Career college baseball home run record progression

March 14th, 2019

In the way that Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron's career home run record, and Aaron broke Babe Ruth's record (and Ruth broke the record held by Roger Connor), how did the collegiate career home run record evolve?

The first reference I found to a college home run king came in a May 7, 1975, newspaper article. Hank Small was nearing the end of his stellar career at the University of South Carolina and had hit 44 home runs at the time. The article, titled "USC's Hank Small Sets New Record," features Steve Boda, research director for the NCAA, who said, "Our baseball records are not complete, but the 44 home runs by Hank Small is such a remarkable figure, we put some extra effort into trying to establish the top figures among major NCAA members. The most we were able to find were 34, so until proven otherwise, we are establishing Small's total as the national record."1 Small would go on to hit 48 in his career, which ended with a loss to Texas in the final game of the 1975 College World Series.

While we may never know to whom Boda was referring, a notable player who finished his career with 34 home runs was Tennessee Volunteer All-American Bobby Tucker who starred in Knoxville from 1970 to 73.

Arizona State's Bob Horner passed Small with a homer against rival Arizona on May 12, 1978, and later hit the 56th and final blast of his legendary career in the College World Series against Oral Roberts.2

In 1980, Vanderbilt catcher Scotti Madison approached Horner's career record, surpassing Hank Small's total with a homer on April 29. Ultimately, he would fall short of the chase and finish with 49.3

Prior to the release of the 1981 NCAA Baseball Guide, individual career records weren't published. Only annual statistics leaders were listed back to 1957. Each year the guide served as a review of the previous season and a preview of the season ahead, and the 1981 guide showed Horner as the career leader with 56.

It wasn't until Florida State's Mike Fuentes passed Horner's career total in April 1981 that attention was given to the pursuit of the record as indicated in the daily newspaper coverage. Fuentes tied the record on April 7 with a grand slam against Jacksonville and broke it with a three-run shot against South Florida a nerve-racking 16 days later.4

Fuentes' tenure atop the record books lasted only eight months as his former Seminole teammate Jeff Ledbetter hit career home runs 63, 64 and 65 in a 24-0 blowout of Mercer-Atlanta.5 The record-setter came amid a red-hot stretch of 10 homers in the first four games of the 1982 season for Ledbetter, who finished the year with 42 blasts, which shattered the single-season record of 29 at the time and put his name atop the single season and career home run lists. He ended 1982 with 124 RBI, and his career RBI total of 346 remains the collegiate career record.

Pete Incaviglia's status as college baseball's home run king is well-known in college baseball circles. He took that record from Ledbetter with his 98th career shot in a postseason win by his Oklahoma State Cowboys over Wichita State in the 1985 Midwest Regional tournament.6 As Ledbetter had done in 1982, Incaviglia assaulted the record books by hitting 48 on the year to claim the single season and career records. Remarkably, Incaviglia accomplished the career feat in three years and 216 games, while Ledbetter had played four years and 262 games at FSU.

1 "USC's Hank Small Sets New Record," Florence Morning News, May 7, 1975.

2 "Wildcats beat Devils again," Arizona Republic, May 13, 1978.

3 Jimmy Davy, "Madison Listed All-American," The Tennessean, June 1, 1980.

4 "Fuentes sets homer record as FSU Splits," Tallahassee Democrat, April 23, 1981.

5 Gerald Ensley, "'Treetops' sends career homer mark through the leaves," Tallahassee Democrat, February 18, 1982.

6 Mac Bentley, "Cowboys Drop Shockers, Head For Title Game," The Daily Oklahoman, May 26, 1985.