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Baseball discussions about the best-ever home run hitters have been around since, well … Since home run records were set. While it’s easy to look up the most home runs in a career in Major League Baseball, what’s not so simple is separating them according to how they accumulated so many round-trippers.
The players with the most home runs in a career are listed below, with their tally. That follows with a summary of each career, considering the era and home ballparks played in, and other factors that may have helped (or hindered) those homer totals.
Career records can be impacted by many factors, including injuries that shortened seasons or careers for some players who ended up as Hall of Famers — but were not quite immortal like Babe Ruth. Some hitters just get more at-bats than others, whether that’s from luck, heredity, or the residue of training and keeping the body in shape.
A player might hold the career record, but in fact, are they truly the “Hit King,” “Home Run King,” or other such moniker? Let’s take a close look.
MLB Career Home Run Leaders – Listed
By total number of home runs hit during regular MLB seasons:
- Barry Bonds, 762
- Hank Aaron, 755
- Babe Ruth, 714
- Alex Rodriguez, 696
- Albert Pujols, 662
- Willie Mays, 660
- Ken Griffey Jr., 630
- Jim Thome, 612
- Sammy Sosa, 609
- Frank Robinson, 586
Factors Contributing to Top MLB Career Home Run Numbers
Baseball old-timers and insiders understand that it’s nearly impossible to compare these sluggers on their numbers alone. Babe Ruth for instance played a chunk of his career during the Dead Ball Era where home runs were quite rare compared with the barrage we see today. (That he also was primarily a pitcher for 5 years didn’t help either, as then he played only every 3 to 5 days).
So, let’s pretend that Ruth played the past two decades, through 2020. There could be solid arguments that he would hit 900 career home runs, or more. Back in the 1920s and early 1930s, he did not have the benefit of scientifically designed training regiments, off-season dieting routines, strength-building vitamins and supplements, etc. Plus, home run totals in recent seasons have been increasing at almost alarming rates.
Medical advances back then were quite limited, too. Mark McGwire, for example, has terrible eyesight and was aided by strong contact lenses. Players back in the “Golden Years” either wore eyeglasses — which was relatively rare — or they just couldn’t stick in the majors. (McGwire ranks 11th all-time in homers, by the way, just 3 behind Frank Robinson).
Then again, Ruth also did not have to contend with transcontinental air flights, or newfangled pitches like the split-fingered fastball (though he did have to deal with legal spitballs). How many total home runs Ruth could have hit will remain a mystery.
For some other sluggers, however, not so much. They did the best that their physical and mental abilities would allow. Let’s see what they faced:
1. Barry Bonds
Many baseball fans might wonder, just how many home runs would Bonds have hit without using performance-enhancing drugs? Bonds was ultra-talented long before bulking up in his later years with the San Francisco Giants, when he shattered both the season and career home run records. He might have lost a few dingers to the right-field dimensions of that city’s new ballpark, but overall there’s a solid consensus that Bonds is not, indeed, the Home Run King despite having the most overall home runs. He was among the best in the game long before he started going after homers, a chase that few baseball fans take seriously due to the steroids controversy.
2. Hank Aaron
Aaron is the MLB’s primary example of consistent excellence, and his final HR number reflects that. He has the most runs batted in than anyone ever — as well as the second-most at bats. Aaron supporters ignore comments that his longevity accumulated numbers, and steadfastly refer to him as the Home Run King.
Others point that he had many more at-bats than Ruth (or others, like Willie Mays), and still consider Ruth the King. Aaron did play a good portion of his career, probably at least 7 seasons’ worth, during the Pitcher’s Era of the 1960s when hurlers dominated so much the league lowered the pitcher’s mound. That’s actually a big deal — along with the fact that he also faced black pitchers — when considering Aaron’s final home run tally. Aaron’s hitting prowess is evident in all the major batting statistical categories.
3. Babe Ruth
That Ruth hit 714 home runs considering the issues above (many years as a pitcher, poor dietary and social habits) is miraculous. Detractors might mention the very short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium, but reports at that time were that Ruth could hit a ball out of any stadium. Perhaps more intriguing is the fact that among the Top 10, Ruth was the only one who never had to face black pitchers. Would he have clubbed as many if Satchel Paige, Don Newcombe, Bob Gibson or Ferguson Jenkins were around throwing?
Plus, Ruth never had to travel west of the Mississippi River, since the furthest of the 16 teams back then was St. Louis, so he skipped jet lag or fatigue from air flights and time changes. However, without the dead ball and playing the field every day during his earliest years, Ruth could easily have hit 850 home runs judging by his numbers through the 1920s.
4. Alex Rodriguez
Rodriguez’s homer number is impressive because he played much of his career at shortstop, a physically demanding position not known to host sluggers. But then it’s unimpressive because the tail end of his career was marred greatly by suspicions for using performance-enhancing drugs, a long suspension that cost him an entire season (and then some, at 200 games).
