Who is the greatest minor league baseball player to have never made it to the major leagues?

On Quora.com, a Q&A website where questions are created, answered, edited, and organized by its community of users, someone recently asked the following question:

Who is the greatest minor league baseball player to have never made it to the major leagues?

Or perhaps had a short stint in the major leagues but spent the large majority of their career in the minor leagues. I always wondered if there was someone who spent several years in the minor leagues and amassed impressive stats but never made it to the major leagues because they fed into a team that happened to be loaded with great talent, like the New York Yankees.

It’s a very good question, actually, and one that naturally would elicit a lot of different responses. Of course, having read up on baseball history over the years, I had my own thoughts about this particular question.

Kris Bryant is the recipient of the 2014 Joe Bauman Home Run Award (courtesy Iowa Cubs).

Kris Bryant is the recipient of the 2014 Joe Bauman Home Run Award (courtesy Iowa Cubs).

Here was my (very brief) answer on Quora, where I went with a guy that played some 60 years ago and has a major individual award named after him today because of his achievements in the minors:

Joe Bauman was a first baseman who played for seven minor-league teams from 1941-1956. Though he had many productive seasons in the minors – bashing 575 extra-base hits in 3,463 career at-bats while batting over .330 – he never made it to the major leagues.

With the Roswell Rockets (Longhorn League, a Class-C league) in 1954, Bauman slugged 72 home runs in 138 games, a single-season record for any professional baseball league until Barry Bonds homered 73 times in 2001 for San Francisco Giants. That season, Bauman won the Triple Crown in his league as he also batted .400 and drove in 228 runs [1]. According to various sources, he led the league in runs (188) and walks as well that year (though the walk total isn’t available on Baseball-Reference.com, as perhaps those stats weren’t properly kept for that league).

Phillies slugger Ryan Howard won the Joe Bauman Home Run Award in 2004.

Phillies slugger Ryan Howard won the Joe Bauman Home Run Award in 2004.

Bauman wasn’t a one-year wonder; he led his league in home runs five times, and from 1952-1955 he never hit fewer than 46 homers in a season. (The totals were 50, 53, 72, and 46.)

In his nine minor-league seasons, Bauman hit 337 career home runs and had the exact same batting average: .337. He also finished with 1,057 career runs batted in while appearing in 1,019 games.

Since 2002, the Joe Bauman Home Run Award is handed out annually to the minor-league player with the most homers.

I know every time I set up a new league on Strat-o-Matic and I have the option of creating fringe players on my team, I always create a fake player using Bauman’s name and his 1954 stats so that I have a slugging first baseman to help me win games. (Though I cheat by giving him the defensive position of catcher on SOM.)

[1] Despite Bauman’s heroics, the Rockets finished second in the eight-team league with a record of 87-51, five games behind the first-place Artesia Numexers.


KP is the author of the baseball biography Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs.

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  1. #1 by Gary Trujillo on September 8, 2014 - 2:44 am

    Crash Davis!!! 🙂

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