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Hit 72 in 1954

Minor league HR king Joe Bauman dead at 83

Posted: Tuesday September 20, 2005 9:07PM; Updated: Tuesday September 20, 2005 9:18PM
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Joe Bauman
A fan offers some "fence money" to Joe Bauman during the slugger's big home run season in 1954 in Roswell, N.M.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- Joe Bauman, whose 72 minor-league home runs in 1954 stood as a professional baseball record until Barry Bonds hit 73 in 2001, died Tuesday. He was 83.

Bauman died at 2:30 p.m. in Roswell, N.M., where he played for the Roswell Rockets of the Longhorn League during the 1950s.

He succumbed to pneumonia, a complication from an Aug. 11 fall during a ceremony to rename the old Fair Park as Joe Bauman Stadium. He broke his pelvis in the fall and remained hospitalized until his death.

Services were pending.

Bauman hit 72 home runs in 1954. He played in the Class C Longhorn League, one rung above the lowest minor-league level of the time.

"I'm proud of it, even if it's just minor-league trivia," Bauman told The Associated Press in a 1995 interview.

It was a single-season record that lasted 47 years, but Bauman's feat wasn't widely heralded because it happened in the minors.

"He was such a modest person. He didn't toot his own horn," said Jim Waldrip, a former teammate and close friend. "He just hit a lot of home runs, and he was a better fielder than a lot of people thought."

Bauman was watching on television at his home when Bonds hit No. 73 in 2001.

"I never thought it'd last this long, to be honest," he said at the time. "I was watching on TV when Barry Bonds hit that last one. It didn't bother me or anything. I just thought, `There goes my record."'

Bauman, a left-handed first baseman, was 32 when he hit .400 over 138 games in 1954.

For decades, he fielded telephone calls from reporters and others who were curious about his accomplishment.

Bauman was a hulking man at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds when he hit 337 homers in nine minor league seasons.

He hit 46 homers for Roswell in 1955 and retired during the 1956 season. Like many minor-league stars of his time, Bauman never reached the majors.

The Boston Braves, who once owned his contract, tried to send him to Atlanta of the Southern Association but wanted to cut his salary. After four years in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Bauman was tired of taking orders and walked away.

"I told them that I could make more money selling 24-inch shoestrings on any corner in Oklahoma City," he said.

Born in Welch, Okla., on April 16, 1922, Bauman grew up in Oklahoma City.

He spent eight seasons shuttling among several minor-league stops.

In 1948 while with the Boston Braves organization, Bauman reached Milwaukee of the American Association -- one step from the majors.

But the next spring, instead of pursuing a job in the majors Bauman decided to play semipro baseball in Elk City, Okla., where he ran a service station along Route 66.

"Back then, being in the major leagues was more about prestige than anything else," Bauman said. "Except for the superstars, nobody could make the kind of money they're making today."

Three years later in 1952, Bauman returned to the minors, this time playing for Artesia (N.M.) of the Longhorn League.

After two seasons, Bauman moved 40 miles north to Roswell after agreeing to $1,000 per month with a $1,000 signing bonus.

He settled in Roswell, running a Texaco service station and later working for a beer distributor until his retirement in 1984.

Bauman said he earned about $3,000 each summer, thanks to "fence money" -- where fans stuck bills through the fence after his home runs.

"One night he made $254 from a home run, which was twice what most ballplayers made in a month," Waldrip recalled. "And for every home run Joe hit, a packing plant in Roswell would give him a cured ham. That always kept some of the other players in food."