Rodriguez hit more homers in the expansive Kingdome and the not-so-cozy Safeco Park, while with Seattle, than in his days in New York. Without the suspension, plus losing a lot of games to injuries (that may or may not have been related to steroid use), Rodriguez might have made a run at the all-time record.
5. Albert Pujols
Here’s a player still going relatively strong at the end of his career, who started before the Steroid Era ended and avoided steroid-use suspicion. He was a bonafide star hitter almost from the very start and had many spectacular years with the St. Louis Cardinals.
His home stadiums are fairly neutral in terms of home run figures, and at least in his later years he’s benefitted from serving as designated hitter at times (something the players ahead of him for most home runs did not have the advantage of doing, except for a few times when Rodriguez served as DH). Who knows where Pujols will end up on this list — especially if his body holds up?
6. Willie Mays
Mays lost a full season and almost all of a second (just 34 games) due to his service to our nation in the Korea War. When he returned he slugged 92 home runs over the next 2 seasons. For the 19 seasons where he played at least 117 games, Mays averaged 33.79 home runs. It’s fairly safe to say had he played all of 1952 and 1953, Mays would have tacked on another 66 home runs (at least) putting his final career total at 727. If he hits 40 or more, like he did in ‘54 and ‘55, well, his total is up near Aaron’s.
He also played a lot of early-career games at the Polo Grounds, where he gained cheap homers down the lines but lost more in the far-distant power alleys and centerfield; and most of the rest at the wind-swept Candlestick Park which also was not an easy place to homer. Without the war and with more favorable stadiums, who knows if Willie Mays would have become Home Run King in the early 1970s. (And that is not to say Aaron still would have passed him; imagine that home run race!).
7. Ken Griffey Jr.
The issue with Griffey is how many games he lost to injuries. He missed games at times in Seattle due to his fearless centerfield play, but it was in Cincinnati that his body began to fail. For a 6-year stint, minus 1995 when he was limited to 72 games, Junior was among the most prolific sluggers in the game, averaging 49 HRs a season. Then he hit 40 taters his first year with Cincinnati, but faded significantly thereafter.
Aside from the games lost to many injuries while with the Reds, his numbers indicate physical ailments took a toll on his power. Sad, because along with Rodriguez, early in his career there was talk that The Kid could make a run deep into the 700s. Didn’t happen.
8. Jim Thome
Jim Thome was a feared slugger through the 1990s and early part of the 21st century who probably is underrated when it comes to his impact throughout his career. He was never implicated in any steroid controversy, though he kept mashing home runs right through the heart of the crisis. He always seemed to be playing in the postseason, yet never won a championship which is rather sad.
Thome was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2018 for a career with a lot of home runs, RBIs and extra base hits to go along with solid defense. Thome was kind of like Harmon Killebrew, who enjoyed a lengthy stay among the career home runs leaders: a solid, consistent threat to do damage, usually in the middle of a killer lineup.
9. Sammy Sosa
That Sosa and Thome ended up just 3 home runs apart is quite interesting; they probably couldn’t have been more different. Sosa put up video game-like home run totals for several years, and few take his final statistics seriously because it was clear his use of steroids for added strength padded the HR figures. He was bombastic and controversial where Thome was not — yet the latter still managed to out-homer Sosa. It is doubtful Sosa is on this list without the PEDs. How many would he have hit without them? He should have thought of that long ago, before toying with the substances. See Bonds, Barry.
10. Frank Robinson
Robinson was among the most-feared hitters of his era, which included the Years of the Pitcher when the mound was higher and hurlers dominated so much, and in one year only one American League batter topped a .300 average. That Robinson, the first player to win the Most Valuable Player award in both leagues, approached the 600 home run plateau is pretty remarkable.
It also shows just how special Willie Mays was, also. Robinson, who peaked with 51 home runs one season and mostly finished with totals in the 30s, just seemed to weaken in his latter years. Plus at the end he served as a player-manager who must have been modest with his own playing time as his number of games played dwindled.
Question: Who held the career home runs record before Babe Ruth?
Answer: Roger Connor, with 138, which he accumulated over 18 seasons ending in 1897. Ruth broke the record in 1920 — the first season he was a hitter and not a pitcher throwing every few days. That Ruth hit a lot of home runs as a pitcher speaks volumes about how many he could have accumulated had he been a full-time outfielder all along. (Connor, a switch-hitting first baseman, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1976).
Q.: Could any current MLB players threaten Bonds’ record?
A.: See above, as Pujols is still playing, and while he does not quite put up the numbers as he did during his prime, he’s still hitting home runs for the Angels. Aside from him, look at his teammate Mike Trout, whose statistics in many categories compare well with some of the giants of the game over its history. It’s too early to tell with young sluggers like Juan Soto. As noted above, anything can cut into home run totals — and it takes a very long time to approach 700 dingers.
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