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Ruth? Maris? Aaron? What about Bauman?
Leo W. Banks
September 02, 1991
In U.S. professional baseball the king of home run kings is Joe Bauman, who blasted 72 in 1954
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September 02, 1991

Ruth? Maris? Aaron? What About Bauman?

In U.S. professional baseball the king of home run kings is Joe Bauman, who blasted 72 in 1954

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The stadium erupted. After crossing the plate, Bauman took part in what was a custom in Texas and New Mexico at the time—jogging along the stadium wall to grab the dollar bills that fans pushed through holes in the fence.

Although Bauman doesn't recall how much he collected, he says it was a mighty fistful. "Them bills was like Bermuda grass sticking through the chicken wire," he says. "But what I remember most was relief. If I hadn't done it that first time up, I might've never hit the damn thing." In the second game, with the pressure off, Bauman hit two more homers.

That night Bauman received calls and telegrams of congratulation from around the country, but his fame was fleeting. The next morning he was back pumping gas at a Texaco service station he owned in Roswell.

Bauman, 32 at the time, considered himself a career minor leaguer, even though his numbers in 1954 were enormous. His 72 home runs, the most ever by a professional in one season, came in 138 games. Bauman also had 224 RBIs, 199 hits, a .398 batting average, 150 walks, 456 total bases and a .916 slugging percentage.

Big league teams evidently considered Bauman a bush leaguer, too. Only one offer, from the Triple A San Francisco Seals, came his way in the spring of 1955, and Bauman dismissed it outright.

"I'd been wanting to quit baseball for five years before that," he says, "I was all done and I knew it. I wanted to settle down to a normal life. Minor league baseball was just a job back then. Lots of guys like me played out their careers down there, never thinking about the majors."

Bauman signed his first pro contract in 1941 after graduating from high school in Oklahoma City. But World War II intervened, and he spent almost four years in the service. In 1948, after turning down a contract with the Boston Braves to play in their farm system, he quit professional ball and played for three years in a semi-pro league in Oklahoma.

When he did play, Bauman produced. During the '46 and '47 seasons, playing for the Amarillo Gold Sox in the West Texas-New Mexico League, he hit a league-record 48 homers his first year and 38 the next. With the Artesia Drillers in 1952 and 1953, Bauman hit 50 and 53 homers, respectively.

He tried quitting after the '53 season, but the Rockets offered him $600 a month and a $1,000 signing bonus, so he took it. "That was good money in those days," he says. "Back then a dollar bill was about the size of the Sunday paper."

Still, even after his Ruthian output in '54, Bauman wanted out. "What else was there to do?" he says. "I knew I wasn't going to hit 73." That winter Roswell's town fathers came to the gas station to talk him into signing another contract, saying it would be good for the town and the team.

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