagues. His first multi-homer game came with two solo shots on September 6, but he also led the American League with 185 strikeouts, which stood as the Major League rookie record until 2015.

6. Jose Canseco

  • Rookie Year: 1986
  • Home Runs: 33 (3rd)
  • PA/HR: 20.7 (18th)
  • Games: 157

Jose Canseco became the first of three straight American League Rookie of the Year winners for the Athletics after a huge rookie season in 1986. He broke the franchise's rookie record with 33 homers (easily surpassing the 22 home runs Wayne Gross hit in 1976), but Canseco was surpassed by Mark McGwire the next season (more on that later). Canseco had a breakout month in May, hitting 10 homers to position himself for his first of six career All-Star appearances, and he later hit a home run in three straight games twice during a 12-game stretch between August 31 and September 13.

5. Cory Snyder

  • Rookie Year: 1986
  • Home Runs: 24 (12th)
  • PA/HR: 18.0 (8th)
  • Games: 103

Cory Snyder hit 37 home runs in 188 minor-league games between Double-A and Triple-A before coming up the Cleveland Indians in 1986 as a touted power-hitting prospect. And he did not disappoint in his first 103 games. Snyder hit a triple in his Major League debut on June 13, and he smashed his first career home run two days later. Snyder had three multi-home run games as a rookie and finished fourth in American League Rookie of the Year voting.

4. Darryl Strawberry

  • Rookie Year: 1983
  • Home Runs: 26 (8th)
  • PA/HR: 18.2 (9th)
  • Games: 122

Darryl Strawberry had a slow start in his first week as a Major Leaguer. Through seven games, he collected just three hits, but he then homered in three of the next four games to get his rookie season on track. With a powerful and looping swing, Strawberry became one of baseball's most exciting players on his way to claiming National League Rookie of the Year honors. His 26 home runs surpassed Ron Swoboda's rookie record of 19, which was established in 1965. Strawberry's franchise record stood until 2019, when Pete Alonso blasted a Major League rookie record 53 home runs for the Mets.

Matt Nokes showed plenty of power before becoming a Major Leaguer (he's shown above with Nashville in 1986), but he was unable to replicate his tremendous success as a rookie throughout the rest of his career.

Matt Nokes showed plenty of power before becoming a Major Leaguer (he's shown above with Nashville in 1986), but he was unable to replicate his tremendous success as a rookie throughout the rest of his career.

3. Matt Nokes

  • Rookie Year: 1987
  • Home Runs: 32 (4th)
  • PA/HR: 15.9 (3rd)
  • Games: 135

After very brief stints in the Majors in 1985 and '86, Matt Nokes broke out as a rookie superstar in 1987. His 32 home runs were four shy of breaking Rudy York's 1935 franchise record and remain one of the best single-season rookie marks for a catcher in Major League history. Nokes made his only career All-Star team, won a Silver Slugger, finished third in American League Rookie of the Year voting, and received a handful of MVP votes. He had three multi-homer games during the season and hit a pair of grand slams, and Nokes hit a home run in Game 5 of the ALCS but the Tigers lost the series to the Twins.

2. Ron Kittle

  • Rookie Year: 1983
  • Home Runs: 35 (2nd)
  • PA/HR: 16.3 (5th)
  • Games: 145

Ron Kittle soared as a rookie, helping the resurgent White Sox make the postseason for the first time since 1959. One season removed from hitting 50 homers in Triple-A's Pacific Coast League, Kittle burst onto the Major League scene with a club record 35 home runs to claim American League Rookie of the Year honors (he broke Zeke Bonura's 1934 rookie record of 27 homers but was surpassed by Jose Abreu, who hit 36 home runs as a rookie in 2014). Kittle made the only All-Star appearance of his career as a rookie, but on a downside, he also led the AL with 150 strikeouts. He never had a multi-homer game, but he hit a home run in three straight games in April and in five straight games in September.

1. Mark McGwire

  • Rookie Year: 1987
  • Home Runs: 49 (1st)
  • PA/HR: 13.1 (2nd)
  • Games: 151

Mark McGwire may have started with a slow home run pace in 1987, but by season's end, he was the greatest rookie home run hitter baseball had ever seen. McGwire hit just four homers in April, but he exploded for 15 during May—featuring three multi-homer games (including two home runs on May 31) and a three-game stretch in Detroit with five home runs between May 8 and 10. His pace slowed for much of June, but he blasted three homers at Cleveland on June 27 to set off a four-game period with six home runs. He had 33 home runs by the All-Star break (which tied the team record set in 1986 by Jose Canseco) and was selected to the first of six straight All-Star teams.

On August 14, McGwire hit his 39th home run to set a new Major League record—Frank Robinson (1956) and Wally Berger (1930) held the old record. McGwire would hit another home runs 10 by season's end to pace the American League (Andre Dawson of the Cubs also hit 49 homers in 1987). In addition to Rookie of the Year honors (McGwire was the second of three straight Athletics to claim the honor), he finished sixth in league MVP voting. His rookie record remained intact until 2017 when Aaron Judge blasted 52 home runs for the Yankees, though McGwire's 49 longballs remain Oakland's franchise record.

1980s Rookie Home Run Leaders For Each Team

*Remains the franchise rookie record going into the 2021 season
^Represents a franchise rookie record that was broken in a later season

TeamPlayerYearHome Runs

Atlanta Braves

Ron Gant

1988

19

Baltimore Orioles

Cal Ripken Jr.

