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This Day in Yankees History: Chronicling the Yankees' Career Home Run Record

Alex Rodriguez, the active Yankee leader in homers, has 299 roundtrippers. That's well ahead of the old Dead Ball era marks, but still a considerable 360 behind Babe Ruth.
Alex Rodriguez, the active Yankee leader in homers, has 299 roundtrippers. That's well ahead of the old Dead Ball era marks, but still a considerable 360 behind Babe Ruth.

In a detour from typical "This Day in Yankee History" posts, the story today will focus on the evolution of the Yankees' career home run record. Baseball Nation's Jim Baker recently reviewed each team's career home run record, and Babe Ruth of course stands at the top of the all-time Yankee list, with 659 clouts. With other teams, he explored the history of their career home run records, but not much was said about the Yankee record since it's been in place for so long.

Ruth has, in fact, held the Yankee record since his very first season in New York. 1920. That season, he stunned baseball by belting 54 homers, more than all but one other team in baseball and nearly doubling the single-season home run record of 29 he set the previous year in Boston. Along the way, he usurped first baseman Wally Pipp on the Yankees' all-time home run list. Pipp is now only remembered for being replaced in the Yankee lineup by the legendary Lou Gehrig, but he was a fine player for the Yankees. Purchased from the Tigers in 1915, he manned first for over 10 seasons in New York, hitting 80 homers and becoming the first Yankee to lead the American League in the category with 12 in '16 and a whopping nine in '17. Through these efforts, he held the team lead in career homers through the end of 1919, with 34. During the 1919 season though, a great race occurred between Pipp and third baseman Frank "Home Run" Baker emerged for the franchise's all-time lead.

Baker only hit 96 homers in career and never exceeded 12 in a season, but he earned his nickname by leading the AL in dingers from 1911-14 for Connie Mack's dominant Philadelphia Athletics (averaging an OPS+ of 160). A member of Mack's "$100,000 infield," Baker earned baseball notoriety for belting a pair of homers in the 1911 World Series against the New York Giants--the first helped win Game 2 against Hall of Famer Rube Marquard with the score tied at one in the sixth inning, and his second blast to right field tied the score in the ninth inning of Game 3 against Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson. Philadelphia went on to win that game and the series, one of three they would win with Baker as their third baseman. Baker held out the '15 season in a contract dispute with Mack, and the Yankees purchased him for $37,500.

The Yankees' new power threat quickly gained on Pipp in the home run department, and by the end of the 1918 campaign, Baker trailed Pipp by only five on the Yankees' all-time home run list. Pipp had 27 homers to Baker's 22, though he had a full season's worth of plate appearances more than Baker. The question of whether or not Pipp already held the Yankee record is dicey. Counting the Yankees' years as the Baltimore Orioles in 1901-02 during the AL's first two seasons, second baseman Jimmy Williams was still atop the Yankees' leaderboard with 31 home runs hit from 1901-07. However, in Yankee historian Marty Appel's new book Pinstripe Empire, he noted that the team's first year in New York featured "new owners, almost entirely new players, and a new spring training site," and that "there seems little to really connect the two teams other than one replacing the other." Oriole Hall of Famers like John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson are not considered Yankee Hall of Famers, and even the first baseball encyclopedia, published in '22, did not connect the franchises. Therefore, if the Yankee all-time home run list begins in 1903 with the Yankees' first year in New York, first baseman Hal Chase passed Williams's mark of 16 in 1912, and Pipp passed Chase's mark of 20 in 1917. Got all that?

Baker passed Pipp by the end of July with his 30th Yankee homer by the end of July, but Pipp tied him on August 3rd. Baker notched homers on consecutive days on August 7th and 8th to reach 32 (passing Williams's old combined Baltimore/New York anyway). Those were the last homers he would hit all season though, and Pipp passed Baker for good with his 33rd Yankee homer, which came against the infamous White Sox pitched Eddie Cicotte. Pipp ended the season with 34 bombs, but his record would not stand for long, even with Baker sitting out most of the 1920 campaign due to depression following the shocking death of his wife.

"The Bambino" stormed toward Pipp's record in '20 though while Pipp was still with the team, and on August 19th, he caught up with Pipp at 43 career Yankee homers. A week later on the 26th, Ruth passed him with his 44th homer, sent to the lower right field stands at the Polo Grounds against White Sox pitcher Dickey Kerr. Ruth was now already atop the Yankees' career homer list and no one has even approached his record in almost 92 years since then.