"I said, 'Tell you what,' " remembers the soft-spoken Bauman. " 'You go back and sign up your ball club, pay 'em, and what you got left I'll take.' I didn't even know what I was gonna make. I got to figurin' it'd be bad in a way not to play again. But I sure didn't want to."
His 1955 salary stayed at $600 a month. Without a signing bonus, he took a pay cut. He hit 46 homers that year and dropped to a merely human 132 RBIs. He hung up his spikes for good at the end of that season, with 338 career homers.
Looking back, Bauman says he made several mistakes, especially spending three years of his prime in semipro ball, which might have kept him from ever stepping to the plate in the big leagues. Defensively he was only average—"I wasn't no fancy dan, but I could get the job done"—and slow afoot.
And he could always hit. He regrets not pushing himself to see if he could play in the majors. "I still have that question in my mind: Could I have done it or not?"
Even so, the memory of his shining summer of '54 is sweet. "There's a sense of pride in it," says Bauman. "It was just the minor leagues, but 72 home runs was never done before. Hell, it's a record, it's something."