1982

28*

Boston Red Sox

Ellis Burks

1987

20

California Angels

Devon White

1987

24

Chicago Cubs

Mell Hall

1983

17

Chicago White Sox

Ron Kittle

1983

35^

Cincinnati Reds

Gary Redus

1983

17

Cleveland Indians

Cory Snyder

1986

24

Detroit Tigers

Matt Nokes

1987

32

Houston Astros

Glenn Davis

1985

20^

Kansas City Royals

Bo Jackson

1987

22^

Los Angeles Dodgers

Greg Brock

1983

20

Milwaukee Brewers

Bill Schroeder

1984

14

Minnesota Twins

Gary Gaetti

1982

25

Montreal Expos

Mitch Webster

1985

11

New York Mets

Darryl Strawberry

1983

26^

New York Yankees

Bobby Brown

1980

14

Oakland Athletics

Mark McGwire

1987

49*

Philadelphia Phillies

Chris James

1987

17

Pittsburgh Pirates

Barry Bonds

1986

16

San Diego Padres

Benito Santiago

1987

18

San Francisco Giants

Chili Davis

1982

19

Seattle Mariners

Alvin Davis

1987

27*

St. Louis Cardinals

Jim Lindeman

1987

8

Andy Van Slyke

1983

8

Leon Durham

1980

8

Texas Rangers

Pete Incaviglia

1986

30*

Toronto Blue Jays

Fred McGriff

1986

20^

1980s Rookie Home Run Trivia

What follows are some targeted leaderboards, records and trivia about home runs rookies hit during the 1980s.

Top 5 Home Run Marks by Rookies During the 1980s

Even though each of these players were featured above, the top five marks by rookie home run hitters in the 1980s are listed below in order.

  • Mark McGwire, 49 (1987)
  • Ron Kittle, 35 (1983)
  • Matt Nokes, 32 (1987)
  • Darryl Strawberry, 26 (1983)
  • Cory Snyder, 24 (1986)

Top 5 Plate Appearance/Home Run Marks by Rookies During the 1980s

The top five marks for plate appearances per home run by rookie home run hitters in the 1980s are listed below.

  • Sam Horn, 12.6 (1987)
  • Mark McGwire, 13.1 (1987)
  • Matt Nokes, 15.9 (1987)
  • Bill Schroeder, 16.1 (1984)
  • Ron Kittle, 16.3 (1983)

Rookie Home Run Trivia From the 1980s

Below are some fun facts and trivia about home runs hit by rookies during the 1980s.

  • Ten players hit a home run in their first career at-bat during the 1980s: Tim Wallach (1980), Gary Gaetti (1981), Carmelo Martinez (1983), Mike Fitzgerald (1983), Andre David (1984), Will Clark (1986), Terry Steinbach (1986), Jay Bell (1986), Ricky Jordan (1988), and Junior Felix (1989).
  • In 1989, Ken Griffey Jr. hit 16 home runs as a 19-year-old, leaving him third all-time for home runs by a teenager (now fifth).
  • Between June 27 and 28, rookie Mark McGwire hit five home runs in two games for the Athletics, tying the Major League record for the most home runs in back-to-back games.
  • McGwire's 28 home runs on the road in 1987 tied the Major League record for road homers by a right-handed hitter.
  • Twice during the 1980s, a Toronto rookie set the single-season standard for the Blue Jays. Jesse Barfield's 18 home runs in 1982 were short-lived atop the leaderboard, as Fred McGriff slammed 20 home runs in 1987. This also happened in Oakland (Jose Canseco's 33 home runs in 1986 and were bested by Mark McGwire's 49 in 1987), and in Texas (Dave Hostetler's 22 in 1982 were bested by Pete Incaviglia's 30 in 1986).
  • Rangers rookie Ruben Sierra became the first player in team history to hit a home run from both sides of the plate in the same game, doing so against the Twins on September 13, 1986.
  • Also for the Rangers, rookie Mike Stanley hit the first pinch-hit grand slam in franchise history on June 27, 1987, in the second game of a doubleheader against the Twins.
  • Lastly for the Rangers, three different players became the youngest player in franchise history to ever hit a home run—including two players in 1989. Sierra was the first, homering on June 1, 1986, and he was followed by Sammy Sosa on June 21, 1989, and Juan Gonzalez on September 18, 1989. Gonzalez's record has twice been surpassed.
  • In 1982, rookie Cal Ripken Jr. hit 28 home runs for the Orioles, establishing Baltimore's franchise record. He beat Eddie Murray's 1977 mark of 27 by hitting his final homer of the season on October 1 in the 161st game of the year.
  • In 1984, rookie Alvin Davis hit 29 home runs for the Mariners, establishing Seattle's franchise record. The old record was held by Ruppert Jones, who hit 22 home runs in 1977.
  • On September 14, 1987, three rookies homered in Toronto's 18–3 victory over the Orioles. In total, the teams combined for a Major League record 10 homers in the game. Rookies included in the barrage were Baltimore's Mike Hart, and Toronto's Fred McGriff and Rob Ducey.
  • On April 4, 1988, the Mets hit a then-Major League record six home runs on Opening Day. New York rookie Kevin Elster hit a fourth-inning blast as the Mets beat the Expos, 10–4.
  • Oakland rookie pitcher Eric Plunk tied a dubious record in 1986, allowing two grand slams in a game against the Angels on July 31.

© 2021 Andrew Harner

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